NZFF Review: Dirty Wars – 5 stars


New Zealand Film Festival: Dirty Wars
Director: Richard Rowley

It’s been 24 hours since I saw this devastating documentary on how the West are really fighting the war on terror and it’s difficult to still be choking back the rage.

There’s only so many images of dead children and pregnant mothers one can watch due to American gung ho slaughter before you want to go and throw things at the US Embassy.

Jeremy Scahill will be familiar to the well educated as the investigative journalist behind the devastating expose on Blackwater and the privatization of the American military, in this documentary he stumbles upon the secret workings of the shadowy JSOC and seeks to bring to light the dreadful truth of what our paranoid war on terror is really doing.

It starts with Scahill investigating the killing of a Western trained Afghan police commander and 2 pregnant women at a wedding beyond the safety of the green zone. On the face of it, it looks like the US got faulty intel and went in guns blazing into what they thought was a Taliban conference which turned out to just be a wedding. The soldiers when realizing their mistakes, dug their bullets out of the corpses with knives so that they are not identifiable. The more Scahill investigates the more he starts to discover about a secret group called JSOC.

JSOC – the Joint Special Operations Command are an ultra secret paramilitary death squad who are authorized to use whatever tactics they deem necessary in an endless tail chasing exercise of kidnappings and murders to generate a list of targets from information derived from torture.

Imagine every hellish excess of American military paranoia mixed with corporate profit motives and then add a touch of Apocalypse Now. You have JSOC.

The expansion of where JSOC operates from 40 countries to over 70, using tactics that amount to state sanctioned non-judicial assassinations is a story of total madness. Scahill captures the absurdity of ever lengthening target lists derived from torture and a nonchalant acceptance of civilian causalities with the boredom of a giant crushing ants in a manner which opens even the eyes of those who think they are well informed.

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I was shocked.

Why this is important to NZers beyond just the desire to understand the forces that are shaping global interests is how we have fitted into all of this. The SAS has been working with JSOC in Afghanistan and the recent expose by award winning journalist Jon Stephenson on how our SAS have been handing over civilians to known torture units – something in direct contradiction with the Geneva convention – is a war crime investigation waiting to happen.

One chilling moment in the documentary is Scahill himself undergoing the exact same tactic of smears and disinformation that our very own Jon Stephenson was exposed to when the Military come out attacking the journalist rather than what they had uncovered.

Sadly for NZ, Jon Stephenson’s peers decided to side with the Military and greenlighted these tactics by coming back with a hung jury in last weeks defamation case. I wish this documentary could be posted out to each and everyone of those Jury members to understand the true enormity of what their decision means.

JSOC is a death squad without rules who can kill without question and who can torture with zero fear of prosecution anywhere, anytime, anyplace. How this is the solution and not the cause of the very righteous grievances which fuel terrorist recruitment is a question that needs to be asked by journalists brave enough to ask them.

Unfortunatly the public in NZ have answered that question with last weeks verdict – yes, we are happy for the Military to lie and smear any attempt to ask those questions in the first place.

If we were serious about knowing the truth, someone at some point in the NZ media must ask ‘shouldn’t our Governor-General be investigated for possible war crimes in Afghanistan & was Key aware of those allegations before he appointed him’?

We will need to rely on foreign journalists to provide light for us on these issues seeing as the NZ Public has so willfully walked away from its responsibility to be informed.

5 Stars – must see!


  1. Doing a lot of reading and documentary watching on the NZ Defence Force at the moment, and from this admittedly unresearched perspective, it seems to me that the US is co-opting our previously NZer defined Defence Force.

    Along with the MOD initiated civilianisation project – (outsourcing), and the insulting redundancy form letters given to long-time service men and women, an exodus of long-time personnel has occurred. This type of restructing creates an uneasy environment where a complete change of culture can be established. I think that this has happened.

    It seems that a new “academic” requirement is now in place for entry into the Defence Force. What this seems to mean, is that you end up with troops that are unable to get the job done, but can tell everyone else how to do it. The traditional mix of racial diversity is being changed. And all this has rewritten the culture within the Force.

    We now have a large proportion of Defence Force officials who get excited about playing with cool toys, ( a la John Key) and have less attachment to the ideas of honour and service to NZers.

    I imagine that within the Defence Force there are still those who are critical of too-close relationship with the US, but I suspect that due to a combination of factors, they are fast becoming the minority.

    So much for sovereignty.

    I value the work of Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager immensely, and count NZ lucky to have such investigators, and also those in the DF that felt honour bound to speak out. They deserve credit for their actions, and I would be much reassured if all DF was of this calibre.

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