The young Afghani girl smiled when she spoke about the night that Americans came to her house. But Tamana's words contrasted with her expression. "They killed my grandfather," she said. "And Gulalai. They killed Agha Abdulnoor."
The young Afghani girl smiled when she spoke about the night that Americans came to her house.
But Tamana’s words contrasted with her expression.
“They killed my grandfather,” she said. “And Gulalai. They killed Agha Abdulnoor.”
Then her face turned somber.
“We thought she was playing a game, singing a rhyme for the camera,” said documentary director Richard Rowley. “We find the game she’s playing is listing the dead in her family killed by the American soldiers.”
The extraordinary scene plays out in Dirty Wars — an effort by Rowley, 38, a Michigan native, and investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill to uncover covert operations by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, a military branch that answers only to the White House. Scahill also wrote a book (with the same title) detailing his investigation. Dirty Wars will be shown Wednesday at the Wexner Center for the Arts before settling in for a weeklong run, beginning July 12, at the Gateway Film Center.
Scahill and Rowley will appear at the Wednesday screening.
The two men worked as reporters in Afghanistan but saw little conventional warfare because journalists were kept from such action; instead, they covered units that were digging wells or trying to win the support of tribal leaders.
“I knew I was missing the story,” Scahill says in the movie.
They kept hearing about night raids in which the military said midlevel Taliban officials were killed or captured. Other sources, though, said civilians were killed.
Curious, they drove to Gardez, a town on the edge of NATO-controlled territory where a raid had taken place. According to NATO, a Taliban gathering had been attacked, and at least five people had been killed.
But Scahill and Rowley found a different story in Gardez: In the wee hours, Americans had attacked a house where, hours earlier, people had gathered to celebrate a birth. In the botched effort, the Americans killed a local police commander who had been trained by U.S. troops and his brother, sister, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. Two of the women were pregnant. Tamana’s family.
The Americans, though, weren’t standard U.S. soldiers. The Afghans, saying they had beards and wore different uniforms, called them the “American Taliban.” American officials denied the incident, then acknowledged that it had happened. Vice Adm. William McRaven, head of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, met with the Afghan family and apologized for the killings.
Scahill and Rowley continued to investigate, learning:
• “Kill lists” of suspected terrorists were growing, with thousands of names on them. Killings were being carried out by command forces or with drone missiles.
On the lists was an American citizen — New Mexico-born Anwar Al-Awlaki, a once-moderate Islamic cleric who had changed his views and reportedly joined al-Qaida. Al-Awlaki was killed by an American drone missile, sparking debate about whether an American citizen should be executed, without trial, based on secret intelligence. A few weeks later, a missile killed his 16-year-old son.
• Operations were spreading to dozens of countries where war had not been declared, such as Yemen and Somalia.
• An American cruise missile almost wiped out a Yemeni village reported to be an al-Qaida stronghold. Forty-six residents of a poor tribal town — including 14 women and 21 children — were killed.
• In Somalia, raids were being farmed out to local warlords, including one who called Americans “masters of war.”
“I never thought the story that we found in Afghanistan would take us to Somalia or Yemen,” said Rowley, who is convinced that the raids are creating more terrorists than they’re killing. “We began the film talking to victims of Afghan night raids. I never thought we would talk to American citizens who were targeted by the same force.”
Rowley is pleased that the topic of American covert operations has moved into the mainstream media. “More than a decade into the war, we’re having a national conversation we should have had a decade ago about what it’s doing to the world around us and what it’s doing to the country.”
Those appearing in the film, Rowley said, are following the progress of the movie.“When the film got into Sundance (Film Festival), one of the tribal sheiks called Jeremy on his Blackberry and said, ‘Does this mean that Mr. Robert Redford is going to see this film?’
“What it meant to him was that important Americans and the American people would know the name of their village, where 40-some people were killed by Americans.”