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Originally published Saturday, June 8, 2013 at 5:14 AM

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Filmmaker Jeremy Scahill focuses on ‘Dirty Wars’

An interview with filmmaker Jeremy Scahill, whose documentary “Dirty Wars” opens in Seattle June 28.

Special to The Seattle Times

Coming up

‘Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield’

Opens June 28 in Seattle-area theaters. Not rated; for mature audiences.

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The first time Jeremy Scahill smelled tear gas, it was during the Battle of Seattle in late 1999.

“That was also my first time in Seattle,” he said during a return trip to the Northwest to publicize his new movie (and book) about American covert operations, “Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield.” Shown at the Seattle International Film Festival last month, it opens June 28 for a regular run.

“That was also the first time I started working with the director of our film, Rick Rowley, and his wife, Jackie Soohen,” said Scahill. Rowley and Soohen were part of a video collective that produced a 2000 documentary, “This Is What Democracy Looks Like,” about the World Trade Organization protests.

Eventually all three worked in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We ended up becoming friends and working together, on and off, until the current moment,” Scahill said. He’s also hiked Mount Rainier and appeared at Town Hall with “Dirty Wars” and his earlier book, “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.”

Now 38, the Brooklyn-based Scahill writes a column for The Nation magazine that mostly deals with his investigative work.

“Dirty Wars” grew out of the filmmakers’ interest in Yemen, Somalia and especially one Afghan family that was devastated by night raids (including drones) and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) — whose goal was to “find, fix and finish” their targets.

That’s JSOC jargon, reminiscent of Vietnam’s “extreme prejudice.” Because of budget cuts by magazines and newspapers that have traditionally covered overseas wars, it has been difficult for journalists like Scahill to put the story together.

“I spend a lot of time raising funds to do this reporting,” said Scahill. “Budgets have dried up for foreign reporting. There are very few media outlets that will send people to do this kind of work. It is very expensive. Just to get insurance for some of the shoots ... no insurance company in the United States would insure our trip to Somalia.”

When they started shooting “Dirty Wars,” Scahill and Rowley weren’t sure where the project was going. Rowley had spent a lot of time embedded in Afghanistan. Scahill was looking at the role of JSOC within the broader war.

“Night raids were a kind of war within the war,” said Scahill. “After they draw down the troops in Afghanistan, there’s going to be an enduring U.S. military presence, but it’s not going to be the Marines ... it’s going to be these hunter-killer teams we’d read about.”

The film’s shoestring budget officially began with Scahill buying plane tickets, using a small grant he had been given for reporting. He and Rowley filmed several stories about night raids before they realized they were working on a larger story about the killings of pregnant Afghan women.

“Once we stumbled into that story, I sort of became obsessed with JSOC and what they do,” he said. “ It was around that time, early 2010 I think, when I started to figure things out.

“ In retrospect now, because of the Bin Laden raid and everything, everyone knows JSOC. But it wasn’t that way at the time.”

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com

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