The new season of Fox’s popular terrorism drama ’24′ debuted Sunday night with a special two-hour episode. The season opened with the show’s main character, Jack Bauer, testifying before a Senate committee. Asked by the committee if he had engaged in torture while interrogating suspected terrorists, Bauer delivered a dramatic defense of torture:
BAUER: When I am activated, when I am brought into a situation, there is a reason and that reason is to complete the objectives of my mission at all costs. [...]
For a combat soldier the difference between success and failure is your ability to adapt to your enemy. The people that I deal with, they don’t care about your rules. … 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. Now 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.
Bauer’s fictional defense of torture and his fictional claims of its effectiveness are having very real consequences. Over the last two days, right-wing commentators have cheered Bauer’s belligerent Senate testimony, wondering how Congress could be so ungrateful to a torture advocate like Bauer. Often their commentary has been directed at critics of the Bush administration’s torture policies and suggests that the “average person” would approve of Bauer’s conduct. Watch a compilation:
The right wing’s love affair with Bauer’s use of torture is rooted in fantasy. The so-called “ticking time bomb” scenarios that Bauer often finds himself in and that conservatives cite as instances where torture should be allowed rarely, if ever, occur. Further, where torture has been used, it almost certainly results in the extraction of unreliable or inaccurate information. The “average person” is decidedly against the use of such techniques.
Still, the show is closely watched by American service men and women around the world. At Guantanamo Bay, in particular, the show was extremely popular; a former Guantanamo JAG explained, it “gave people a lot of ideas.” Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan at West Point even traveled to meet with the show’s creator and complained that the show was “promoting illegal behavior” among military officials.
If right wingers see Bauer as an example of how to prosecute the war on terror, they might be disheartened to learn that even the man that plays Bauer, actor Keifer Sutherland, doesn’t see his character’s torture techniques as effective in real life. “You torture someone and they’ll basically tell you exactly what you want to hear, whether it’s true or not, if you put someone in enough pain,” Sutherland said last year.