2007 Excellence in Television Award Winner
Criminal Minds "Lessons Learned"
This episode presents a twist on the "ticking time bomb scenario" seen on so many TV shows. Instead of torturing the detainee who has information that could stop the detonation of a biological bomb, Special Agent Jason Gideon (Mandy Patankin) talks to him. In the process, he is able to learn more from the suspect in less than 48 hours than the rougher tactics of CIA interrogators were able to elicit in weeks. The episode, written by an actual FBI agent (Jim Clemente), shows how sophisticated techniques are likely to yield more information than abusive ones.
Excellence in Television Award
Human Rights First created this award to honor a TV program that self-consciously uses the medium to raise awareness about a human rights problem. This year, we are giving the award to a TV show that depicts torture and interrogation in a nuanced, realistic fashion. Too often on TV torture is presented as effective and even patriotic. On programs like 24 and Sleeper Cell, torture is routinely employed by heroes and the problems associated with this practice are rarely explored. A handful of shows have resisted this formulaic depiction. They offer their viewers – and notably, young people considering a career in the armed services - a more complete view of what can happen in the interrogation booth at a time when these issues are being hotly debated in the United States and overseas. In giving this award, we recognize the awesome power of TV to not only entertain, but also to educate and inspire.
LOST, "Enter 77"
In this episode, Sayid – a former Iraqi Republican Guard interrogator – has a decision to make. Should he torture a man that has been captured to find out information that could save lives? The episode is built around a series of flashbacks to a time when Sayid encountered a woman he had tortured in the past. It explores issues not often explored on TV – namely, what happens to the torturer and the tortured after the moment of violence? And it points out a fact about torture: in situations where leadership is poor or absent, even good people will use torture to try to obtain information.
The Shield, "Back to One" and "Chasing Ghosts"
In "Back to One," Vic Mackey – a rogue cop – has a problem. He is torturing the wrong guy because he is absolutely convinced that this man has killed his former partner. The episodes examine what can go wrong when abusive tactics are used. And they follow Mackey as he comes to the painful realization that he has tortured the wrong man. Though the program is quite violent and graphic, it tackles a difficult subject in a raw and realistic way.
The Closer, for the character Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson
Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) is a hard-nosed interrogator. She never uses abusive interrogation tactics but she always gets her subjects to talk. Almost every episode, Johnson cracks a case by showing how much can be accomplished when interrogators use their heads, rather than their fists.
Boston Legal "Guantanamo by the Bay"
This episode features attorney Alan Shore's (James Spader) efforts to pursue justice on behalf of his client, a Harvard-educated doctor who was mistaken for a terrorist and sent to Guantanamo Bay. Many of the abuses the doctor faced at Guantanamo (stress positions, sleep disruption, sexual humiliation etc.) have been perpetrated on detainees in U.S. custody.
The award winner will be announced October 15, 2007 at the Annual Human Rights Award Dinner in New York. The judges for the selection committee were:
- Ken Bacon, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense and Current President of Refugees International
- Kim Brizzolara, Film Producer
- Jacob Epstein, TV screenwriter
- Tony Lagouranis, Former Army Interrogator
- Marjan Keypour, Rights Activist
- Sidney Lumet, Film Director
- Elisa Massimino, Washington Director of Human Rights First
- Joe Navarro, Former FBI interrogator
- Dean Olsher, Host of NPR's "The Next Big Thing" and Author
The winner will receive a prize commissioned by the artist Jenny Holzer.
Television shows that aired during the Fall 2006 and Spring 2007 season were eligible for consideration.