Dirty Wars (2013) Movie Script

Dirty Wars 2013
Kabul, Afghanistan,
4:00 in the morning.
As an American journalist,
I was used to filing stories
in the middle of the night.
But there's always
something eerie
driving through the
deserted streets.
A city of 3 million-
barely a streetlight on.
It was a familiar routine:
Waiting for the crew to
light up the night sky
so you could see something
in the background.
But could we really see?
Well, Keith, greetings
from Kabul, Afghanistan,
where the U.S. Ambassador
Karl Eikenberry...
This is a story about the seen
and the unseen...
And about things
hidden in plain sight.
It's hard to say when
this story began.
I'd been working
as a war reporter
for more than a decade
in Yugoslavia, Iraq,
and now Afghanistan.
After nearly ten years,
the war here wasn't
exactly breaking news.
I think there's, like-
there's, like, eight rakes.
One, two, three...
We haven't been out here.
What's the name of
this village out here?
Oh, I have no idea.
They all blend in for me.
What's the focus of
your campaign here?
In southern Nangarhar,
we're dealing with the Ashkar-
uh, Asherkeil tribe.
You know, the wording,
uh, I'll get right
probably when we leave
next year, but...
This was supposed to
be the front line
in the war on terror.
From Kabul out on an
exercise with the military
and back to Kabul,
the Afghan Press Corps
was locked in a bubble.
We were told that the
battle for hearts and minds
was being won
as soldiers dug wells
or drank tea with tribal elders.
But I knew I was
missing the story.
There was another war,
hinted at in press conferences
and detailed in each
morning's press release.
December 14th, Zabul Province,
a night raid.
Four Taliban killed,
three detained for questioning.
No civilians injured.
No one at NATO would
give us anything more
than the lists of
nighttime raids.
No one even seemed to know
who was doing the raids.
And I wasn't going to find
out if I stayed in Kabul.
This is the third raid in my district.
13 or 14 people
have been killed in all.
They were innocent people.
So what you're saying
is that the Americans
will come into a district
where you're the
police commander,
and they won't inform you
that they're gonna carry out
this kind of action
in your district.
I've asked the American
soldiers that come to my district.
But even the main
NATO base here says
they don't know
anything about the raids.
The troops came
from another base.
So there's the two-
the two men in the guesthouse
were the first people killed.
And then...
The farmer from here.
- Yeah.
- And then another farmer.
Two of his sons.
- Mm-hmm.
- Two of his sons.
So there's, I think-
so seven.
Or two-
- Two, two... four.
One farmer... five.
Two these...
The Americans will say anything.
The Americans will say anything,
everyone knows that.
If the Americans do this again,
we are ready to shed
our blood fighting them.
We would rather die than
sit by and do nothing.
The list of raids from
NATO press releases
read like a map of a hidden war.
The military divided the roads
in Afghanistan by color.
Green was safe.
Red was dangerous.
And black?
Don't even try it.
Most of the raids were happening
far beyond the green zone
in what the military
called "denied areas"...
Places where journalists
never show up
to ask questions.
NATO, the U.S. Embassy,
and my own better judgment
all advised against
traveling there.
But I'd read about
a raid in Gardez,
half a day's drive
in Paktia Province.
I pushed as far as I
could into the gray area
on the fraying edge
of NATO's control,
past rusting Russian tanks
and bombed-out NATO
supply convoys.
Two other journalists had
been kidnapped on this road,
and after weeks
in the military's
armored vehicles,
our Toyota felt
thin-skinned and fragile.
I knew I had to be back
in Kabul before sunset,
when the Taliban took
control of the roads.
But I had no idea how far
my visit to Gardez
would lead me.
This is my son,
and this is my son,
and this is my
and this is my granddaughter.
They killed them
all on a single day.
Two of the women they
killed were pregnant.
One was 5 months, the
other was 4 months pregnant.
A child had been
born in our home
and we had organized
a party to celebrate.
We invited many
guests and had music.
During the party,
people were dancing
our traditional dance, the attan.
The American forces came
between 3:30 and 4:00 am.
Daoud went to see
what was happening.
He thought the
Taliban had come.
They were already
on the roof.
They shot Daoud as
soon as he stepped outside.
All the children were shouting,
"Daoud is shot!
Daoud is shot!"
We brought Daoud in here.
The women grabbed Zaher.
They told him not to
go or he would be killed.
But they opened fire.
They killed three women,
along with Zaher.
My wife, my sister,
and my niece.
Look at these
patched bullet holes.
Was Mr. Daoud
killed immediately,
or did he live for a
while after he was shot?
Daoud and my sister-in-law
were alive until 7:00 am.
They didn't let us take
them to the hospital.
The Americans used knives to dig
the bullets out of their bodies.
They pulled out the
bullets from their body.
You saw the U.S. Forces
take the bullets
out of the body?
They tied our
hands and blindfolded us.
Two people grabbed us.
They pushed us one
by one into the aircraft.
They flew us
to another province.
To Paktika.
So he had just seen his wife
killed by the American forces,
and then he himself was taken
prisoner by the Americans.
What was going through his
head when they took him?
My senses weren't
working at all. I couldn't cry.
I was numb and
didn't feel a thing.
I didn't eat for
three days and nights.
My hands and clothes
were caked with blood.
They didn't give us water
to wash the blood away.
The interrogators had beards
and didn't wear American uniforms.
They had big muscles.
Sometimes they acted nice.
And sometimes
they would shake us.
By the time I got home,
all our dead had
already been buried.
Only my father and my brother were left
at home. I didn't want to live anymore.
I wanted to wear a suicide jacket
and blow myself up
among the Americans.
But my brother and my
father wouldn't let me.
I wanted Jihad
against the Americans.
1:00 AM - FEBRUARY 12, 2010
2:00 PM - FEBRUARY 12, 2010
The family had no idea
what led the Americans
to their home.
