“The Night Doctrine,” ProPublica’s first animated documentary, traces the story of Lynzy Billing, a young British journalist of Afghan-Pakistani origins, who returns to Afghanistan to find out who killed her family 30 years earlier, only to stumble upon a secretive U.S.-backed program killing hundreds of civilians.
Amid the chaos of war, Billing undertakes a dangerous quest to uncover the truth about the Zero Units, squads of Afghan commandos funded, trained and directed by the CIA to go after threats to the United States. As Billing tracks the deadly night raids conducted by one of the units, she learns the stunning hidden cost of the program: The raids were often getting it wrong, killing scores of people with no connection to the Taliban or any other terrorist group.
Driven to compile an accounting of the dead, Billing crisscrosses the country to meet with the survivors of the raids, some of whom were wrongly targeted and suffered life-altering losses, and others who’d lost family members and had nowhere to turn for answers. She persuades Afghan commandos to speak candidly about their role in killing their countrymen. Interweaving the stories of survivors and soldiers with her own, “The Night Doctrine” is a powerful and thought-provoking short that sheds light on the impact of the CIA’s failed tactic of war and the need for accountability and justice.
The 16-minute film, directed by ProPublica’s Mauricio Rodríguez Pons and Almudena Toral and animated by Rodríguez Pons, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in June. It has since been featured at a dozen film festivals around the world.
The documentary, presented in partnership with The New Yorker, is a companion piece to Billing’s reporting in “The Night Raids,” a gripping and powerful investigation published in 2022. Billing is a producer of the film, which is scored by Afghan composer Milad Yousufi.