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Controversial TV Show Damages Insurgency

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Much-criticised programme in which suspected militants are interrogated is turning the public against the insurgency.

Institute for War and Peace Reporting

 By Kamran Al-Karadaghi in London (ICR No. 121, 15-Apr-05)

Both American and Iraqi troops agree that there has been a drop in the number of insurgency attacks over the last few months. There is also a general feeling among the Iraqi population that this is the case.

One of the reasons for this, according to Iraqi government and the American military sources, is the phenomenon of the public becoming more cooperative in providing precise information about insurgents. Until recently, people were very reluctant to do so.

It is claimed that a controversial programme on the state-owned TV station “Al-Iraqiaya” is responsible for this change in the public mood. The programme has become such a hit that other privately-owned Iraqi TV stations are now showing it as well.

The programme, called Terror in the Hands of Justice, has been shown every evening on prime time TV for the last couple of months. During the course of the hour-long show, “terrorists” are questioned by interrogators about their activities prior to being captured by Iraqi forces. They give graphic details about their roles in attacks on the police and the army, as well as bombing, beheading, kidnapping and other criminal acts.

The suspected insurgents reveal the names of their masters, and the sums of money they were paid to commit extremist acts. The stories they tell are often horrible and disgusting. For a couple of hundred US dollars, one man describes how he tortured then beheaded a fellow Iraqi on the orders of his paymaster.

The effect of the programme has been dramatic, and it has clearly helped to encourage people to get involved in the efforts to eradicate the insurgency. But, ironically, the programme has been criticised by many media organisations for being a “trial without court” show, which violates human rights and neglects the basic principle that an accused is innocent until proven guilty.

On the TV show, the interrogators, who are heard but not seen by viewers, speak to the accused using abusive and threatening language, and call them criminals and terrorists. The accused look frightened and readily admit whatever the interrogators suggest that they have done. The ministry of human rights has taken the accusations against the programme very seriously and is investigating them.

The minister Bakhtiar Amin said there was evidence that the suspects were subjected to verbal and physical violations and that traces of torture were evident on some of the suspects who appeared on the programme

An Iraqi newspaper, The Opposite Direction, recently accused the Wolf Brigade, a special forces unit established to combat the insurgency, of conducting the interrogations on the TV show in an effort to undermine the resistance movement against the occupation.

The paper’s editor-in-chief, Mish’an Al-Jubouri, who is a member of the National Assembly, published an article in which he said that the Wolf Brigade’s conduct was a violation of the human rights of the suspected militants. The commander of the brigade, who was identified as “the General Commander” but not named for security reasons, responded defiantly to the article.

In a statement published by Opposite Direction, the commander refused to confirm or deny whether his brigade was involved in the interrogations, insisting there was no doubt that the suspects were criminals.

“As for human rights and the humane treatment of [alleged] criminals, let us ask our brother Misha’an about the human rights of the man who is killed in front of his house, the woman who is widowed, the children who are orphaned, the girl who is raped, killed, and mutilated? What about the human rights of mothers who cry day and night, the innocent patriotic people whose only concerns were to protect the country and people’s well-being, whose bodies were left in the streets for days because people were afraid to pick them up and bury them?” the statement said.

In his article, Al-Jubouri said that the confessions were made under duress and torture, suggesting that the pieces of paper the suspects occasionally glanced down to read contained a list of crimes they had been forced to admit to.

The General denied the torture accusation and said the suspects had notes because they had committed so many crimes that they couldn’t remember them all, and needed the notes to refresh their memories.

Commentators in the Iraqi press have pointed out that seeing the suspects as frightened, miserable people who were committing such horrendous crimes for a only a fistful of dollars had a huge impact on the Iraqi audience. This image was in stark contrast to the idea of the superman insurgent shown continuously on Arab satellites, particularly the Qatari-owned Al-Jazeera.

As a result, many ordinary Iraqis overcame their fears and began to report individuals they suspected of being related to extremist activity. In the past, people were afraid to report insurgents, despite the temptation of considerable financial rewards promised by Iraqi and American troops in exchange for information.

In the meantime, it seems that criticisms of the TV show will not stop the authorities from supporting it. Terrorism in the Hands of Justice will continue for as long as officials believe that it is encouraging the public to cooperate in the struggle against terrorism.

Kamran Al-Karadaghi is editorial adviser for IWPR’s Iraq project.

Created by keza
Last modified 2005-05-22 03:55 AM

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