They had long fought
against the Taliban,
and Daoud was a police commander
who'd been through dozens
of U.S. training programs.
This is my son,
the Police Commander.
Was he Taliban?
They said they had information
that 50 Taliban were here.
But they were all my relatives,
and they worked for the government.
They killed my innocent sons,
daughter, and daughter-in-law.
They had committed no
sin and had no enemies.
As we prepared to leave,
Daoud's granddaughter
spoke to us,
but only later would I know
the meaning of her words.
Daoud's family told
me it was time to go.
The sun sets early
in the mountains,
and the night belongs
to the Taliban.
The gunfire continued,
and it was now obvious
how dangerous,
maybe even reckless
the trip had been.
NATO wasted no time
issuing a report.
They claimed that the
women killed in Gardez
were the victims of a
Taliban honor killing,
bound and gagged
by their own murderous families.
You saw the U.S. Forces
take the bullets
out of the body?
I believed the family,
but that wasn't enough
for me or anyone else.
[Speaking indistinctly]
Who were these men that
stormed into Daoud's home?
And why would they go to
such horrifying lengths
to cover up their actions?
Who did the Americans kill?
They killed my grandfather...
...and Gulalai.
And they killed Agha Abdulnoor.
All right.
Ready? Yeah.
One, two, three.
Good morning.
The subcommittee
will come to order.
The subject is
national security.
If my esteemed friend,
the gentleman from Michigan,
wishes to continue
with this hearing,
I think that's fine.
He is the chairman.
But next year,
when this committee is
under new management,
we won't be looking
at the calendar
of last year or two years ago.
Thank you.
Far from discussing
the distant past,
I'd like to share
with this committee
part of my investigation into
deadly U.S. night raids...
Sensenbrenner walked out,
but no one else even
bothered to show up...
Just Chairman Conyers
and his staffers.
In closing, Mr. Ohairman,
I told these families
that I'd bring their cases
before the U.S. Congress
and ask that they
be investigated
and that those responsible
be held accountable.
On behalf of those families...
It didn't surprise me
that Washington wasn't
interested in Gardez.
As an investigative reporter,
you rarely have
people's attention.
More often than not,
you work alone,
and the stories you labor
over fall on deaf ears.
But sometimes a story
strikes a nerve,
and you're thrown into
the public arena.
It happened to me once before.
During its time in Iraq,
Blackwater has regularly
engaged in firefights
and other deadly incidents...
It was 2007,
and I was reporting
on Blackwater,
a shadowy mercenary company,
and suddenly it was
front-page news.
A frequent contributor
to The Nation magazine,
his new book is
called Blackwater.
Jeremy Scahill, who authored
the book Blackwater...
Who's come to us from London...
Joining me now is
Jeremy Scahill.
I quickly discovered
that the world of
talk show television
is less a meeting
place for ideas
and more like a boxing ring.
That is hooey.
$700 million
for a colonial
fortress in Pakistan.
The whole thing
feels like a game.
But every time you
step into the ring,
there's a chance your
story can have an impact.
Journalists have done nothing
to hold the White House
accountable now,
Chuck, or under Bush.
Let me get to the story-
- Why are you still alive?
Are you paranoid?
No, I'm serious. I'm serious.
I mean, it's an amazing
book that you've written,
and I'm curious that-
"Oh, that guy had a"-
"Remember that guy
we did Maher with?"
"Oh, he's dead. "
"What happened?"
"He had an
accident. " I mean...
And here are the-
Residents are being
picked up, abducted...
Congress wasn't going
to investigate
the raid in Gardez.
And my Freedom of
Information requests
were bounced all
over the military,
ending up in an unnamed
agency awaiting review.
I reached out to everyone
I could in Washington-
the CIA, State Department,
former military officials-
but no one would speak
openly about Gardez...
Until I met with
General Hugh Shelton,
Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs on 9/11.
One incident that I looked
into in Afghanistan,
where an Afghan police commander
and two pregnant
women were killed-
but the question I
wanted to ask you is,
in that kind of case-
let's say that's true-
how would something
like that be handled
or investigated or reviewed?
If they go flying in
and meet any kind of
resistance at all-
I mean, shots are fired-
then I'm sorry if
they got killed,
but they're in the wrong
place at the wrong time,
and I don't think it ought
to be investigated.
I think you write it off
as one of those
damn acts of war.
But one of the victims was
a senior police commander
who had been trained
by the U.S.
And two of them were
pregnant women.
Now, just 'cause
he's a police chief-
he could've been a
terrorist as well.
You know, he could've
been working both sides,
so that piece of it,
although it sounds bad-
but two pregnant women?
The fact that they were pregnant
is very, very unfortunate,
but it's also unfortunate
that they were women.
But on the other hand,
I've been shot at
by women myself,
so that doesn't-
And I mean shot at.
That doesn't excuse 'em.
They die just like men do
if they shoot at us, so...
Congress wasn't interested.
I was being stonewalled
by the military.
And General Shelton told me
there should be
no investigation.
And back in Afghanistan,
the reporter who first
broke the Gardez story
had been publicly
attacked by NATO.
Yeah, we went to
print on a Saturday.
By Saturday afternoon,
I was getting information
from other journalists in
Kabul who are my friends
that NATO was
briefing against me.
NATO was trying to discredit me,
trying to say that the
story was inaccurate,
and effectively trying
to kill it dead.
To my knowledge, that
was the only time
that they've named a journalist
and sort of singled out a
journalist so specifically
in a denial.
NATO accused Starkey of lying.
It could have been enough to
end a journalist's career.
But information about
Gardez kept leaking out.
A secret UN
investigation confirmed
many of the details the
family had told us,
and an Afghan police
inquiry was under way.
I didn't realize what the
family was showing me.
It was just a grainy
cell phone video
from the morning
after the attack...
[indistinct conversation]
Until the voices began.
