May 20, 2013
What Would Jack Bauer Really Do?
Posted on Apr 25, 2006
Perhaps the best example of the right-wing misappropriation of ?24? is the show?s depiction of torture. Torture is shown to be far more complicated than Buchanan suggests: Season five?s main villain, Henderson, toughs out his torturer, and in seasons four and five, Jack Bauer and company repeatedly torture innocent people based on hearsay or faulty evidence. At one point, Bauer?s superiors even torture his love interest, Audrey Raines, based on an accusation from an untrustworthy European intelligence broker. Furthermore, Bauer loses more and more of his soul and sanity with every violent action he undertakes. Over the course of the show, Bauer loses his wife, best friends and colleagues, becomes addicted to heroin and alienates his daughter. It is clear that the brutality of Bauer?s job isolates him from society and makes him incapable of maintaining intimate and professional relationships. This suggests a subtle but important message that is lost on casual viewers: Not only is brutality not a panacea, it dehumanizes both torturer and the tortured.
Torture in real life is not as effective as the administration, its apologists or Buchanan would have us believe. Justifications for torture are usually based on the ?ticking time bomb? scenarios in which a suspect with information that can prevent imminent, mass deaths is tortured with only seconds to spare. As a terrorist, the suspect does not have any rights?he or she is seeking to commit mass murder and should not be allowed to hide behind inconvenient legal procedures. The glamorized Hollywood scenario is more a myth than a real possibility. Even if such a situation were to occur, reliable information could be obtained by ethical and legal means. In a 2004 New York Times article entitled ?Psychology and Sometimes a Slap: The Man Who Made Prisoners Talk,? Israeli interrogation specialists admitted that lawful interrogation can obtain effective results. The U.S. Army?s own Interrogation Manual directs the interrogator to use lawful methods and avoid the use of physical coercion. Furthermore, information obtained by torture is often unreliable. Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin?s widely quoted experiences in the Soviet prison system explain the mind-set of the prisoner:
A skilled interrogator can convince a terrorist to reveal important information, while a suspect in severe pain will tell the interrogator whatever he wants to hear, rather than the truth. Successful ?clinical? torture of the variety that is often seen on ?24? is a myth. According to Human Rights Watch general counsel Dinah Pokempner, ?torture is an intimate act that engages the torturer?s own emotions and imagination.? The show itself demonstrates this by showing Jack Bauer?s deep engagement and rage against the terrorist suspect, many times an innocent person. Torture also has the unfortunate effect of sabotaging U.S. diplomatic objectives. How can we talk to China and Sudan about human rights abuses when they can easily point to our own? How can we expect to see our own soldiers respected in enemy custody? As Sen. John McCain, a onetime POW, wrote in his 2004 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed article, ?In Praise of Do-Gooders?: ?While our intelligence personnel in Abu Ghraib may have believed that they were protecting U.S. lives ... they have the opposite effect. Their actions have increased the danger to American soldiers, in this conflict and in future wars.? In essence, even in the extremely hypothetical and rare ticking-time-bomb situation, torture is essentially a game of Russian roulette. And real-life torture in the case of the Bush administration has not centered around dire threats, but the ?rendition? of small-fry suspects who are tortured in the hopes they?ll squeal on higher-ups. This is torture based on a hypothetical or existential future, rather than immediate, threat.
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