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Dirty Wars: Film review - criminality at the heart of the American system

(15) Richard Rowley, 86 mins

Not since Woodward and Bernstein exposed the Watergate scandal in All the President's Men has there been a film as effective as Dirty Wars in depicting criminality at the heart of the American system. This may be a documentary but it is structured like a noirish detective thriller with journalist Jeremy Scahill as the Sam Spade-type hero, on the track of the bad guys.

The film begins with Scahill investigating why two pregnant Afghan women and an Afghan police commander were murdered by US security forces who then tried to conceal their crime.

The trail leads him to a shadowy organization called JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command.) It's at this point that the complexities mount. JSOC organised the Navy Seal raid to kill Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. Its members are portrayed by the mainstream media as latter-day folk heroes. Scahill, though, shows us that they are killers who, as part of the war against terror, have been given licence to operate beyond the law.

Dirty Wars doesn't pretend to be balanced or neutral. Its position is one of anger and disbelief at the extra-judicial assassinations of men, women and children, some of them American citizens, who can't be defined as terrorists at all.