New Reality TV: Hunting Down Terrorists On Monday night, NBC News premiered a program called The Wanted, which takes viewers along on a mission to track down alleged terrorists and war criminals and bring them to justice. David Crane served as the chief prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and talks about why he made the decision to join the show's cast.
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New Reality TV: Hunting Down Terrorists

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New Reality TV: Hunting Down Terrorists

New Reality TV: Hunting Down Terrorists

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NEAL CONAN, host:

Mullah Krekar, identified as the founder of a terrorist group linked to al-Qaida, responsible for beheadings and bombings in Iraq - Australian reporter Eric Campbell tells us how one of the group's bombs killed his friend and cameraman, Paul Moran, near the start of the invasion of Iraq and cannot believe this man now hides in plain sight in Norway.

(Soundbite of TV program, "The Wanted")

Mr. ERIC CAMPBELL (Journalist): And it's astonishing. It's astonishing that this man who set up this group that did these things continues to walk freely in Norway, to enjoy all the freedoms of the society that he wants to destroy, laughing at these useful idiots in Norway.

CONAN: The dramatic music builds as an ex-Navy SEAL, a former Green Beret and an investigative journalist track down Mullah Krekar in Oslo, all part of last night's primetime premier of "The Wanted," a summer series that promises to expose terrorists and war criminals who live among us. The program was developed in collaboration with NBC News and features Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist Adam Ciralsky. But some critics charge the show blurs entertainment and news.

If you saw last night's debut, what did you think? 800-989-8255 is the phone number. Email us: talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

One of the cast members on "The Wanted" is David Crane, who served as founding chief prosecutor for war crimes trials in Sierra Leone from 2002 to 2005. And he's been kind enough to join us today here in Studio 3A. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. DAVID CRANE (Cast member, "The Wanted"; Former Chief Prosecutor, International War Crimes Tribunal): It's my pleasure.

CONAN: And you have, as mentioned, a distinguished background in international law and intelligence, not TV. Why did you decide to join the cast of "The Wanted"?

Mr. CRANE: I was inspired by the idea that a commercial major news network would have the courage to step forward and to begin presenting issues which Americans frankly don't pay a great deal of attention to, but do it in a way that's both entertaining but also informative. And I was intrigued by the genre as well as the fast-paced aspect of it.

But also, coming away from West Africa, one of my biggest challenges was the indifference over here in the United States. The rest of the world monitor these types of things. But in the United States, other than National Public Radio from time to time, they don't focus on war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and international terrorists. And I thought this may be our only shot at, in fact, facing down this indifference that I was always faced with when I would come back to the U.S. to talk to the American people. It's not that they don't care. They just don't have this presented to them in a way that's informative. I think "The Wanted" has gone a long way in that regard, so that's why I joined the show.

CONAN: And your part in it, you're the intelligence and you sort of vet these cases.

Mr. CRANE: Well, you know, yeah, I do have a background as a senior intelligence officer, but that's not why I joined the show. I came in with a way to build substantive aspect of it as a chief prosecutor of international war crimes tribunal. And so, yes, I do look at these cases. I consider them, I think about them, and to make sure that we have cases that are important, that stress the issues that need to be stressed, but also are valid journalistically as well.

CONAN: Let me ask a little bit about last night's first episode, which is the only one we've seen. It does give the impression that this man, Mullah Krekar, was hard to find when, in fact, he's granted numerous interviews to the Western media. So, why use hidden cameras and stake out his neighborhood in cars with - people can't see inside and prevent - this just seemed to be drama.

Mr. CRANE: Well, again, you have to approach these things in several ways. If we go completely with just a pure documentary, Americans may just tune out. What I think that the executive producers here, Emmy-winning - Emmy Award-winning Adam Ciralsky and Charlie Ebersol, they -this is journalism plus.

What they've done is they've taken good, solid journalism and also have allowed for an entertainment aspect of it. But it's very important that when we go into a particular area, we need to make sure that the individual is where he is. You know, it's a fascinating thing. You know, nations put these individuals where they are, hiding in plain sight or, actually, just in sight for whatever reason, national security reasons. In other words, we want to know where this guy is. We know where he is, we can watch him. We'd rather have him be in this situation as opposed to disappear. So nations have their own motives as to why these individuals are where they are.

But one thing we found as we traveled the world tracking down these individuals, some of them in plain sight, some of them not in plain sight, is they're using the law, of which they are trying to violate, as a shield to hide behind. And I think that "The Wanted" has begun to expose that as well, among other things.

CONAN: Using the law as a shield. The law is supposed to be our protector, innocent until proven guilty.

Mr. CRANE: Well, absolutely. And I - it's very important for your listeners to understand. You know, we're not out here to ruin lives or to expose individuals who have not done anything and then all of a sudden they have the glare of cameras facing them. This is a vetted show. These are individuals who have already committed, or allegedly committed, horrific acts of international terror, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Many of them have read notices against them. Many of them are wanted. Many of them are not allowed to travel. And many of them are indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide. So, all we are doing is to step forward and to expose what needs to be done. And at the end of the day, the bright red thread in all of this is justice, but justice in a way that is done using the system. And if "The Wanted" allows and exposes these individuals so that justice can be done, so be it.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. Our guest, David Crane, a member of the four-man team on NBC's "The Wanted," which premiered on NBC Network last night. 800-989-8255. Email us talk@npr.org. And Eric(ph) joins us from Boulder, Colorado.

