Thursday, March 10, 2005

Terror confessions on TV grip Baghdad - World - Times Online

Terror confessions on TV grip Baghdad - World - Times Online

On-screen admissions are used in the propaganda war

THE grim-faced young man looks shiftily in front of him, glancing from time to time at the lens recording his discomfort. A disembodied voice barks out: “Tell us about the crime you committed.”

The man clears his throat and begins to mumble. “We attacked the National Guard with machineguns and killed two of them. Then we beheaded one of them.” He stumbles for a moment, as if forgetting his lines. Then the interrogator prompts him with more details of his story and he continues with the tale of how he joined the insurgency and the attacks he carried out.

This is Terror in the Grip of Justice, the latest television hit in entertainment-starved Iraq where it is too dangerous to venture out at night and street life ends at last light. It is also the latest weapon in the Government’s propaganda war against the insurgents, aimed at exposing them as the enemies of ordinary Iraqis and cautioning those tempted to join them. Every night at 9pm thousands tune in to the state-run al-Iraqiya channel to see the “confessions” by insurgents paraded before the camera and interrogated.

The authorities insist that the confessions are genuine and obtained without duress, although some of the scripted-sounding accounts suggest otherwise. The series began several weeks ago with purported Syrian and Egyptian insurgents admitting that they joined the insurgency after training from Syrian intelligence.

Last week, to counter suggestions that the alleged offenders were anything but real, the programme-makers invited victims’ families to hurl abuse at the suspects and detail their bloody crimes.

In one riveting episode this week, a gloating interrogator, barely able to disguise the venom in his voice, sought to cast a motley bunch of alleged insurgents as criminals unworthy of the name of Mujahidin (fighters in a holy war), a word with honourable connotations in the Arab world.

A suspect who confessed to receiving payments from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s insurgent group in turn for killing policemen was asked how he spent the money. “On booze and clothes,” he said.

“You call yourself a holy warrior but you drink?” spat the interrogator. “You discredit the name of jihad.”

Then, like Jerry Springer delivering his “final thought”, the interrogator addressed his own homily to those at home: “For those who say we are discrediting the jihad, I swear by God, if it was a real jihad, we would be leading it. You see how they are killing innocent people and raping under the cover of jihad? The real jihad is not raping and killing, it’s rebuilding this country all together.”

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