Someone Call the Police

A new  movie of interest to MediaShack readers:

The new Ridley Scott thriller “Body of Lies,” which opens Friday, tells the story of a fictional collaboration between the CIA and Jordan’s secret police. While Hollywood may romanticize Jordan’s intelligence service, the facts, according to numerous reports, are more brutal than shown on the big screen.

Based on the novel “Penetration” by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, “Body of Lies” tells the story of a CIA operative played by Leonardo DiCaprio who attempts to infiltrate and destroy an Al Qaeda cell with the assistance of Hani Salaam, the fictional head of the General Intelligence Department (GID), or mukhabarat in Arabic.

Mr. Ignatius describes Mr. Salaam as an Arab-world James Bond: good looking, cool, and too savvy to use “inefficient” methods like torture. But international observers say the real GID is a far cry from its depiction in art.

Early in 2008, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published the results of interviews with more than a dozen former detainees who said they were tortured in GID custody. On Wednesday, the group issued a new report, alleging widespread torture in Jordan’s regular prisons – particularly among Islamists convicted of national security crimes.

Is this glorifying torture?  I think its more complicated than this and a general distinction needs to be made between public perceptions of  “the Police” and the Intel- or State Security.  
In many Arab  countries, the Spy Agencies, which are seen as protecting the state,  are very prestigious and have wide public respect.  Some not so nice things probably happen but they happen in secrecy so they are less visible.   This is not merely semantics- people actually make a distinction.  For example,  the most popular Ramadan television show ever in the Arab world is a hard-core romanticization of  Egypt’s Spy Agencies- Rafaat_Al-Hagen.  Its supposedly a true story about a young Egyptian who went to Israel (as a spy) to set up a tourism company in the initial years after Israel’s independence.  Today,  Omar Suleiman, the head of Egyptian Intelligence,  has enormous prestige and many consider him a future Presidential candidate.  He wouldn’t be in that position if his agency was hated or disliked.

On the other hand, what would be considered “police misconduct” in the US, is mostly happening at the hands of the Police, not State Security.   So Arab police forces, in general, have a bad reputation, although this may be partially because they are more visible.  Of course, these are generalizations.  But I think we can say that the Spy Agencies are widely respected and seen as James Bond-esque, whereas the Police have major PR issues.  If Decaprio made a film glorifying Arab police forces then I would be highly suspicious.  

One last thing, the fact that this movie is based on a David Ignatious book  gives it more credibility.  He knows what he is talking about when it comes to Intelligence.  Read  Agents_of_Innocence an awesome book on Lebanon, the PLO, and the CIA.