When I get to here...
Two Americans,
their hands visible for a moment
filming the corpses
while they piece
together their version
of that night's killings.
NATO phoned me up,
and they said,
"Jerome, we're just
calling to let you know
"we're about to put
out a press release.
We are changing our
version of events. "
They admitted that
they were responsible
for killing the three women
and that the men they
said were Taliban
were not, in fact, Taliban.
They admitted they'd
got it wrong.
Again, they were hoping
it was gonna go away.
Well, it wasn't.
Like yourselves, we set off
very early one morning
from Kabul through
Logar to Gardez...
When up rolls a huge convoy
of countless Afghan
officers and soldiers.
And among them is a man
wearing a uniform
that I recognize
as sort of U.S. Marines,
but it says U.S.
Navy on his lapel.
But I didn't know who he was.
They off-loaded a sheep,
and three Afghan soldiers
knelt on this sheep
in exactly the same place
where these soldiers had been
when they started the raid.
They were offering to
sacrifice the sheep.
The soldiers tried to stop
Starkey's photographer,
Jeremy Kelly,
but the family insisted.
Otherwise, there'd
be no evidence
that this extraordinary
event occurred,
no proof of who
the killers were.
Like so much about this war,
they would have remained unseen.
He said that, "My
soldiers were responsible
for the deaths of these
members of your family,"
and for that, he apologized.
I would not trade my sons for the
entire kingdom of the United States.
America unleashes
the Special Forces on us.
And the Special Forces
beat and kill poor, innocent people.
These Special Forces with the
beards did cruel, criminal things.
They all have beards.
We call them
the American Taliban.
I returned home
and tried to put the story
of Gardez behind me.
But coming home is never easy.
I didn't want to admit it,
but life back home was dull
after being in a war zone.
Ordinary life was just that.
I tried to forget about Gardez
but couldn't.
We pulled everyone out, okay?
Now, at that point,
I'm watching what's
going on here.
I see it all go down. Now...
The video was chilling,
but I couldn't see their faces.
All I had were images
of their hands
and the sound of their voices.
Okay, the blood trail.
This is it.
This is the last room.
This is where the
engagement was.
He comes in here. There's-
There's a woman crying
in the doorway.
None of these clues
were supposed to exist-
the cell phone video,
the photos of the
admiral and his sheep.
The killers were meant to
disappear without a trace.
The family had called
them "American Taliban. "
But who were they,
these American
soldiers with beards?
As a reporter, you
learn that every story
has conflicting points of view.
You try to understand
all of them
without letting your
own get in the way.
But there was something
about this story
and the way it was covered up.
The photo of the admiral
had seemed to answer
our questions about the raid.
But the longer I looked at it,
the less sense it made.
I could read the name and rank,
but who was this man
delivering the sheep?
Vice Admiral William McRaven
wasn't from NATO
Headquarters in Kabul,
and he wasn't from the
Eastern Regional Command
that owned that battle space.
I'd never seen the RO1
insignia on his shoulder.
And it was hard to find
mention of him in the press,
much less a photograph.
But I found an old DoD
press briefing from 2008
that mentioned
McRaven's nomination
to lead an obscure unit
within the military
called JSOC,
the Joint Special
Operations Command.
After more than a decade
as a war reporter,
I thought I knew most of
the players involved,
but I'd never heard of JSOC.
There was little
official record,
but JSOC was formed in 1980
after the failed hostage
rescue mission in Iran.
It was designed
as the most covert
unit in the military
and the only one that reports
directly to the White House.
So why would the
President's elite force
be kicking down the doors
on a family in Gardez?
I knew Gardez wasn't
an isolated incident
and went back to NATO's
daily press releases
with their lists of
killed and captured.
I expected the list to be long,
but I had no idea how long.
Every week, the tempo
of raids increased.
In the last three months,
there had been 1, 700 night
raids in Afghanistan.
It was a staggering figure
and meant that stories
like the one in Gardez
were unfolding nearly
20 times each night.
An endless list of raids
but not a single name.
I could see that Gardez was
part of a bigger story-
much bigger.
But the very thought of
it was overwhelming.
With 1, 700 raids,
who would compile the
list of the dead?
The surge of night raids
was clearly changing the
war in Afghanistan.
It didn't take long for
JSOC's actions to ricochet.
Matthew Hoh has become
the first U.S. official
to resign in protest
over the Afghan war.
Hoh is a former marine
who spent five months
working for the State
Department in Afghanistan
and is, by all accounts,
A lot of times, yeah,
the right guys would
get targeted,
and the right guys
would get killed.
And then plenty of other times,
the wrong people
would get killed,
sometimes innocent families.
And then that sets
you back so far.
You know, nothing like
going into a village
in the middle of the night,
knocking a door down,
and, like, killing
a woman or a child
to just undo everything that
infantry battalion command
had been trying to do for, like,
the last nine, ten months.
You were in a position
where you were
trying to vet lists
to make sure that
the wrong people
weren't being killed
by these task forces.
Were there 500 people
on this list, 1,000?
No, I can't-
I can't tell you.
- Oh, you can't?
- Yeah.
You can't tell me because...
I can't tell you 'cause I
can't tell you that stuff.
- You can't talk about it?
- Yeah.
I saw the list. I saw
how big they are.
Yeah, everything else, yeah.
I mean, that's-
I can't tell you.
I was just...
The Joint Special
Operations Command
had never numbered more
than a few thousand.
But under William McRaven,
Afghanistan had
become JSOC's war.
How had such a small covert unit
taken over the largest
conventional war
on the planet?
Andrew Exum had experienced
the change firsthand
when he served as part
of McRaven's high value
targeting campaign,
not in Afghanistan
but in Iraq.
He led a company
of rangers in 2003
as part of JSOC's
Iraq task force.
75TH RANGER REGIMEN I watched the way
things began to change.
