Dirty Wars (2013)


Dirty Wars is a 2013 American documentary film, which accompanies the book Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill.

Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill is pulled into an unexpected journey as he chases down the hidden truth behind America’s expanding covert wars.

The film is directed by Richard Rowley, and written by Scahill and David Riker.


Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill travels to Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and other countries where the United States has taken military action in the War on Terror. In Afghanistan, he investigates the United States military and government cover-up of the deaths of five civilians, including two pregnant women killed by US soldiers from the Joint Special Operations Command. After investigating the attack, Scahill travels to other sites of JSOC intervention, interviewing both proponents and opponents, and the survivors, of such raids, including US Senator Ron Wyden.

Scahill also investigates the assassinations of American citizens Anwar al-Awlaki and his son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, meeting with their family at their home in Yemen. Scahill suggests that the War on Terror is in fact a “self-fulfilling prophecy” and causes the radicalisation of Muslims. He also discusses the case of Yemeni investigative journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye who was detained, tried and sentenced on terrorism-related charges after reporting on American drone strikes.


Production for the film began in 2010 when Scahill, who worked as a reporter for The Nation magazine, travelled to Afghanistan with director Richard Rowley, with only a vague idea for what the film would be about; they only decided upon the subject matter after investigating a series of night raids carried out by the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The film had no budget, and at the outset Scahill and Rowley travelled to Afghanistan using money from a grant Scahill had received to support his reporting.

Initially the film was not intended to have Scahill as a narrator or protagonist, instead acting as a “tour guide” as the film traveled between the sites of covert US military action. David Riker was brought on board to assist with writing after an initial four-hour rough cut of the film was put together, and he convinced Scahill and Rowley to make the film more personal.

During filming, Scahill and Rowley travelled to Somalia to meet warlords in different territories of the country. As no American insurance companies would cover them to travel there, they had to get kidnap and ransom insurance from another country.


Dirty Wars premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on 18 January 2013. The film competed in the US documentary section, and it won the Cinematography award.

The film was released in four theatres in New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC on 07 June 2013. Over the opening weekend, it grossed an estimated $66,000, a theatre average of $16,500. The film opened in British cinemas on 29 November 2013 with showings in nine cities around the country.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s):
    • Rick Rowley.
  • Producer(s):
    • Anthony Arnove … producer.
    • Brenda Coughlin … producer.
    • Scott Roth … executive producer.
    • Jeremy Scahill … producer.
    • Jess Search … executive producer.
    • Jacqueline Soohen … associate producer.
    • Lauren Sutherland … assistant producer.
    • Phillipe Vicente … consulting producer.
    • Randall Wallace … executive producer.
    • Sandra Whipham … executive producer.
  • Writer(s):
    • David Riker.
    • Jeremy Scahill.
  • Music:
    • David Harrington.
  • Cinematography:
    • Rick Rowley.
  • Editor(s):
    • David Riker.
    • Rick Rowley.
  • Production:
    • Big Noise Films.
    • Civic Bakery.
  • Distributor(s):
    • NonStop Entertainment (2013) (Sweden) (all media).
    • GEM Entertainment (2013) (Non-US) (all media) (multi-territory).
    • Madman Entertainment (2013) (Australia) (all media).
    • Betta Pictures (2013) (Spain) (theatrical).
    • Britdoc Foundation (2013) (UK) (theatrical).
    • IFC Films (2013) (USA) (theatrical).
    • Sundance Selects (2013) (USA) (theatrical).
    • Al-Jazeera (2013) (Non-US) (all media).
    • Koch Media (2013) (Germany) (all media).
    • Vrijzinnig Protestantse Radio Omroep (VPRO) (2014) (Netherlands) (TV).
  • Release Date: 18 January 2013 (Sundance Film Festival, US).
  • Running Time: 87 minutes.
  • Rating: 15.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

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