Archive - Jan 2009

January 15th

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The new season of "24" started this past weekend, and it contained very few surprises. Well, the show may have contained surprises, I don't know. But the unsurprising part is the show's continued impact on our national discourse. The lizard-brain factions of our society are still getting tiny little lizard erections every time Jack Bauer tortures someone, they're still using the show to justify the Bush administration's use of torture, and they're still getting it wrong.

I'm not even going to get into the fact that "24" is a fictional show that abandons reality for over-the-top melodrama at every single opportunity. That's a given. Yes, it's completely insane for people to be using the fictional words and actions of a fictional character in a fictional situation as evidence to back up a real-world argument. But that's a level of insanity we've known about and become accustomed to over the past few years.

No, what pisses me off is that even if you accept the insane premise that public policy on the treatment of prisoners should be set by Jack Bauer, the argument Bauer makes is actually completely different from the argument the people cheering for him want to make. In the seventh season premiere, Jack Bauer is appearing before Congress. Based on the number of presidential terms he's gone through over the show's seven seasons, it really should be the Space Congress of the year 2072, but whatever. Bauer tortured a dude to get information that saved a bus full of people, and here's what he says when asked about it. ACTUAL FAKE QUOTE TIME!

"According to the definitions set forth by the Geneva Convention, yes, I did. ... Ibrahim Haddad had targeted a bus carrying 45 people, 10 of which were children. The truth, Senator, is I stopped that attack from happening... In answer to your question, am I above the law? No, sir. I am more than willing to be judged by the people you claim to represent. I will let them decide what price I should pay. And please, do not sit there with that smug look on your face and expect me to regret the decisions that I have made. Because, sir, the truth is, I don't."

The only part of this argument that I disagree with, and not coincidentally that the Bauerites on cable news actually got right, is the idea that torture works. Torture works for Jack Bauer because that's the way the show got wrote. The real-world record is a hell of a lot murkier. But let's even give them that one. Let's say that Bauer-style torture will give you the critical information you need in a "ticking time bomb", imminent-attack scenario. And let's see what Glenn Beck has to say.

"OK. Here's the thing. Rendition: It is immoral for us to go and grab people off the street and send them over to Egypt to be tortured. If we believe the information is worthy of getting any way, then we should do it. We're doing the same thing with interrogation that we're doing with oil." - Glenn Beck, on Fox and Friends.

Even in the above quote, which is probably the most reactionary, torture-porny thing to ever come out of 24, Jack Bauer makes a key distinction that the Glenn Becks of the world refuse to. That torture is illegal, and on the off chance it is necessary, those who perform it should be held accountable for their actions. Maybe those actions were necessary. Maybe, in Bauer's case, the fake torture fake-saved a fake bus full of fake people. But the legal reckoning will still happen, and a price will be paid.

Beck and his ilk want to skip that part. The fact is, the ticking time-bomb, which never happens anyway, doesn't require that a POLICY FOR TORTURE and immunity from prosecution be in place. What we have now is a situation where we deliberately torture people on the off-chance they have information, without any proof that the information they have is true, without any evidence that the information we got this way saved any lives. And instead of a reckoning, a judgment, or a price, what we have is the torturers getting away with it, and the people who devised the policy getting away with it.

And that, folks, is way above and way, way beyond what even the ludicrous, unrealistic, over-the-top fictional world of "24" finds acceptable.