American Views Abroad

Thursday, May 25, 2006
Criminal Intent, a US series, was highlighted as a tip last Monday in a TV magazine. The theme listed was a justice scandal in NYC: were prisoners unaccounted for and were they being tortured? There were three US crime shows on that particular channel that evening: CSI New York, Criminal Intent and Crossing Jordon. Only Criminal Intent got special attention and it was an episode indeed worth watching for many reasons, but mainly because it was so blatantly political.

A prison officer was found murdered, but his neighbors thought he was actually a police officer. The victim had decided to cover up his real job because he was very troubled by what was happening there and even declined to reveal any facts to his wife. Slowly, intricate police work done by well drawn and played characters reveal a secret prison within the official prison system, behind locked doors, where Arabs or Arab-Americans were being held and tortured. The language describing the torture was vivid and sickening. The leading detective said it all, shaking his head at the end: our own people and in our own country.

Of course, that episode like everything on German TV was dubbed into German. Dubbing has been perfected to an art form here. Actors take on the voice of an actor and so face and voice are one and the same irregardless of the film or series. Attention is paid to lip movements but the language is high German without any noticeable regional dialect and little to no mumblings, slurring, slang or blue language. I find myself paying far more attention to what is actually being said since things just sound more serious, at any rate clear and distinct. When returning to the US, I make a habit of looking up certain series to see how they actually sound. Often, it's a let down, strange to say.

Here though the German title, Hinter Gittern, literally Behind Prison Bars, was not quite up to par with the English title, Stress Position. Google in these two words and what comes up is a lot about torture, in particular, a certain half-standing position. It aired in the US in February 2005 and though I was impressed and astound that the popular media was taking up torture and secret, illegal prisons, I could find little to no comments about it. Recently on Without a Trace which airs on Friday evenings here, there was a case where a more than likely innocent person was to be executed by the state within minutes. All legal options about bringing in new evidence were closed. The clock ticked and the agents sat motionless, silently acknowledging a system which isn't flawless.

Outside the US, torture, secret detention centers/prisons, and capital punishment are now inescapably connected to the US's reputation. Yesterday in Spiegel: Almost a Kind of Mental Torture: A European Politican Visits Guantanamo at,1518,417941,00.html. They are building a new prison there for $34 billion without a single window and no end in sight for those prisoners. None of whom has any chance of a legal, fair trial. All just presumed guilty.

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