NBC aired a highly unusual show on July 20 called The Wanted, which has provoked a storm of controversy over its style, methods and content. Is it journalism, entertainment, infotainment, or To Catch a (Terrorist) Predator? It is, perhaps, a bit of all of the above. But most importantly, and the reasons for all the condemnation, is that it has given rare exposure to the terrorist mentality, it has shown positive benefits stemming from the war in Iraq, and it has highlighted media hypocrisy — especially on the part of the New York Times.
The premise of the show is that a team of individuals goes around the globe to confront and attempt to bring to justice terrorists and international war criminals who live in plain sight, yet seem to be escaping justice. In the premier episode, the target was Najmuddin Faraj Ahmed, also known as NAJMUDDIN FARAJ AHMEDMullah Krekar. Krekar, by various accounts, either started or inspired the terrorist organization based in Iraq, Ansar Al Islam (Helpers of Islam), described on the show’s website as “a group which has targeted U.S.-led coalition forces as well as Iraqi and non-Iraqi civilians.” It describes Krekar as allegedly having been complicit in the 2003 bombing of the United Nation’s mission in Iraq, and “training and recruiting foreign fighters to serve as snipers and suicide bombers.” Also, Krekar was convicted in Jordan for his role in terrorism and his links to al Qaeda.
The show’s cast includes a retired Navy Seal and a retired Green Beret, who organize the surveillance and confrontation of their target. In addition, the cast includes an NBC News producer and David Crane, a former international war crimes prosecutor. According to the New York Times, in a preview of the show, “Crane praised the series for tackling cases of possible criminals who are ‘living normal lives under the protection of a domestic law and are trying to avoid justice.’” He told the Times that “We’re just here to seek justice for people that have been so victimized by international terrorists.”
Here is where the Times has a problem: “It is the ‘we’-the cooperation between the former intelligence officers and NBC News-that has raised red flags among a number of veteran journalists, including some within NBC. They say they find it troubling that ‘The Wanted’ blurs the boundaries between government agents and supposedly impartial journalists.”
The Times also compared the show to “To Catch a Predator,” “the ‘Dateline NBC’ franchise that showed police officers and journalists working in concert to catch possible sex offenders when they tried to meet minors. Some have even pre-emptively labeled the series ‘To Catch a Terrorist.’”
And they worry that the network’s pursuit of these characters could hamper the role of law enforcement officials in putting these people away.
A guest column in the New York Daily News calls the show “outright dangerous,” and says NBC should be ashamed. The author of the column, Lydia Khalil, a former counterterrorism analyst for the New York City Police Department and currently a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that Mullah Krekar is “by all accounts, a marginalized and constricted figure.” Even if that was true, we shouldn’t forget or forgive his past, which I will get to shortly.
And the Washington Post-owned Slate.com really took offense. Slate TV critic Troy Patterson blasted the show for its content, its glitzy style, and its manner of journalism. “The staging of conversations,” says Patterson, “just for instance-render The Wanted inadmissible as journalism. Despite some others-frenetic pandering to base instincts, risible action-flick camerawork-the show nonetheless fails to amuse. If it’s not news and not entertainment, then what might it be?”
Some of these criticisms are justified, in terms of lines being crossed, or blurred. But speaking of lines crossed, what about how a network like NBC’s cable news network MSNBC has turned over its evening line-up to a series of shows completely biased in favor of the current Administration, and so hostile to the previous one? This, at a time when NBC’s parent company, General Electric, used a loophole to get the government to guarantee close to a hundred billion dollars of its debt, according to a recent report by ProPublica. “The company [GE] did not initially qualify for the program under which the government sought to unfreeze credit markets by guaranteeing debt sold by banking firms,” cited the report, which also was carried by the rival Washington Post. “But regulators soon loosened the eligibility requirements, in part because of behind-the-scenes appeals from GE.”
And what about the New York Times working with government agents to expose classified government programs designed to track al-Qaeda financial transactions, or to intercept their communications?
While “The Wanted” has potential journalistic problems, the first episode at least provided a great service, and did so in a way that was entertaining, and even compelling. It showed the best of U.S. servicemen, who had recently served for and fought for their country, and who helped to liberate Iraq. The person they were pursuing, Mullah Krekar, is a convicted terrorist-convicted in Jordan in 2004-who was allowed to live freely in Norway, though all the branches of Norway’s government wanted him sent back to Iraq to face justice. Their laws prevented them from sending him to a country where he might be executed or tortured.
