Video: Iraqi reality TV

By Richard Engel Chief foreign correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/25/2005 8:06:37 PM ET 2005-02-26T01:06:37

U.S. officials tell NBC News American and Iraqi forces captured one of Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi's inner-circle in a raid Feb. 20 near the border with Syria — just missing al-Zarqawi himself.

The man arrested is known as Abu Qutaybah and he decided who, when and how other militants met al-Zarqawi. He told U.S. officials al-Zarqawi is on the run — never sleeping in the same place two nights in a row.

Friday’s announcement comes as the Iraqi government this week launched an unusual new anti-terror campaign: A gritty TV show called “Terrorists in the Hands of Justice.”

Every few hours on state television alleged insurgents confess in gripping detail.

One man said he stalked 10 college girls who were translators for the U.S. Army, then raped and murdered them. Another said he beheaded 10 people after first practicing on animals.

More than 20 confessions have aired this week. Many said they had ties to Syrian intelligence. U.S. officials have not been able to verify those claims.

The program's goals are to convince people the security forces are defeating insurgents, and lift the police's own morale. Police wanted to televise the confessions to inspire people to give tips, but they've had the unexpected effect of turning public opinion here against Syria.

But are the confessions real? Or forced?

An NBC News team visited the police station in Mosul where the interrogations are being recorded. The police put detainees on display for the local media. Several looked beat up. A relative of a murdered policeman said he interrogated a suspect himself. The police denied torturing any of the detainees. To prove it, they lined up the accused, asking if they'd been beaten. Each said no.

The show has already proven wildly popular and officials say they are now getting more tips, but the accused insist they're victims of show trials.

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