The book "Dirty Wars" is also topic of a documentary film. It received the award for best cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival this year. The Film follows Scahill to Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia where he gets in contact with victims of US attacks and night raids and to Washington where he talks to former JSOC members and Whistleblowers. The director of the film is the war correspondent Richard Rowley. While reporting about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars he and Scahill became aware of the hidden wars. "Today more Afghans are killed and captured by covered units that no one knows anything about than by the entire 200.000 men strong Nato forces", says Rowley. Everybody knows about the killing of Osama bin Laden. But in the same year 20.000 other night raids took place that nobody is aware of. Obama has expanded the ostensibly cleaner secret wars of his predecessor Bush and made it the new norm. But the killing programs rely on incredibly flawed intelligence, says Rowley. Again and again innocents are killed. In Afghanistan JSOC ist fighting de facto "against farmer who in many cases even if they are actually members of the Talibans are only fighting Americans because the Americans are in their valley and they want them out." Rowley: "There is no endpoint. Some guys on the inside are talking about this as 'mowing the lawn'. The grass grown up, pops up a little higher and you cut it off. They are not taking out the roots so it's going to grow back. It's growing back faster than you can mow it."
Richard Rowley: War correspondent, director of "Dirty Wars", won award at Sundance Film Festival 2013 for "Dirty Wars"
David Goessmann: Jeremy Scahill’s book is also topic of the documentary “Dirty Wars” that opens in theaters in June. The film follows Scahill to Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen. The director of “Dirty Wars” received the Award for Best Cinematography in US documentary at the Sundance Film Festival this year. Before we go to the interview with Richard Rowley here the Trailer of the film.
David Goessmann: In the beginning I asked Richard Rowley how they started the film project.
Richard Rowley: I have known Jeremy for a decade. I think we have probably met in Seattle at the WTO protest in '99. But I really got close to him at the Iraq war. I was a war reporter, covering the war on the ground in Iraq and he was doing a great investigative work about it, as well. We really became close during that conflict. I have been seeing on the ground of Afghanistan and elsewhere, that there was this covered war that began to eclipse the conventional war. Jeremy was seeing the same thing from his own sort of insider attach. He was doing great research. So we decided that we were going to make a film about that in Afghanistan about the way this covered forces were eclipsing the conventional war. You know, today more afghans are killed and captured by covered units, that no-one embeds, no-one knows anything about them, they are killed in capture by the entire 200 00 strong NATO force there. So we began this film and when we started we never imagined how big it would end up getting. When we showed up in Gardez we never thought, that the unit responsible for that operation was this elite global force responsible directly to the president - it was operating all over the world. We never thought we would end up in Somalia, in Mogadishu, in Yemen. I certainly never thought, that when we were interviewing afghan victims of American night raids, that we would end up talking to American citizens who were victims of the very same forces.
David Goessmann: What were your experiences when you interviewed these elite soldiers and also the victims? What have you learned there?
Richard Rowley: The thing that I didn't grasp at all was the immense scope of these operations. I think we all sort of expect, that there are things that are gonna happen, that government is going to do, that are secret, they are going to be hidden from us and some of them are going to be ugly. But the immense scale of this is just something that the American people have no concept of. We all know about one night raid that happened - the raid that got Bin Laden. We know all about it, we know the kinds of gun they had, we know how many seals there were, we know the kind of helicopter they had, we know everything about it, But there were tens of thousands between 10 and 20.000 other night raids that happened that year, that we know absolutely nothing about. We know that there are some operations happening maybe in Pakistan, we hear about drones, whatever. There are 70 other countries where these forces are active. So just having this assassination, a core assassination, have been elevated to a level where they are the paradigm. That's how we exercise our foreign policy now. That's a terrifying thing.
David Goessmann: Give us an example of how these covered elite soldier troops are working on the ground.
Richard Rowley: Well in Afghanistan every night, there 15 to 20 night raids. Each country we were in we focused on a different kind of aspect of how these forces work. So in Afghanistan we focused on night raids and every night there are 15 to 20 night raids. A group of like 20 JSOC operators with a few afghans with them as translators and interpreters, go into compounds where they receive some scratchy amount of intelligence and they try to capture people, if there is any kind of resistance at all, they suppress that resistance in a quick and decisive, violent way. That produces many many civilian causalities and huge backlash. That is the number one complaint that afghans have in poll after poll, about why they hate NATO and don't want NATO there is because of the night raids. In Yemen we look at cruise missile strikes and drone strikes are also part of this. And there they are relying on local intelligence on the ground from corrupt informants and a corrupt government to give them targeting size that they take out from the sky. Also the number one complaint, grievance the Yemenis have with the US is generating many more enemies than it is possibly killing. In Somalia we filmed the third type of action taken by JSOC and that is working with local proxy forces. Where they stand up indigenous militias that kill, capture and detain the people for them. Where they outsource the kill-list to local forces. Somalia is a country that has been cut to bloody ribbons by this cast of warlords who we have empowered and funded and armed and continue to work with to this day.
David Goessmann: Who are those, who are killed? And what about the relatives?
Richard Rowley: This is another thing. This force, JSOC, was created after operation Eagle Claw the failed hostage rescue mission in Iran. It was a tiny force of few hundred people, that was supposed to be responsible directly to the White House, the president, not part of the normal traditional chain of command. It was supposed to do hostage rescue missions, if there was a lost nuclear weapon somewhere, they were supposed to take care of it, they were supposed to be international strategic missions - very discrete, secret. So there is ostensibly supposed to be - in Afghanistan - hunting international terrorist members of Al-Qaida, but they are not. They are going after, what they call mid-level Taliban commanders, based on incredibly bad intelligence. That means they are fighting against farmers, who in many cases - even if they are actually members of the Taliban - are only fighting Americans because the Americans are in their valley, and they want them out. This is not what these forces were built for and should be used for. Even when they are killing the right people, the people who are on the list - number one, there is always collateral damage in operations like this, so that generates huge resentment. Even when they kill the right people that generates resentment, because these lists - they are working on lists that have thousands of people on them, people who aren't threads to the US.
David Goessmann: What do you think is the goal of this?
Richard Rowley: One of the people we talked to, who has been part of this groups at several times, talks about - you can be technically brilliant and strategically stupid. These are technically brilliant forces, they are capable of doing things, that no other force in history has been able to do: seeing through walls, flying in invisible helicopters. It is incredible, the stuff, that they are capable of doing. But it's all tactics without strategy, there is no endpoint. Some of these guys on the inside are talking about this as mowing the lawn. The grass grows up, pops up a little high and then you cut it off. You are taking out by the roots, it's going to grow back, it's going to grow back faster than you mow it. You are just growing a perpetual level of instability, in fact you are feeding it. That I think is one of the reasons why it is important for American people to know about these wars. That are conducted in our name but it's secret and we know nothing about it. It is, so we can have a national conversation about where we are going with the war on terror. What's the endpoint? There is not even an imagined endpoint now. It is a perpetual management of cycles of violence. That is turning parts of this country to terrifying places and that is, I believe, making us un-safer as nation as well.
David Goessmann: What about accountability?
Richard Rowley: We are talking pretty clearly about what is strategically wrong with this. The question about what is legally wrong with it and what is morally wrong with it - those problems are even much greater. This force is designed to be unaccountable, it's designed to be a covered force and it being responsible directly to the president, doesn't have the same sort of - congress has only kind of theoretical oversight over this actions. And they are deniable. The president first acknowledged, that the government had a drone program at all in a Google chat, after everyone knew we were bombing the hell out of Pakistan and Yemen, It would be comedic, if it wasn't so perverse, the way secrecy is used to covers up this war.