It showed how Iraqis, especially those from Kurdistan, viewed the positive changes that the U.S. had brought to Iraq; namely, freedom from Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror, a measure of freedom and democracy, and a functioning justice system.
How does the military’s Special Ops community view this show? According to an article in the Washington Times, many of them are pleased. “‘Initially, they were very suspicious of [the show] because they thought it was Hollywood trying to make something dramatic out of this situation,’ said one person in the Department of Defense’s special operations community who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of his position.
“They thought these guys were going to be out bagging and tagging folks and violating all kinds of laws and it was going to turn into a fiasco….Everyone I’ve talked to said that it was well done, didn’t reveal a lot of our trade secrets-if you will-and left me feeling that somebody’s doing something about a problem we all know exists and, frankly, we can’t do anything about,’ he added.”
Through a lengthy interview, “The Wanted” exposed Krekar for the bloody terrorist that he is. Normally, what is found in this interview can only be found on MEMRI.org, the great website that monitors and translates much of the hateful rhetoric coming out of the Middle East.
Too often, such as when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured and his mug shot shown, it became fodder for Saturday Night Live, and treated as a joke. Anyone who saw Mullah Krekar being interviewed on “The Wanted” was watching the mind and face of a terrorist, someone who is perfectly willing to kill for his twisted ideology. This was the best part of “The Wanted”-the interview with Mullah Krekar. The interview was conducted by several members of “The Wanted” team:
Question from “The Wanted” team:
What kinds of weapons and tactics are acceptable for a Muslim to carry out Jihad?
From shoes to an atomic bomb. They are all defense, they are all weapons. If I can get Kalashnikov I will use Kalashnikov.
By that token suicide bombings are okay?
Yes, of course it’s okay.
Sniper squads? Assassinations? Chemical weapons?
And even if I poison the water wells from which American soldiers drink in Iraq, it is Halal and permissible for a Muslim.
You are teaching jihad?
I’m now also teaching Jihad. You must know. And against American soldiers. You must know this also. Now and future.
Are American soldiers legitimate targets in Iraq?
Yes. Of course. What is the difference between American civilians and Norwegian civilians? No different.
What about journalists? Paul Moran, an Australian journalist died in an attack carried out by your group.
Where he was?
He was working for the Australian broadcasting corporation.
No, he was with your soldiers.
He was wearing the word press on his jersey, wasn’t he?
Do you regret his death?
I had no tears left in me to shed for your sake, or for the sake of the Australian.
Earlier we were talking about jihad. The bombings of the USS Cole, the U.S Embassy in Kenya, 9/11; are those defensible?
I didn’t say that was jihad.
So you do not support the 9/11 attacks?
I said that the people in America need this reaction.
You’re saying that America needed to be taught a lesson?
Yes, of course. And still they need it.
When I served in Iraq I went over thinking that I would put my life on the line to liberate not occupy and I served along side Iraqis that I would call my brothers.
You deserved to be killed when you were in the streets of Baghdad.
I did not serve on an American post. I went to work every day and served on an Iraqi base. There were seven Americans and over 150 Iraqis. I was their guest.
There is no “guest.” You say that I came. I was very safety people, I am civilization man. And I belong to America. What are you saying. You are one of the soldiers of the new Hitler. And you came to kill us. You came to destroy our mosques. You came to tear our Koran.
The U.S. has branded you a terrorist. The U.N. has branded you a terrorist. The Canadians have branded you a terrorist. The Iraqis have branded you a terrorist. The Jordanians have branded you a terrorist.
(laughing) This is only by one thing.
Mullah Krekar, we’re not meeting with you in a vacuum. Your past is in Iraq. Your past is jihad. Your present is jihad and your future is jihad.
But I didn’t do anything more than any Kurdish…which they did.
Your group committed suicide bombings, assassinations, murder of civilians.
Against you. Against you. Not against civilian people. It’s not true. You did this. Why is it only Ansar al Islam?
This is about what you did in Iraq, and you’re wanted in Iraq. Iraqi officials went on camera and put in writing assurances that they won’t kill or torture you. Those assurances will be passed to Norwegian authorities.
This talk was uttered during the trial. But the Norwegians, they were not convinced of this kind of talk. How could they surrender me to a lake of blood?
You have contributed to that lake of blood.
