“Dirty Wars” documentary prompts debate

Scores of students gathered in Meyer Science Center Mon­day night to view a showing of the documentary-film “Dirty Wars.” The event was hosted by the Middle East Understanding Club, a group on campus dedi­cated to “challenging assump­tions and stereotypes associated with the Middle East,” and in­cluded a response by assistant professor of politics and interna­tional relations Michael McK­oy and associate professor of politics and law David Iglesias.

Written, produced and nar­rated by investigative journal­ist Jeremy Scahill, “Dirty Wars” documents U.S. military op­erations in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, critically examin­ing what Scahill terms “deadly U.S. night raids” and targeted drone strikes. Through his re­porting, Scahill draws attention to the role of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) — led at the time by Admiral William McRaven — in the “War on Terror,” uncovering the story of five Afghan civil­ians who were allegedly killed by the force in a secret opera­tion. Later in the film, Scahill turns to the deaths of U.S. citi­zens Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year old son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, both killed by sepa­rate U.S. drone strikes in Yemen.
“Somehow, in front of our eyes, undeclared wars have been launched in countries across the globe,” narrates Scahill near the end of the film, “Foreigners and citizens alike assassinated by presidential decree. The war on terror transformed into a self-fulfilling prophecy. How does a war like this ever end?”
Sophomore Mary Daghfal described her reaction to the film in one word: “Confused.”
“It raised a lot of questions for me about the war, about what we have been doing, about who has authority,” Dagh­fal said. “So many questions.”
For McKoy, the film high­lighted a fundamental di­chotomy “between U.S. ab­sence vs. U.S. empire.”
“The positive takeaway I got from (the film) was there needs to be more transpar­ency and accountability for U.S. forces,” McKoy said. “I think that’s important.”
“But on a broader debate, do we think it’s a better thing for the U.S. to provide security in the world, even with the inevi­table mishaps that are going to happen or … to withdraw and let local forces sort things out among themselves?” he asked.
“I think there’s a fair argu­ment to be made on both sides.”
Iglesias expressed concern about the film’s lack of balance.
“I would have liked to have seen a spokesperson from the Joint Operations Command or from the Pentagon or from somebody giving an official ex­planation,” said Iglesias. “In fact I would say I was a bit disappointed.”
Iglesias went on to explain that he “actually worked with McRaven,” the former head of JSOC that Scahill singles out in the film, “during his time in Coronado.”
“(McRaven has) a tremendously good reputation within the Navy,” Iglesias said.
Iglesias also of­fered context for the drone op­erations reported in the film, emphasizing the difference be­tween engaging targets militarily in a context of war and engaging suspects through “due process” in a “law enforcement model.”
“I didn’t have any legal prob­lem with the use of a drone strike against al-Awlaki,” Igle­sias said, citing al-Awlaki’s ties to confirmed terrorists. “Against the 16-year old son, I need to know a lot more information. It would appear that he was collateral damage, that he was not specifically targeted. If he was, I would like to know what those reasons are. So I’m with­holding judgement on that.”
Other view­ers were more critical.
“If we have enough evidence to convict someone and basi­cally assign them the death pen­alty —which is a drone strike — than that person should be given due process like everybody else. I don’t understand why that didn’t happen,” McKoy said.
He also explained that al-Awlaki’s case highlights serious issues about the drone campaign in general.
“Essentially what the White House has said is: ‘Don’t worry. We take this seriously. Trust us.’”
“I’ll be blunt,” McKoy said, “I find that insulting. That’s never the way an ad­vanced democracy works.”
Sophomore Theodora Be­schel, who helped start the Mid­dle East Understanding Club, said that while the film “uncov­ered … the ugly, seedy side of the American mili­tary … Captain Iglesias was very good at pull­ing it back in.”
Most im­portantly, the event stayed true to what Be­schel explained is the mission of the club: “to start conversa­tions about the Middle East and get people informed.”
McKoy added, “The best way you can engage is continue to learn more, continue to chal­lenge yourself, respectfully chal­lenge others, respectfully allow yourself to be challenged in your views and keep pressing forward.”

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