If it were up to filmmaker Rick Rowley, the U.S. government would conduct all business in an open field with bullhorns. It’s especially vital, Rowley says, when it comes to letting the American public know about the covert missions carried out under the veil of the U.S. military. In his new documentary Dirty Wars (opening Friday, July 5 at the Bijou), Rowley and famed journalist Jeremy Scahill investigate the secret military actions the U.S. has undergone in places like Yemen and Afghanistan and how this affects the country on a global scale.
Where do you see the fine line between telling a story like this as an objective documentarian and journalist and allowing your own emotions into the film?
Every journalist is also a human being and has their perspective. Our role as filmmakers was to make this issue visible and make the people on the other side of the media and military apparatus feel relatable to American audiences. I wanted to go to the other side of the story we’re never allowed to see. Hiding our own personal emotions about families who we developed relationships with is impossible because it was a gut-wrenching journey for us.
Right now we’re in the middle of this Edward Snowden debate. How transparent should government be in the 21st century?
This war has killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world and thousands of American servicemen. It has cost untold billions of dollars. Most of this is unfolding in the shadows. The fundamental nature of the Republic has been changed by the way this war has been fought. Snowden was a very brave man. It’s essential that he revealed the full scope of what has been done in [America’s] name at home and around the world.
So, do you support 100 percent transparency even when internal leaks could put the U.S. at risk in some way?
Look at what Snowden did. He had the identities of every CIA operative and he didn’t leak those. He chose to careful calibrate what he was leaking. He didn’t do any damage to U.S. strategy or security. We need to know the U.S. is responsible for missile strikes in Yemen that killed dozens and dozens of civilians. No, I wouldn’t have leaked the details of the [Osama] bin Laden raid the moment before it happened, but I don’t think that’s what the issue is.
When it comes to the thousands of innocent people killed in these covert missions, it always feels like it’s reported as collateral damage. Do you agree?
Absolutely! We know everything that happened about the raid that killed Bin Laden. We were drowned in details about it. We know how many Seals were part of that mission, what units they came from, what helicopters they used. We know they were carrying H & K carbines. We know the dog that was with them was a Belgian Malinois named Cairo. But what the American people don’t know or don’t realize is that on the same night there were probably 10-20 other night raids happening in Afghanistan. We’re told the story the administration wants us to hear. We’re getting a tiny sliver of what this war is really about.