You know, kind of
the iron rule was,
you don't go anywhere unless
you've got, you know,
a company of Army
Rangers in reserve.
In 2003, nobody was in reserve.
I mean, people were hitting
targets every single night
in a very dispersed way
and just-bam, bam, bam.
I mean, you remember
the deck of cards.
We kind of had this
poster of all these guys,
and we went out looking
for them every night.
So we would, you know,
kick down a door
and pull somebody
out of their home
in the middle of the night,
and the next morning, you know,
people would be rioting
in the streets.
I'm in!
Come out!
On your fuckin' face.
On your face.
Yeah, I remember one
night going out.
You know, we found out later
that we were on
two-weeks-old intelligence.
Two Iraqis started
shooting at us.
We killed them.
And, you know, we kind
of realized later
that these guys were
just out guarding the-
you know, the
neighborhood generator.
Now, I didn't lose
any sleep over it,
'cause these guys
were shooting at me,
but, you know, you start
thinking about it
from a strategic
perspective- that's a loss.
You start out with
a target list,
and maybe you got 50 guys on it;
maybe you got 200 guys on it.
But you can work your way
through those 50 or 200 guys,
and then suddenly,
at the end of that target list,
you've now got a new target list
of, you know, 3,000
people on it.
And how did this grow?
What Exum told me about
Iraq was a revelation.
I thought JSOC's rise
had happened later
in Afghanistan.
I'd worked in Baghdad for years
and had written countless
stories there,
many from the front
lines of the war.
It was there that I
first started reporting
for The Nation magazine.
But I'd never heard of JSOC.
The budget for the Joint
Special Operations Command,
you can't get it through
a FOIA request.
We've tried that.
I'd missed the most
important story.
In Iraq, the U.S. had
fundamentally changed
the way it fought war.
The real story, JSOC,
was hidden in the shadows,
out of sight.
What was hidden in the
shadows right now?
...That I propose
represent a new direction
from the last eight years.
What was I missing today?
We are embracing more
oversight of our actions,
and we're narrowing our use of
the state secrets privilege.
I discovered that,
over the past decade,
a series of secret
presidential orders
had given JSOC
unprecedented authority.
The battlefield was expanded,
and JSOC could now hit at will
in countries beyond
Iraq and Afghanistan.
I began to research
strikes against al-Qaeda
outside the declared
I looked for patterns
among the lists.
And then I found one.
In December 2009,
five strikes with
over 150 casualties
in a country without
a declared war.
[Man singing in native language]
Yemen's ancient port city
was nothing like Kabul.
In Afghanistan, life was
defined by the war.
Everything revolved around it.
But in Yemen, there was no war,
at least not officially.
The strikes seemed to have
come out of the blue,
and most Yemenis were going
about life as usual.
It was difficult to
know where to start.
The Yemeni government claimed
responsibility for the strikes,
saying they'd killed dozens
of al-Qaeda operatives.
But it was unclear who
the targets really were
or who was even responsible.
I arranged to meet the
most powerful man
in southern Yemen,
Sheikh Saleh Bin Fareed.
When was the first time
that you heard about
someone being al-Qaeda
in that area?
How did you first
hear of the strikes
that had happened
on December 17th?
What was the news saying?
People saw the smoke
and felt the earth shake.
They had never
seen anything like it.
Iran to the area.
I found scattered bodies
and injured women and children.
46 people were killed,
including 5 pregnant women.
If they kill innocent children
and call them al Qaeda,
then we are all al Qaeda.
If children are terrorists,
then we are all terrorists.
At 6 am they were sleeping
and I was making bread.
When the missiles exploded,
I lost consciousness.
I didn't know what happened to my
children, my daughter, my husband.
They all died.
Only I survived, along with this
old man and my daughter.
Missiles attacked me.
And my brother Ibrahim.
And my mother.
Their hands were cut.
The echoes of Gardez
were everywhere...
So many of the details
repeating themselves.
But there was one
important difference.
In Gardez, the American soldiers
went to obscene lengths
to cover up the killings.
Here in al-Majalah,
despite the official denial,
they'd left their fingerprints
strewn across the desert.
Why would they deny
something so obvious
when anyone who
visited the bomb site
would see the truth?
But maybe that was the point.
There was no declared
war in Yemen.
Out here, in the
middle of the desert,
no one was looking.
And the one local reporter
investigating the bombing
had disappeared.
The decision to arrest me was
made the day I exposed the cover-up
of the murder of women
and children in Abyan.
The day I exposed those who sent
cruise missiles to bedouin camps.
YEMENI JOURNALIS Abdulelah Haider Shaye had
traveled to al-Majalah
immediately after the strike,
and his reporting sparked
national outrage.
Soon after, his house was raided
by Yemen's American-trained
counterterrorism forces.
Abdulelah was thrown in prison.
Posters demanding his return
were hung around the capital.
I met Abdulelah's
lawyer at a teahouse
because his office
was under attack.
They fired over 120
shells into my office.
And now we can't reach it
because the Republican Guard
are deployed in the area.
In court, I noticed that one of
Abdulelah's teeth had been pulled.
And another
had been broken.
And he had
scars on his chest.
My understanding was that
President Ali Abdullah Saleh
was going to pardon
Abdulelah Haider.
The president
agreed to release him.
But that same day, the
president got a call from Obama
expressing concern
about Abdulelah's release.
I'd heard the story
many times in Yemen-
President Obama
personally intervening
to keep a respected Yemeni
journalist in prison.
It sounded farfetched to me.
But then I found this
on the White House's
own website,
a readout from a phone call
between Obama and the
Yemeni president.
They badly misspelled
Abdulelah's name,
but Obama's point was clear.
He wanted him kept in jail.
Al-Majalah was the
first reported strike
inside Yemen in seven years.
It was clearly a U.S.
Cruise missile
that struck the Bedouin camp.
