THE PLANK JULY 29, 2009
TNR's homepage today features a long piece I wrote about "The Wanted," a new primetime series from NBC News. Only two weeks old, the show has already managed to kick up an impressive amount of controversy. Here's the premise: A team of real-life experts in counterterrorism and war crimes track international fugitives around the globe, setting up surveillance and confronting them with cameras. Last night's episode, the second, focused on an indisputably serious target: Mamoun Darkazanli, a Syrian and an accused Al Qaeda financier, who allegedly had links to the Hamburg-based cell that plotted the September 11 attacks. The show began with a briefing in the team's bunker-like headquarters set--it's decorated with the militaristic seal of the show's production company, which incorporates a trident and what appears to be a panther--and culminated in a Ronin-style car chase through the streets of Hamburg.
The show's producers say all the Hollywood razzmatazz has a serious purpose: They want people like Darkazanli, who is under indictment in Spain and who has been living openly in Germany while appealing his extradition, to face trial. At the conclusion of last night's episode, the team appeared to win a victory, though of a distinctly procedural variety: The Spanish prosecutor who's going after Darkazanli agreed to make a new extradition request to Germany, which has just changed the law that was a sticking point. Not exactly a blaze of gunfire, but that's how international justice works in real life.
While it's not yet clear how much the show's creative formula appeals to the viewing public, and the critical response has ranged from ethically fretful to mercilessly withering, the show has won over some very vocal fans in the conservative commentariat. Mary Katherine Ham wrote on the Weekly Standard's blog yesterday:
The Left is predictably squeamish about the projection of American moral authority via flashy extra-governmental investigations, and the unfairness and psychic pain such uncouth behavior might cause murderous terrorists and the Euro-wimpy bureaucracies that harbor them. They're not nearly as concerned about terrorists and accused perpetrators [of] human rights violations living freely in Western countries with impunity.
The Washington Times says the show is a hit with the special-ops crowd, while Danielle Pletka, over at the American Enterprise Institute, adds: "The real fight is about the political correctness of outing terrorists and war criminals living in Western countries."
It's a little more complicated than that, though. To see just how complex things can get when a television network starts wading into the murky waters of international justice, check out my story, which is about Leopold Munyakazi, a former professor at Goucher College who has been accused of participating in the Rwandan genocide. Munyakazi's case first came to public notice when the team from "The Wanted" showed up on Goucher's campus to expose him. There was just one problem, though: Many of the world's best-known Rwanda experts say the genocide accusations may be bogus. The producers of "The Wanted" say they plan to air their episode about Munyakazi--which includes numerous eyewitness accusations collected on multiple reporting trips to Rwanda--sometime soon. In the meantime, you can read the article, which sadly contains no car chases.