Reporter, Peter Maass, has a very interesting article in today’s New York Times Magazine:

In a country of tough guys, Adnan Thabit may be the toughest of all. He was both a general and a death-row prisoner under Saddam Hussein. He favors leather jackets no matter the weather, his left index finger extends only to the knuckle (the rest was sliced off in combat) and he responds to requests from supplicants with grunts that mean ”yes” or ”no.” Occasionally, a humble aide approaches to spray perfume on his hands, which he wipes over his rugged face.

General Adnan, as he is known, is the leader of Iraq’s most fearsome counterinsurgency force. It is called the Special Police Commandos and consists of about 5,000 troops. They have fought the insurgents in Mosul, Ramadi, Baghdad and Samarra. It was in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, where, in early March, I spent a week with Adnan, himself a Sunni, and two battalions of his commandos.

The article gets into a lot of detail about how the U.S. military and men like General Adnan are fighting the ‘counterinsurgency’. It does a good job of exploring the moral ambiguity of putting down the Iraqi resistance. But, what interested me is Baass’s reporting on the new hit television program, Terrorism in the Grip of Justice.

The program we were watching was Adnan’s brainchild, and in just a few months it had proved to be one of the most effective psychological operations of the war. It is reality TV of sorts, a show called “Terrorism in the Grip of Justice.” It features detainees confessing to various crimes. The show was first broadcast earlier this year and has quickly become a nationwide hit. It is on every day in prime time on Al Iraqiya, the American-financed national TV station, and when it is on, people across the country can be found gathered around their television sets.

Those being interrogated on the program do not look fearsome; these are not the faces to be found in the propaganda videos that turn up on Web sites or on Al Jazeera. The insurgents, or suspected insurgents, on “Terrorism in the Grip of Justice” come off as cowardly lowlifes who kill for money rather than patriotism or Allah. They tremble on camera, stumble over their words and look at the ground as they confess to everything from contract murders to sodomy. The program’s clear message is that there is now a force more powerful than the insurgency: the Iraqi government, and in particular the commandos, whose regimental flag, which shows a lion’s head on a camouflage background, is frequently displayed on a banner behind the captives.

Apparently, the show is considered effective and useful propaganda. And perhaps it is effective and useful. The problem is that it is in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.

The real problem with the program, according to its most vocal critics — representatives of human rights groups — is that it violates the Geneva Conventions. The detainees shown on ”Terrorism in the Grip of Justice” have not been charged before judicial authorities, and they appear to be confessing under duress. Some detainees are cut and bruised. In one show, a former policeman with two black eyes confessed to killing two police officers in Samarra; a few days after the broadcast, the former policeman’s family told reporters, his corpse was delivered to them. The government’s human rights minister has initiated an investigation.

Al-Iraqiya is an American funded televison network. So, we’re paying for these human rights abuses. But, it’s interesting to see how some Iraqis justify the tactics and the program:

But as unsettling as the premise might be to judges at The Hague or professors at Harvard Law School, it makes for terrific television.

“There is no way that you can complain about human rights for these people–they are traitors,” said Alaa al-Saffar, an Iraqi journalist, offering a view so common that many Iraqis express bafflement that the treatment of the suspects might be considered unfair. “This is not like your country. This situation is so bad here. This is what we need to do.”
Chicago Tribune

Nothing is simple in Mess O’ Potamia. But, if the Iraqis want to violate their own human rights, I would prefer they do it on a non-American taxpayer subsidized network.

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