Across the globe, the clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) follows White House orders to do whatever is necessary to capture or kill enemies of state. The elite and nameless members of this group will never appear before Congress, and their actions have remained largely unknown to the public.
The creators of Dirty Wars want to change that. It’s a documentary film that sheds light on the covert battles JSOC and the White House fight in over 100 countries across the globe. On June 6, New America NYC and CORE:Club hosted a pre-release screening of the film, which follows investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill into the heart of our nation’s secret wars. It reveals disturbing truths about the global violence our government struggles to keep concealed. Its goal: To provoke conversations and that lead to greater general awareness, and, eventually, to important policy changes.
After the screening, retired military officer and senior national security fellow at New America Foundation Doug Ollivant joined the film’s screenwriter David Riker and producer Anthony Arnove in conversation.
“I feel compelled to say that I am not, nor have ever been, a member of JSOC,” Ollivant said, to audience laughter. Underlying his comment: An uneasiness the film generated with its frightening depiction of JSOC’s extensive trail of violence.
The Special-Ops group and the extent of its power to kill and capture anyone – even American citizens – at the command of the White House have expanded drastically under the current administration. Ollivant, who has worked closely with both the Bush and Obama administrations on the National Security Council, said that JSOC, as it is shrouded in secrecy, doesn’t prompt headlines, drama, or political cost.
The real problem, according to David Riker, is that many people who support Obama are being silent. “If Bush or McCain were conducting these policies, they’d be outraged.” The risk, then, is that the policies and the president’s far-reaching executive power to assassinate, expanded and implemented under Obama, are becoming institutionalized.
“When I was invited to look at film footage, I was absolutely devastated by it,” said Riker. The only way he could bear to watch was if Jeremy himself appeared in the story. And the film does just that: the cameras follow Scahill into Gardez, Yemen, Somalia, and even back home to New York, as he pieces together the story and uncovers clues about America’s underground wars. “We experience everything along with him,” Riker said. And we see, too, how Scahill has suffered in bringing these stories back home.
Riker pointed out that the War on Terror is one of most important foreign policy and human rights stories of our time. Yet we, as Americans, know next to nothing about it. “That’s not by accident,” he said. “It’s by design.”