Iraq’s most popular television show is Terrorism in the Grip of Justice on public station Al Iraqiya on Friday nights. Over 9 million people tune in every Friday to watch victims confront terrorists in person.
FRANCE 24 went with the show’s team to shoot one episode. Host Ahmed Hassan presented Tahseen, a leader with the Islamic State in Baghdad, who “confessed to masterminding several attacks including dozens of car bombings.” Hassan dragged Tahseen into areas he attacked.
In one Baghdad neighbourhood, a portly resident with a bandaged arm approaches the famous TV presenter as he stands in the street with the handcuffed terror suspect.
Ishtar, a Baghdad resident, was wounded in a terror attack conducted by Tahseen – and he is distraught.
“Why did he do this?” Ishtar asks Hassan, the TV presenter. “Aren’t we all Muslims? Wasn’t it the same God who created us? Why did he detonate that bomb? What have we done wrong? Don’t we all have families and homes?”
A resident in a djellaba, or traditional flowing robe, approaches the prisoners flanked by Iraqi security forces and the star TV host. “If it wasn’t for all these people around, I’d eat you alive, I swear I’d crush you – you scum,” screams the man at the prisoners while the security officials look on.
Suddenly, from a balcony across the street, a male voice screams out from the shadows. “You’re a coward. You destroyed our lives. You burned the little we owned – you’re a bastard. A bastard! Our families are dead, our children are dead, our friends are dead – he’s a bastard,” the man screeches through angry tears.
Iraqis love the show, which debuted in 2005, but it is hit with international criticism; human rights groups claim the show violates the Geneva Convention, which does not allow countries to parade or humiliate prisoners. These prisoners are also questioned without a lawyer present. The prisoners usually depicted on the show are domestic detainees, not prisoners of war. Some believe Iraq should still treat these prisoners well.
“[T]he Iraqi government is still bound to treat prisoners in a dignified way under international human rights law,” Naz Modirzadeh, assistant professor of international human rights law at the American University in Cairo (AUC), told The Christian Science Monitor. “Public humiliation is a no-no.”
Some supporters think these human rights groups should concentrate on the victims.
“Human rights advocates should think more about the rights of the Iraqis killed by car bombs,” said Yasser Qurayshi, a civilian aide to Commander Waleed, who pitched the show in 2004. “The Wolf Brigade fights terrorism, without regard to specifics about religion.”
Peter Maass, with The New York Times, spent time with General Adnan Thabit, the producer of the famous show, in April 2005. He was a “general and a death-row prisoner under Saddam Hussein.” Now, he leads the brigade against these terrorists.
”It has a good effect on civilians,” he said, adding:
Most civilians don’t know who conducts the terrorist activities. Now they can see the quality of the insurgents. Civilians must know that these people who call themselves resisters are thieves and looters. They are dirty. In every person there is good and bad, but in these people there is only bad.
According to the Monitor, Iraqis said it is proof their government is doing everything they can to make the country safe. The U.S. said the show inspired more Iraqis to help with “intelligence tips.”
“Obviously, the first thing the government has to do is convince people that it can govern, so that they see the value of coming forward with information,” said Colonel Thomas Hammes, an insurgency expert at National Defense University.
Iraqis do think the show is proof the government is doing everything it can to make the country safe. Supporters said the show “helps Iraq fight an insurgency that has no qualms about using video-tapes of beheadings to sow terror.” One Sunni Arab viewer anonymously told The Christian Science Monitor in 2005 he approves of the show and watches it with his wife and daughter.
“This show is an example of government accountability,” he claimed. “This is democratic.”