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Captured insurgents questioned in Iraqi reality show

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A26402-2005Apr4.html?nav=rss_world Actors in the Insurgency Are Reluctant TV Stars Terror Suspects Grilled,
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 5, 2005
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      http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A26402-2005Apr4.html?nav=rss_world

      Actors in the Insurgency Are Reluctant TV Stars
      Terror Suspects Grilled, Mocked on Hit Iraqi Show

      By Caryle Murphy and Khalid Saffar
      Washington Post Staff Writers
      Tuesday, April 5, 2005; Page A18

      BAGHDAD -- Iraq's hottest new television program is a
      reality show. But the players are not there by choice.
      And they don't win big bucks, a new spouse or a dream
      job.

      Instead, all the characters on "Terrorism in the Hands
      of Justice" are captured suspected insurgents. And for
      more than a month, they have been riveting viewers
      with tales of how they killed, kidnapped, raped or
      beheaded other Iraqis, usually for a few hundred
      dollars per victim.

      Seated before an Iraqi flag, the dejected and cowed
      prisoners answer questions from an off-camera
      inquisitor who mocks their behavior. Some sport
      bruised faces and black eyes. Far from appearing to be
      confident heroes battling U.S. occupation, they come
      across as gangsters.

      "I watch the show every night, and I wait for it
      patiently, because it is very revealing," said Abdul
      Kareem Abdulla, 42, a Baghdad shop owner. "For the
      first time, we saw those who claim to be jihadists as
      simple $50 murderers who would do everything in the
      name of Islam. Our religion is too lofty, noble and
      humane to have such thugs and killers. I wish they
      would hang them now, and in the same place where they
      did their crimes. They should never be given any
      mercy."

      Broadcast on al-Iraqiya, the state-run network set up
      by the U.S. occupation authority in 2003, "Terrorism
      in the Hands of Justice" has become one of most
      effective arrows in the government's counterinsurgency
      propaganda quiver.

      "It has shown the Iraqi people the reality of those
      insurgents, [that] they are criminals, killers,
      murderers, thieves," Interior Minister Falah Naqib
      said last week.

      Sabah Kadhim, an Interior Ministry spokesman, added,
      "The last few weeks have been incredible in terms of
      tips coming in from the public."

      Officials launched the program, Kadhim said, after
      realizing that Iraqis did not believe that insurgents
      were being arrested. "Talking to people in the street,
      they say, 'Is it really true? . . . Why don't you show
      it?' " he recalled. "The demand for this came from the
      people."

      The bruised faces and the death of at least one
      prisoner after his appearance on the show have raised
      questions about the men's treatment in custody. Kadhim
      denied the prisoners were being abused. "There is
      absolutely no motive for us to torture them," he said.

      In recent reports, the State Department and Human
      Rights Watch have criticized the use of torture by
      Iraqi police.

      "In light of our recent findings about the prevalence
      of torture in Iraqi prisons," said Joe Stork, a
      Washington-based spokesman for Human Rights Watch, "we
      have serious concerns that these confessions were not
      also coerced and that the Iraqi authorities failed to
      provide essential due process protections."

      "Televised confessions are almost always suspect,"
      Stork added. "Recent examples in Iran and Saudi Arabia
      clearly involved a high level of coercion and
      degrading treatment."

      Such concerns have not dimmed the program's
      popularity.

      "We had not planned for the tapes, but suddenly we had
      what you might call a scoop," said al-Iraqiya's
      Baghdad station director, Ahmed Yasseri. As a result,
      he said, "we have overtaken the other stations. These
      tapes have captured the attention of Iraqis."

      The program usually opens with a graphic shot of a
      bloodied bombing victim lying in the street, followed
      by one of two smiling young boys holding a handwritten
      sign that reads, "No to Terrorism."

      As each insurgent is questioned, others sit behind
      him, hands folded in laps, as if patiently waiting
      their turns in a barbershop. Sometimes, the head of a
      cougar or lion -- mascots of counterinsurgency police
      commandos -- are superimposed on the Iraqi flag in the
      background.

      Many of the suspects are former policemen who claim
      they were coerced into joining the insurgency by
      threats against their families. Though many claim to
      have attacked U.S. forces, the interviews focus on
      their atrocities against Iraqis and payments they
      allegedly received from Syrian and Saudi paymasters.

      In one recent episode, Ramzi Hashim Obeidi, a painter
      from Mosul who claimed to be a member of the Islamic
      radical group Ansar al-Islam, described his purported
      role in the 2003 car bomb assassination of a senior
      Shiite Muslim cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Hakim,
      in Najaf.

      Obeidi said he was part of a six-man team that was to
      "intercept U.S. forces if they came." Others drove the
      explosives-laden vehicle the approximately 90 miles
      from Baghdad to the site of the attack. "It was very
      easy," he said "It was an ambulance."

      Among the conspirators who planned the operation,
      Obeidi said, was Iraq's most-wanted Islamic extremist,
      Abu Musab Zarqawi.

      "You did not target just Hakim," the police
      interrogator shouted at Obeidi. "You killed 110
      people, some of them women and children. . . . Do you
      call this jihad? What kind of jihad is this? To kill
      police, to behead police?"

      Obeidi, who made no attempt to defend his actions,
      meekly replied, "Up to now, I don't know what jihad
      is."

      On another segment, Qahtan Adnan Khalid, a prisoner
      who said he had been a policeman in the town of
      Samarra, had two black eyes and appeared to have
      difficulty breathing, occasionally wincing in pain.

      Responding to each question with a deferential "Sir,"
      Khalid recounted how he had shot two kidnapped
      policeman in the head and was paid $200 for each
      killing.

      "I advise the young to stay away from these paths," he
      said at one point.

      A few days after Khalid's appearance, his body was
      delivered to his father's home in Samarra, his family
      has said. Human Rights Minister Bakhtyar Amin said his
      office was investigating the death.

      At times, the insurgents appear to be parroting
      packaged answers, and critics of the program say the
      prisoners' stories fit well with the government's
      portrait of the insurgency: that it is in large part a
      bunch of greedy criminals run amok, that foreigners
      play a big role and that funding is coming from
      neighboring Syria and Saudi Arabia.

      Less emphasized on the program is that the
      predominantly Sunni Arab insurgency is also driven by
      fears of Shiite political domination and resentment of
      the U.S. occupation. As a result, "Terrorism in the
      Hands of Justice" provokes mixed feelings among some
      Sunni Arabs.

      "My criticism of the program is that it is sometimes
      simplistic, repetitive and gives the impression that
      those [men] are being coached to say what they are
      saying, although I believe they have committed these
      crimes," said Abdul Kareem Janaby, 46, a Trade
      Ministry employee. "Those persons are nothing but
      dirty, lowly gangs who are being used to defame the
      true character of the Sunnis."

      Kadhim said that the captured insurgents eventually
      would be brought to trial and that what they said on
      television would be ignored in court because the
      program was "not a court of law."

      The prisoners can only hope they get a judge who
      shares the views of Fuad Awdeh, 27, a Shiite laborer
      in Baghdad who said he found the program
      "captivating."

      "I feel sorry and pity for those guys," he said. "They
      may have done it for money . . . and probably, being
      unemployed, were easily drawn into this."

      Still, Awdeh said, he finds the program credible
      "because in one episode someone spoke of committing a
      crime in the Wahda district, and it happens I knew the
      victim's family, and it was true."
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