Since there was no
declared war in Yemen,
I knew the strike was
either JSOC or the CIA.
And then I found this photo.
The U.S. would have
never released it,
but Yemen's president posted
it on his personal website-
a presidential meeting with
an important American guest,
the head of the Joint
Special Operations Command,
Admiral William McRaven.
Joining us now is
Jeremy Scahill,
national security correspondent
for The Nation magazine.
His latest article is all about
the U.S. relationship
with Yemen.
Jeremy, thank you
for joining us.
Thank you.
Back in New York,
I started writing
stories about JSOC,
their rise to lead
force in Afghanistan,
their covert strikes in Yemen,
and it felt as though
I had crossed an
invisible tripwire.
The reality is that
U.S. counterterrorism
obsession with Yemen
trumped concern
for human rights.
- That's not true.
- And it's-
Well, it is true.
- It's not true.
Yup, back there.
Does the Pentagon
have any comment
on a report in The Nation today?
And my question is-
- Yeah, I guess- I-I-
- The question is-
you keep denying
covert operations.
Isn't this yet more
evidence of one?
Despite whatever
conspiratorial theories
that, you know, magazines
or broadcast outlets
may want to cook up,
there's nothing to it.
So, Jeremy, let me ask you,
have we been going into
all of these countries
over the past decade
with drone attacks,
dropping bombs in countries
where we haven't declared war?
The lack of response
from the major media
and the CIA and all
the rest of it
suggests they're dismissing
what you've done.
I receive a call, unprompted,
from a Captain James Kirby,
who is the spokesperson
for Admiral Mike Mullen.
Calls me on my cell phone.
Wouldn't tell me how he
got my cell phone number.
Wouldn't tell me who told
him about the story.
This is hours from publication.
And told me that
if we published this
story in The Nation
that I would be "on thin ice. "
That was a direct quote.
And I said, "Well,
I want to know
"how you heard about this story,
and I want to know how
you got my number. "
And he said, "Let's just say
that I heard about it. "
I wasn't sleeping well,
and insomnia fueled my anxiety.
My computer had been hacked
and part of my
hard drive copied.
It was difficult not to feel a
creeping sense of paranoia.
And then I got another
strange phone call.
I had no idea why he called me
or how he got my number.
I thought it might be a setup.
Every story I worked on
seemed to trace back to JSOC.
And now, out of the blue,
someone from the inside
was reaching out to me.
I had met operators before
in my research on Blackwater
but no one as close to the heart
of JSOC's covert operations.
He sent me photos
of his DoD badges.
But I still couldn't
help wondering,
was I investigating JSOC,
or were they investigating me?
Explain what JSOC is.
[Distorted voice]
What has JSOC been
doing in Yemen?
Targeted killings inside
the borders of Yemen?
Were there ways that
JSOC was being used
that you found objectionable?
So you're saying JSOC
is able to hit harder
under President Obama
than they were under
President Bush?
On my last day in Sana'a,
a file had been left
for me at my hotel...
A leaked investigation into
the strike of al-Majalah.
It included a list of the dead.
In Iraq, they had
a deck of cards,
a list of 55 names.
But the cards were not enough.
New lists were needed.
Longer lists.
At the end of each list,
another and another,
an endless list of names.
In al-Majalah, the
list numbered 46.
14 of the names were women.
21 were children.
Who were they trying to kill?
A week after al-Majalah,
there was another strike.
And this time, the
Yemeni government
issued a press release
naming the intended targets,
but none of them
had been killed.
For the first time, I had
names on the kill list
of people who were still alive.
Two of them were
publicly known leaders:
Shihiri and Waheshi.
But the last name
gave me a chill:
Anwar al-Awlaki.
I knew the name,
but I couldn't believe
I was seeing it here
on this list.
Awlaki was an American citizen.
The Christmas Day
bombing attempt
has everybody on alert tonight.
connecting the dots,
and a key focus in
the investigation
is a radical Islamic cleric.
That man is Anwar al-Awlaki,
an exiled American who was...
Just as I was investigating
the expanding war in Yemen,
it seemed Awlaki's
name was everywhere.
The War on Terror
suddenly had a new face.
Radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki
may now be as grave a threat
as Osama bin Laden himself.
Awlaki, Holder says,
is a clear and present danger.
He's an extremely dangerous man.
Does the U.S.
have a preference
in terms of al-Awlaki:
Dead, captured, or prosecuted?
Well, we certainly want
to neutralize him,
and we will do whatever we
can in order to do that.
An American was
on the kill list.
It felt to me like we'd
walked off a cliff.
Awlaki had been
sentenced to death
without even being
charged with a crime.
Awlaki's father filed a lawsuit
with the help of the Center
for Constitutional Rights
and the ACLU.
He demanded that the
government provide
whatever evidence they
had against his son.
But the government refused.
They had ordered
the assassination
of a U.S. citizen
but said the evidence
itself was too dangerous
to be made public.
What kind of protections
does this American have
against being assassinated
by his own government?
Yeah, it almost
sounds kind of funny
in an ironic way
when you say that.
You know, you have the right
not to be assassinated.
A bill was introduced
in Congress
to ban the extrajudicial
assassination of Americans,
but only six
congressmen signed on.
And the people who should have
known what was happening,
the members of the
intelligence committees,
couldn't tell me anything.
When there is a lethal operation
and a high-value
person is killed,
the president, of course,
acknowledged that we killed-
- He can't-
- Huh?
Has there been any legal review
of the potential for
lethal operations
against American citizens?
- Not to our knowledge.
- Is that classified?
It's important for the
American people to know
when the President can
kill an American citizen
and when they can't.
And yet it is almost as if
there are two laws in America,
and the American people
would be extraordinarily
if they could see the difference
between what they
believe a law says
and how it has actually
been interpreted in secret.
You're not permitted
to disclose that
difference publicly.
That's correct.
I wasn't surprised
when Washington
ignored the killings in Gardez.
But this was an
American citizen.
The country was now
targeting one of its own.
Even John Walker Lindh,
who'd taken up arms
with the Taliban,
was given a trial.
What had Awlaki done?
And why was the U.S. willing
to cross such a dangerous line
to have him killed?
I read everything I
could about Awlaki.
It was obvious that he was an
immensely popular preacher
with a large following
among young
English-speaking Muslims
around the world.
On his blog, he openly praised
some of the attacks
against the U.S.
But this in itself was
clearly not a crime.
I spoke with former CIA
and military officials.
They argued that
Awlaki's speeches
were inspiring
domestic terrorists.
There were a lot of words
from both Awlaki and the U.S. Government
but no concrete
piece of evidence
TARGETING CELL that he was an operational figure
I remembered seeing him on
TV nearly a decade earlier,
just after 9/11.
And it was difficult
to reconcile
the image of a new bin Laden
with Awlaki's earlier sermons
condemning terrorism.
The fact that the U.S.
has administered
the death and homicide
of civilians in Iraq
does not justify the killing
of one U.S. Civilian
in New York City or
Washington, D.C.
For a short time, Awlaki
seemed like the go-to imam
for journalists
trying to understand
the experience of
American Muslims
in the wake of the attacks.
He was even profiled
by the Washington Post
for a piece about Ramadan.
After September 11th...
All of the feelings of
the American Muslims
were similar to everybody
else in America:
Feelings of sympathy
for the families of the victims
and a sense of...
That whoever did this needed
to be brought to justice.
A decade after this
video was filmed,
Awlaki had become Public
Enemy Number One,
his name at the very
top of the kill list.
It felt like the War on
Terror was turning on itself.
I was now investigating
the planned assassination
of a U.S. Citizen-
a watershed event.
For the first time,
I had the name of someone
on the kill list
who had not yet been killed.
Anwar al-Awlaki was
now a wanted man
hiding somewhere in the
mountains of Yemen.
I knew I wouldn't be able
to speak with Awlaki directly...
But through a series
of intermediaries,
I managed to set up a
meeting with his father.
I expected him to be reluctant
to speak about his son,
but he seemed happy to reminisce
about an earlier time.
Anwar was an all-American boy.
This is in Disneyland, you know,
in 1984, I think.
This is in San Diego when
he was already an imam
with a big beard, you know.
At that time, he was asking
Muslims to participate
in the democratic
process in America.
In fact, during the presidential
campaign of George Bush,
he thought the
conservative Republicans
will be better than the
liberal Democrats,
and he encouraged
the Muslims there
to elect George Bush.
Didn't he even, at one point,
attend a luncheon
at the Pentagon?
You see, he liked America,
and he wanted to stay and
really-his life in America,
but things came differently.
Can you explain to me why
your son went into hiding?
After the incident
of al-Majalah
and Anwar was all over the news,
the drones started
to fly over Shabwah.
So, you know, Anwar
was really concerned.
And so we took his
family with us,
and he left to the mountains.
Myself, at this age in my life,
I really cannot ever replace,
you know, the role of my son
as he was doing for his family.
From my reading of the
history of your son,
from his writing,
it seemed as though there
was a transformation
that happened
politically for him
from 9/11 to the
invasion of Iraq.
Something started to
change in his tone.
Anwar became popular
before September 11th
because his sermons
and his tapes,
you know, were very popular
all over the
English-speaking world.
And then the invasion
came in 2003,
and they invaded Iraq
and destroyed Iraq,
so Anwar really started
to be more vocal in his speeches
against what the
Americans were doing
against Muslims all
over the world.
There's no doubt that
your son praised
some of the attacks
against the U.S.
And for many Americans,
it was enough to say,
"Anwar al-Awlaki
is a terrorist. "
But also, I want
decent American lawyer
to tell me that it is right
for the United States government
to kill an American citizen
on the basis that
he said something
against the United States or
against American soldiers.
I mean, I-I don't understand.
I don't understand 100% the
American Constitution,
but I don't believe
American law will allow
the killing of an
American citizen
because he said something
against the United States.
Anwar's father may have
been calling for justice
under American law,
but American drones were
already flying overhead.
The fact that they were trying
to kill an American citizen
was shocking enough.
But there was another reason
Awlaki's story haunted me.
We are against evil,
and America as a whole
has turned into a
nation of evil.
How can your conscience
allow you to...
Awlaki seemed to have
embraced the very identity
he once opposed:
The military jacket,
the black flag,
the unequivocal call
for armed jihad.
I specifically invite the youth
to either fight in the West
or join their brothers
in the fronts of jihad.
The all-American boy was gone
and so was the moderate imam.
But why?
Awlaki was deeply affected
by the War on Terror
both abroad and at home.
The day after September 11th,
a woman stumbled into
his mosque in Virginia
after being beaten
with a baseball bat.
More than 1,200
Muslims were detained
across the country.
You have Muslims who
are locked up in jail
and are left to rot in there.
There are no charges
brought against them.
What have you done for them?
Awlaki resigned from
the mosque soon after
and left the country.
But the wars in Afghanistan
and Iraq followed.
And, well, this
is a new kind of-
a new kind of evil.
And this-this-this-this-
this crusade...
Is gonna take a while.
Awlaki began to see
the expanding wars
as part of a global
attack against Islam,
and his sermons reflected
a growing anger.
We are watching one Muslim
nation fall after another,
and we're watching,
sitting back,
doing nothing.
After 9/11,
Awlaki was put under
detained at airports,
and repeatedly
interrogated by the FBI.
When he returned to Yemen,
local officials arrested him
on orders from Washington.
He was locked up for
a year and a half
without charge
and spent 17 months in
solitary confinement.
When he was finally released,
Awlaki was a changed man.
And after JSOC
tried to kill him,
his transformation was complete.
Eventually came
to the conclusion
that jihad against America
is binding upon myself...
This is not a war of choice.
Just as it is binding on
every other able Muslim.
This is a war of necessity.
They seemed like mirror
images of one another,
strangely distorted,
America's wars
and Awlaki's words.
This will not be quick...
War against Islam and Muslim...
Nor easy.
Like a self-fulfilling
the United States had
helped create the very man
it was now trying to kill.
America was my home.
Those who attacked
America on 9/11
are plotting to do so again.
Awlaki's journey,
from a voice of moderation
to one of retribution,
cut to the heart of
the larger story
I was investigating.
[Indistinct conversations]
Anybody belongs to al-Qaeda...
I'd seen the same
pattern repeatedly.
America was trying to
kill its way to victory.
Now got a new target list...
But the War on Terror was
producing new enemies
wherever it spread.
How did this grow?
How does a war like
that ever end?
Good evening.
Tonight, I can report
to the American people
and to the world
that the United States has
conducted an operation
that killed Osama bin Laden,
the leader of al-Qaeda.
Again, for those
just joining us,
Osama bin Laden is dead,
and one confirmation
we're getting
indicates that this is a
special operations raid.
And I think an organization
we're gonna hear a lot
about in the coming days
is JSOC, the Joint Special
Operations Command.
So much for secrecy.
So much for cover-ups.
The forces I'd been trying
to unmask since Gardez
were suddenly national heroes.
The operation was
called Neptune Spear.
To capture or kill bin Laden.
It felt like the world
had turned upside down.
JSOC, long shrouded in secrecy,
was becoming a household name.
But what did it really mean?
The White House
circulated a photo
from the night of the raid,
perhaps as a picture
of transparency.
Everyone was in the room:
Secretary of State,
Secretary of Defense,
Vice President,
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs,
the President himself.
But it was the
seating arrangement
that interested me.
The man at the head of the table
wasn't the commander in chief.
It was McRaven's
assistant at JSOC,
General Webb.
McRaven himself was running the
operation from Afghanistan.
I wasn't mourning
bin Laden's death,
but I wasn't celebrating either.
After ten years, I understood
that people wanted closure.
But it didn't feel
like V-E Day to me.
Didn't feel like victory at all.
The leader of
al-Qaeda is dead,
but a new one has
taken his place.
Your mission will be to
ensure he meets the same end.
Hearing JSOC mentioned
on television
was jolting enough,
but when I saw the admiral
in front of the cameras,
it felt like I'd walked
through the looking glass.
I am deeply honored that the
President has nominated me
to serve as the next
SOCOM commander.
And if confirmed...
William McRaven was now
the toast of Washington.
Admiral McRaven,
by leading the mission that
killed Osama bin Laden,
you and your men won
an enduring place
in American military history.
Like all of my colleagues,
I salute you and
your colleagues'
and the SEALs'
extraordinary operations.
Thank you for your service.
Thank you, sir.
When the congratulations
the senators turned to the
real purpose of the hearings.
Are you prepared and capable
to expand your operations
at a moment's notice worldwide?
As we look out from
Iraq, Afghanistan,
and, frankly, across the globe,
as we look at hot spots in Yemen
where you have al-Qaeda
in the Arabian Peninsula
or Somalia where you have
East African al-Qaeda
and al-Shabaab,
now, these are clearly
areas of concern...
People in the streets
may have hoped
the War on Terror
was finally over.
But in Washington,
in the corridors of power,
a new chapter had just begun.
Right now, it's kinetic.
Hard kill.
If it's not hard kill,
doesn't get played.
Soon after the bin Laden strike,
I met Malcolm Nance,
a legend in the
world of covert ops
who'd trained
countless Navy SEALs
and other JSOC operators.
I'm a firm believer in
targeted assassination.
If they are too strong
for your ability
to negate their capacity
in the battlefield,
then you're just gonna
have to put a hellfire in.
If they're- if
they are dangerous
on a strategic scale
like Anwar al-Awlaki
from Yemen-
definitely has a
missile in his future.
No longer cloaked in secrecy,
special ops seemed
to be enjoying
their moment in the sun.
You know, we went in, we
did the drone strike,
and-or hellfire strike,
and we blasted the
individual car
of a known guy who was known
to be in that vehicle.
And we flew in, and
we snatched his body-
we confirmed it- got the
intelligence, went away.
That's the way we
should be doing it.
The first time we met,
he'd called me out of the blue.
This time, it was me who called.
JSOC may no longer
have been a secret,
but that didn't mean
we knew the truth.
But, in theory, Congress is
supposed to have oversight
of these operations.
Bin Laden's death had given
the War on Terror new life.
After 9/11, there were seven
people on the kill list.
In Iraq, 55 on the
deck of cards.
By Afghanistan, there
were thousands.
But now the list
itself was changing.
Signature strikes,
crowd killing-
a target list was
no longer needed
to justify a strike
like al-Majalah.
All boys over the age of 15,
all men under the age of 70
were now fair game
in targeted areas.
Like a flywheel,
the global War on Terror was
spinning out of control.
When I began this story,
the U.S. was at war in
Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bombing in al-Majalah
brought me to Yemen.
But the list of countries
where U.S. Special Forces
were operating had grown,
just as the kill list had.
Algeria, Indonesia,
Thailand, Panama, Jordan-
the world was now a battlefield.
It was hard to know
where to go next.
In Pakistan, the U.S. was
launching weekly drone strikes.
In Mali, they were
hunting al-Qaeda.
In Latin America,
targeting drug cartels.
I decided to go to Somalia,
where an escalated
kill/capture program
was under way.
Just as McRaven had testified,
the war was erupting
in East Africa.
Drone strikes were increasing.
There were suicide bombings
in Kampala and Mogadishu.
And JSOC was on the ground,
snatching bodies and
flying them back to ships
in the Arabian Sea.