While it may seem incredible, and contrary to his own best interests that Krekar would say all this on camera, he has actually given a number of interviews over the years, though they didn’t mention that on the show. In 2004, for example, he confirmed to Al-Jazeera that he was still the leader of Ansar al Islam and proudly boasted of his role in killing Americans and others in Iraq. According to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, Krekar appeared in the interview on Al-Jazeera as a guerrilla leader. “Wearing a head covering and military fatigues, he offered no protest or correction when he was identified several times as zaim, or leader, of Ansar al-Islam. Moreover, Krekar confirmed in the debate program…that Ansar al-Islam was behind a suicide bombing in Northern Iraq on March 22. Three people were killed in the bombing, and that incident plays a key role in Norwegian prosecutors’ charges against him.”
Krekar, according to Aftenposten, also “displayed detailed knowledge of the incident,” saying that after “the Americans bombed us in our areas…one of our brothers, one of the martyr candidates, fastened explosives to himself and his car and drove into an American position.” Krekar also revealed that the suicide bomber “gave USD 5,000 that he had to his brothers and exchanged his new shoes with old ones.”
Then he left, continued Krekar, “and detonated the explosives, and in that manner hit five Americans and 19 from the PUK and an Australian journalist who was with the American in a military vehicle.”
Krekar also had good things to say about Osama bin Laden, the most wanted terrorist in the world, presuming he is still alive, and about developments in the Muslim world. “The whole world must see that Jihad…is increasing in its scope with Allah’s pardon,” he said. “This trend represents solidarity in the Muslim community.” Krekar added that he “thinks ‘Jihadists’ won’t ease up ‘until they see Islam’s house equipped with Saladin’s sable, Mohammed’s conquering turban and Osama bin Laden’s vision.” These are apparently all considered to be important symbols used by Islamic extremists.
Following Krekar’s interview on NBC’s “The Wanted,” they then showed Siv Jensen, chairman of the Progress Party in Norway. She said this was dreadful. “We cannot sit still accepting this to happen.” She said the letter that the show was able to get from the Iraqis, assuring that Mullah Krekar would not be tortured or executed, would be very helpful and that she would send it to the prime minister and demand his response.
“The only thing that worries me,” said Jensen, “is that it took an American television team to provide the letter. On behalf of, I believe, the majority of the Norwegian people, thank you very much for doing this. Thank you.” They also spoke to Carl Hagen, the vice president of the Norwegian parliament. He said he would take that piece of paper and arrange for the Iraqi authorities to take him back. He said that “The Wanted” was doing what the Norwegian government should have been doing.
At the conclusion of the show, this message came on the screen:
“Hours before this broadcast, the Foreign Minister of Norway went on national television to announce that his country has entered into direct negotiations with Iraq to find a way to extradite Mullah Krekar. He vowed, ‘Mullah Krekar will be deported from Norway.’”
While “The Wanted” may have crossed some journalistic lines, and mixed high-tech and glitzy production values with a journalistic, investigative venture, it produced some compelling TV that showed Americans something that conventional news shows have shown us way too little of. It showed a level of cooperation between U.S. military people and Iraqis, a post-Saddam mentality toward terrorists and terrorism in Iraq, and the depths and depravity of a modern-day jihadist. It also may result in justice for a terrorist.
On July 27, NBC aired the second and only remaining episode scheduled of “The Wanted.” Four more have been produced, but none are slated to air at this point. Neither of the two episodes drew good ratings. In the second episode, their target was Mamoun Darkazanli, who has been indicted in Spain for “providing logistical and financial support to al Qaeda,” according to the show’s website. They also made a convincing case that he has ties to al-Qaeda operatives who were convicted on charges related to the African embassy bombings in 1998. They say he was known as bin Laden’s financier, and also had links to Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the 19 terrorist hijackers on September 11, 2001.
Spain had been seeking extradition of Darkazanli from his home in Hamburg, Germany since his indictment in 2003. But the German government had refused, citing a law that didn’t allow them to extradite German citizens to other countries to stand trial. The law has since been changed, but until the team from “The Wanted” came along, no one had pressed for the extradition. The bottom line of the show was that German and Spanish officials went on camera to say that Spain would again request extradition, and this time the German government would cooperate.
We’ll see how the efforts of “The Wanted” team turn out. But it has brought attention to a serious issue that had gotten way to little attention from the mainstream media, who aren’t comfortable making such moral judgments as this show was willing to do. You can actually watch both episodes online, at least as of this writing, and decide for yourself.
Roger Aronoff is a media analyst with Accuracy in Media, and is the writer/director of “Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope.” He can be contacted at email@example.com
Crossposted at Accuracy in Media.