Movies like "Act of Valor" and "Zero Dark Thirty" give us the clean-kill version of special ops and the war on terror -- the documentary "Dirty Wars" offers another view.
In it, Afghani cellphone-camera footage shows U.S. special forces cleaning up after a botched raid -- bad intelligence sends them to attack a wedding instead of a terror cell, and women and pro-U.S. police are killed.
There's a botched cover-up, but there's too much eyewitness video, so eventually there's an admission of guilt and an apology -- a high ranking U.S. official shows up and sacrifices a goat (more eyewitness video). Isolated case?
No, says journalist Jeremy Scahill, who compiled the reporting and footage that make up "Dirty Wars," about the escalating campaign of assassination and drone strikes that has expanded to thousands of targets and dozens of countries, the specifics of which are off-limits to the U.S. public.
He says his reporting is about out-of-control U.S. policies, not out-of-control troops.
"When you talk to guys within the special ops community, this is the issue they are facing. Not just the heinous immorality of killing a couple pregnant women and guys on the American side. It causes blowback. You kick down someone's door in the middle of the night and drag the wrong guy out into the street, and the next day people are rioting. I've had these (special ops) guys tell me: 'We don't set policy. We carry out the mission. And this makes our mission difficult.' "
And even more dangerous.
"I wonder, in reality, how many U.S. troops have been killed in counterattacks motivated by some incident gone bad. Some dumbsissuing an order based on bad intelligence."
He suspects the number is high, but it's secret (special ops troops, he says, are often listed as killed in training accidents), and details are kept from all but a few intelligence-committee congressmen, who are not permitted to see all details, reveal details of what they have seen or question the legal basis for the actions taken.
Says one: "Most Americans would be shocked by the difference between what the law says, and how it's being interpreted in secret."