Almost as soon as I arrived,
I sensed that things
weren't going to go well.
Mogadishu was seeing its
worst fighting in years,
and there were no foreign
journalists left in the city.
My local contact, Bashir Osman,
was worried about my safety.
It's okay.
All right.
It was a strange feeling,
traveling with a dozen armed men
in a decoy car.
I still had my
reporter's notebook,
but what could I learn in
conditions like these?
Before arriving in Somalia,
I had read reports
that the U.S. was
outsourcing the kill lists
to local warlords.
Among the most
powerful in Mogadishu
was Yusuf Mohamed Siad,
known by everyone as Indha Adde,
"White Eyes. "
In an earlier life, Indha Adde
had been America's enemy,
offering protection to people
on the U.S. kill list.
But the warlord had
since changed sides.
He was now on the U.S. payroll
and assumed the
title of general.
So he's saying that
the fiercest fighting
that they're doing right now
is happening right here.
The men fired across
the rooftops,
but it didn't make sense to
me what we were doing here...
Or what the Americans were
doing here in Somalia,
arming this
for what seemed like
a senseless war.
We got to move.
So these were Shabaab
fighters you buried here?
Yes, two, uh-huh.
If we capture foreign
fighters alive, we bury them.
We kill them
when we catch them.
If you capture a
foreigner alive,
you execute them on
the battlefield?
So that other
foreigners expect no mercy.
[Indistinct conversations]
How did the Americans
find men like Indha Adde?
And to what end?
After a decade of covert war,
Somalia was in ruins.
Half the country was ruled
by the local
al-Qaeda affiliate,
the other half by men
like the general,
wandering the streets
with an endless kill list
and a band of men.
[Indistinct conversations]
Every time we stopped,
people looked at us nervously,
and I was told that
my very presence
was endangering them.
Bashir would insist we leave
moments after we arrived.
Okay, we go.
I wanted to see beneath
the surface of the war
to understand what it meant
to ordinary Somalis.
[Indistinct conversations]
But I was passed from
warlord to warlord
and soon realized
the only people
I'd be able to meet
were men with guns.
For years, Mohamed Qanyare
was Washington's
man in Mogadishu.
His methods were extreme,
but Washington insisted
Qanyare's services
were vital to their
kill campaign.
Who were the people
that the Americans wanted
your help tracking?
You don't want to
talk about that.
Did they offer to
fund any operations?
You don't want to
comment on that.
But you're targeting
people for the Americans.
And when these
American operations
kill innocent people,
what's the impact?
They're all being taken
to Madina Hospital?
For over a decade,
JSOC and the CIA had
free rein in Somalia.
All their tactics
were on display-
drone strikes, night
raids, mercenaries.
As the War on Terror
entered a second decade,
Somalia seemed like a
laboratory of the future,
and the future looked bleak.
I was ready to leave Somalia
and decided to call my editor.
But the news from home
what not what I expected.
Anwar al-Awlaki was dead,
killed in a drone strike
authorized by the
President himself.
Another name struck
from the list.
I wanted to go home,
to be done with it all.
But I couldn't.
I got another call,
and this one left me stunned.
Two weeks after
al-Awlaki's death,
the U.S. had launched
another strike in Yemen.
Another American
had been killed.
But this time, it
was a teenage boy.
They had killed Anwar
al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son,
I returned to Sana'a,
but I wasn't sure why.
Was it to file another story?
To investigate another crime?
Or was it to apologize?
Abdulrahman left
without telling us.
He said in a small note
that he's going to
look for his father.
He left from the kitchen window,
and he took a bus to the
governorate of Shabwah.
Then when his father was killed,
his grandmother told him,
"There is no use for
you to stay anymore. "
And he said, "Yes, I will
come back in two days. "
On the morning of October 15th,
we got a telephone call,
and they told us he was
blown up to pieces
by the drone.
And they saw only the
back of his hair.
You know, his
relative, his cousin,
he knew his hair from the back,
and he recognize it, and he knew
that Abdulrahman
really was dead.
But they could not recognize
his face or anything else.
I always teased with him
about his, you know, big-
his hair, you know,
that he should cut it,
because I thought that
he should do that.
The drone had not
just killed the boy,
it vanished him.
I asked to see photos
of Abdulrahman
and suddenly realized
why I was here.
It wasn't to investigate
another death.
I wanted to see him when
he was still alive.
[Indistinct conversations]
Abdulrahman's grandmother
was in mourning
but sat down with me
for a moment to talk.
What did Abdulrahman do?
Who ordered the killing
of Abdulrahman?
He was sitting, having
dinner with his friends.
How come he was killed?
What did he do?
You know, Abdulrahman was...
He was a very, very gentle boy,
and he never hurt anybody.
I tried to make sense
of Abdulrahman's death.
His father's could at
least be explained.
But a teenager with
a Facebook page
and a group of
adolescent friends,
why would his name have
been put on the list?
What could he
possibly have done?
The Americans said
Abdulrahman was
collateral damage,
but they offered no
explanation for the strike.
And unlike Gardez,
they made no apology.
It seemed an impossible
They killed the father
and then the son.
But maybe it was
as simple as that.
Like a tale from
Greek mythology,
Abdulrahman was killed
not for what he'd done
but for who he might
one day become...
A twisted logic,
a logic without end.
Nasser had lost
his firstborn son
and his first grandson.
But what did we lose
when the drone struck
Abdulrahman and his
teenage friends?
When I first visited Gardez,
I had no idea where the
story would lead me.
I didn't know just how much
the world had changed...
Or how much the journey
would change me.
But I realize now the
story has no end.
Somehow, in front of our eyes,
undeclared wars
have been launched
in countries across the globe,
foreigners and citizens
alike assassinated
by presidential decree...
The War on Terror transformed
into a self-fulfilling
How does a war like
this ever end?
And what happens to us
when we finally see what's
hidden in plain sight?