Greetings again from the darkness. This is one of this year’s Oscar nominated documentaries, and it comes from director Rick Rowley and investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill. You might know Scahill as the author of the best selling book, “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army”. Here, he is on the front line of looking into the U.S. covert operations in the Middle East.
The film covers 3 years of Scahill’s work at uncovering drone strikes and top secret attacks on suspected terrorists. Suspected being the operative word. Scahill slowly pulls back the curtain to discover the activities of JSOC – the Joint Special Operations Command (formed in 1980). While the Osama bin Laden mission brought some rare media coverage for JSOC, Scahill’s work shows just how deep the secret and often unmonitored missions of this group go.
Scahill’s point is that the U.S. has significant ongoing covert operations in countries and areas of undeclared war, and it sometimes spills over to U.S. citizens. This point is driven home by the story of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen killed for being a suspected terrorist. His 16 year old son was killed by a drone soon afterward. Per Scahill, many innocents have been killed (more than a million) and the U.S. is creating enemies from some allies. He even found that some refer to these soldiers as the “American Taliban”.
The film and Scahill’s commentary certainly raise some compelling points and makes for intriguing conversation. My issue is with the structure of the film and the manner in which the topics are presented. In light of the criticism he has received, Scahill has stated “The truth is just true sometimes. Objectivity doesn’t exist“. Scahill himself spends an inordinate amount of time on screen. This is typically an indication that a documentary is lacking sufficient proof and documentation. Additionally, his Hollywood-type narration is quite distracting and complimented by a mood-influencing musical score from the Kronos Quartet. If the story goes as deep as Scahill would have us believe … that there really is no end in sight … a less gimmicky approach was in order.
watch the trailer: