Information Warfare: How Hollywood Helps al Qaeda Look Good


April 20, 2007: Once again, Hollywood has gotten it wrong while portraying the issues and methods used at Guantanamo Bay. This time, the offending show was "Criminal Minds" on CBS. In a sense, this mess had some good points, but what the show got wrong is not only worth noting, it also reveals some bad news on another front.

The good news is that the show accurately portrayed the terrorists in custody at Guantanamo Bay. There have not only been threats made to interrogators and officers by detainees, but guards have suffered over 400 attacks, many of which involved bodily fluids. The episode also showed the need for the detainee facilities at Guantanamo Bay by having plot where the Americans had force a terrorist to provide information needed to thwart a biological warfare attack. That said, what the show got wrong outweighed it. Many of the methods used, both by the military interrogators and the FBI personnel are not permitted. This included the denial of food and drink, denial of information on how to pray (including the direction of Mecca), and physical assaults.

What makes getting it wrong in that episode so hard to understand is the fact that it would have been very easy for the writers and producers of the show to get things right. The U.S. Army has a manual for their interrogators, which discusses a lot of these questions in detail. It explains the purpose behind interrogations (usually to get information about future offensive or defensive military operations). It should be noted that these techniques also work when getting information for the purpose of preventing terrorist attacks. The Department of Defense also had a website that covered the issue, and it has been known to assist Hollywood with major motion pictures.

What is also worth noting is that al Qaeda manuals instruct members to falsely claim torture if they are captured. Other entertainment portrayals, including an episode of "Law and Order: Criminal Intent", do not even mention this. Nor have they mentioned the fact that many of the other charges of abuse from human rights groups have been found to have no basis in fact. They also neglect to mention the fact that at least a dozen detainees that have been released have gone back to fighting with al Qaeda.

While Guantanamo Bay has been the subject of criticism, it has worked pretty well. In many cases, this intelligence acquired has given the United States information on how al Qaeda is organized, where some al Qaeda cells are, and on future operations. The inaccurate portrayals of Guantanamo Bay by various TV shows also has an effect. It not only makes other media misreporting of Guantanamo Bay believable, but it also leads to pressure on politicians to prematurely end the use of the facilities there. - Harold C. Hutchison (


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