It's been a long and winding path from I-94 to the dusty and rutted streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, for journalist Jeremy Scahill.
Scahill, an award-winning author and correspondent for The Nation, is the subject of a new documentary based on his reporting on America's covert wars in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. The film, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, opens at Sundance Cinemas on Friday, Aug. 9. Scahill will attend the 6:50 p.m. screenings on Friday and Saturday.
The Milwaukee native and former UW student became interested in national security reporting after visiting Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule in the 1990s. Through reporting and working with humanitarian groups, he found his attention drawn to some of the most vulnerable groups in society: the homeless, refugees, victims of wars.
He began reporting for Democracy Now!, a national radio and television program produced in New York, which took him to conflicts in Nigeria, Yugoslavia and Iraq. The show didn't have a budget for international travel, so Scahill would ask friends and family to help him cobble together enough cash for a plane ticket and a month's worth of living expenses.
"A lot of what I did for the first half of my life in journalism was begging for money and then trying to go do reporting," he says.
His time in Iraq became the basis for his investigation of Blackwater, a private mercenary army, and the rise of military contractors in U.S. wars. His reports resulted in a best-selling book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, which led him to look further at the use of covert military action around the world.
"As journalists, we have a responsibility to go to the other side of the barrel of the gun, and to stand with people who are facing it down, and to try to tell their stories," Scahill says.
Which is how he came to be crammed in the back of a pickup truck one day, stuffed alongside a throng of skinny young soldiers bearing large automatic weapons, barreling down the streets of Mogadishu in search of an interview with U.S.-backed warlords. Scahill's longtime friend, director and cinematographer Rick Rowley, captures it all on film. Scahill helped write and produce Dirty Wars, which is tied to his second book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield.
In the film, Scahill visits Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan, and meets families who lost loved ones when missiles from U.S. drones struck their homes. He interviews members of the intelligence community and military who are fighting these wars, scours reams of intelligence documents, and visits the farm fields where exploded ordnance from U.S. missiles are scattered among grazing goat herds, introducing us to the uncomfortable realities of these wars.
Now crisscrossing the world in support of the movie, Scahill is still trying to deduce how the global war on terror ends. Dirty Wars screens in 110 U.S. cities this summer and opens in Europe in the fall.