ERIC (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead.

ERIC: I just have one - I saw the episode yesterday. I didn't catch the entire episode, but I just wanted to draw a critique on what I thought about the show, which is it painted the - I'm Swedish and although, you know, Norway is not Sweden, I think the show painted a negative - a very negative image of Norway. And yeah, I just wanted to critique that because, you know, being a country that is, you know, if you travel you - if you're a traveler, you like to travel. But for people that, you know, haven't been to Norway or the area, for example, I think this show painted a pretty negative image of the area and will consequently draw, you know, create negative images.

CONAN: Let me just explain. This man, Mullah Krekar, is living in Oslo. Partly, he's been indicted by the Iraqi government, or the government of Iraqi Kurdistan in any case, for - on terrorism charges. But they would not extradite him for fear that he would be tortured or executed. They would not extradite anybody subject to the death penalty to any country, not merely Iraq. But Norwegians described in the show as a useful idiots, David Crane?

Mr. CRANE: This isn't about Norway or the Norwegian people. In fact, Norway has - and their citizens have been leading in the fight on terror but also, more importantly, on human rights. They understand human rights. What we had…

CONAN: That was not emphasized in the program.

Mr. CRANE: Well, again, the facts are the facts. And we see that the Norwegian government, you know, this individual has been living in Norway for well over 15 years. He has worked the courts. He has thrown the law in the face of the Norwegian people. But the - this isn't about the Norwegian people. This is about Mullah Krekar and the allegations against him and the demand by the Kurdistan Iraqis for him to be handed over for fair and just trial, which, if you saw on the show that's exactly what they assured. And of course…

CONAN: One judge assured. You're - again, you have some experience with the legal - international legal system. This is not assurance from the government. This was one judge.

Mr. CRANE: Well, again, it's - of course. I mean, but this is the real world. What happens is, is the show was a catalyst for change. Hours before the show aired, the Norwegian foreign minister got - went on national television and said that we are in direct talks now with the Iraqi government and that Mullah Krekar will be handed over for a fair and just trial. Certainly, they have concerns about the death penalty. But they have been assured that he is - if he is handed over - and I read the letter myself and I read the letter in front of the national audience last night - and they assured that he would be given a fair trial and would be offered a Norwegian lawyer if he so chose. So, again, I do want to emphasize, it happens to be in Norway. This individual happens to seek out places. These individuals seek out places which have a solid rule of law and then they hide behind it to avoid justice.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get Anna(ph) on the line. Anna with us from St. Paul.

ANNA (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

My mom and I stumbled across this program last night while channel surfing and spent about 5 minutes arguing whether this was a new reality series or a new drama series. We couldn't really tell. And I kept telling her, it's got to be reality. It's got to be reality. But I'm wondering, when you mix the genres of drama and reality with using the dramatic camera angles, I'm wondering if this information, which I agree is important to the public, does it lose its credibility?

Mr. CRANE: Well, I think that's a very good question. It's all about credibility. But again, it's important that we present these important issues - some of them can be gruesome, some of them can be complex - in a way that Americans can watch, be entertained, but also to learn. This has never been done before quite like this in any way, shape or form. And many journalists have applauded the…

CONAN: Some have - to be fair, have been critical, saying this blurs the line between entertainment and news.

Mr. CRANE: I was about to say that, certainly. Absolutely, Neal. I mean, the - when you have something new like this, you're going to get it from both sides. But I think it's important - let me give you a good example. The movie "Blood Diamonds(ph)," excellent movie, all drama, none of it true, but yet they based it on a true situation, Neal, of blood diamonds. I was asked about that because I was in West Africa. I exposed the blood diamond industry. And they asked me, well, what do you think about "Blood Diamonds?" And I said, if the American can understand about blood diamonds watching this movie, which is pure fiction, so be it. It's - again, it goes back to education and fighting the indifference that I found and I faced throughout my time in West Africa. So, yeah, I agree with you that - but it's a balance. But certainly it's solid journalism.

ANNA: Can I just add to that question?

CONAN: Very quickly, if you would.

ANNA: Okay. Just referring - you brought up "Blood Diamond." Another movie "Hotel Rwanda," which is very powerful about exposing real-life issues, there's a line in there from the cameraman that says - talking about Americans back in their homes, watching the television and Paul Rusesabagina thinks that the Americans would just be appalled about what's going on. And the cameraman assures him that no, that isn't the case, but they'll just say, oh, that's horrible and go back to eating their dinner.

So I'm wondering do you feel this mixed genre is more powerful in calling people to be aware about current events or is it just the same as any news program or…

CONAN: And I'm going to have to ask you to answer very quickly, if you would, David Crane.

Mr. CRANE: Well, I think it does. I think it's very important that -this is good, solid journalism. But what I want to see is a good dialogue going. I want people to, the next day, say did you see that, and begin talking about this. If we can just talk about it, we have moved in the right direction. So I appreciate your points because I think they're important.

CONAN: Anna, thanks very much. And David Crane, thank you for your time today. Appreciate it.

Mr. CRANE: It's been my pleasure.

CONAN: David Crane, a former chief prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a former assistant general counsel of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and as we mentioned a cast member of "The Wanted."

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