Wednesday, January 14, 2009

(Un)Reality TV


Kevin Drum watched "24" last night, and comes away concerned...
...it's obvious that the show is going to deal head on with the subject of torture this season. Episode 1 opens with Jack testifying before a Senate committee about his past transgressions, which he wearily but defiantly confesses to, and then rolls through two hours of FBI agents wondering "how far he'll go" — because, you see, Jack's exploits with the dark arts are apparently the thing of legend in the hallways of the Bureau.

Is there any way for this end other than badly? After all, here in the blogosphere we opponents of torture like to argue that we don't live in the world of 24, guys. And we don't. But Jack Bauer, needless to say, does live in the world of 24. And in that world, there are well-heeled terrorists around every corner, ticking time bombs aplenty, and torture routinely saves thousands of lives. What are the odds that it won't do so again this season — except this time after lots of talk about the rule of law blah blah liberals blah blah it's your call blah blah?

It's clear the FOX has decided to have a fictional "debate" about torture in a widely viewed arena here—though I suspect only a fraction of the show's original season viewers have stuck with it. Bauer will be unashamedly portrayed as a hero subjected to second-guessing by a chamber of desk jockey pussies in D.C. You can be sure that any Congressman (or likely a faux-Pelosi Congresswoman) who questions Bauer in a hearing will be portrayed in the weakest pansy-ass liberal light possible. I can pretty much see this scenario working out with Jack getting to channel Col. Jessup, "You NEED ME on that wall!"—except without the plot twist that nails Jessup in the film.

My position has always been this: Torture needs to be illegal. Period. No allowances for "ticking time bombs" and "24-scenarios." And penalties need to be extremely harsh—the same as a kidnapper who tortured or killed a victim-harsh. If it is left in the toolbox for interrogators under ANY circumstance it will be reached for all the time. There needs to be the utmost deterrence for anyone involved in a potential decision.

Conjure up your worst Jack Bauer scenario...a nuclear bomb about to destroy L.A., and Jack needs to get those codes. Assuming torture works (which it doesn't), any Agent Bauer would need to gamble his own potential jail time versus saving millions of lives. If someone in that scenario actually believed they and everyone in a 20-mile radius would die, and there was no other course available, they'd sacrifice themselves for the cause, so to speak—"I'll spend the rest of my life in jail for this, but otherwise ten million people are dead in five minutes—I can live with that." But short of that, the knowledge they will rot in a cell would bring them (or an authorizing superior) up short.

If in retrospect, it somehow demonstrably worked, its likely they would be pardoned before any jury had a chance to (not) convict them.

Even that involves hypotheticals that have never occurred and likely never will, and no one in there right mind would think otherwise. Oh, wait...
"Scalia responded with a defense of Agent Bauer, arguing that law enforcement officials deserve latitude in times of great crisis. “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles . . . . He saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” Judge Scalia reportedly said. “Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?” He then posed a series of questions to his fellow judges: “Say that criminal law is against him? ‘You have the right to a jury trial?’ Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer?”

“I don’t think so,” Scalia reportedly answered himself. “So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes.” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Asshat. Even "Jack Bauer" himself doesn't believe it...
“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.

7 comments:

fridge said...

You can be sure that any Congressman (or likely a faux-Pelosi Congresswoman) who questions Bauer in a hearing will be portrayed in the weakest pansy-ass liberal light possible.


Actually, it was Kurtwood Smith. Not a pansy at all, although he was a grandstander (that's a fair criticism on both sides of the aisle.

Look, I may be the last liberal in the US who is a 24 fan. I get the concerns. But, I thought that the issue was handled very well.

There was another point in last night's episode where Jack's in custody of a young FBI agent and the kid tells him how he thinks that it's total B.S. that he's being dragged in front of congress and hammered for what he did. But Jack says that it's not B.S. That the people need to know everything he did so they can decide how far to let people like Jack go. That, to me, is a criticism of the Bush Administrations unwillingness to tell us what they got from all these illegal wiretaps and torture.

But really, it's a freakin TV show. At the end of the day, Jack's not doing anything that 007 doesn't do. It's a bit overblown, IMO.

Toast said...

I'm astonished people still watch this show. It's so Bush Era.

Rickey Henderson said...

Interesting this is that Joel Surnow, the right wing guiding force behind the show, quit as producer of "24".

As a viewer of the show, Rickey will tell you that they do try to show the consequences of Bauer's actions. The Senate hearing the season kicks off with is aimed squarely at holding him accountable for his crimes and it's a safe bet that they'll conclude the season 24 hours later with him testifying again and being incarcerated. (after six seasons, the show is very very predictable).

At the same time, they definitely do romanticize Bauer's decisions--like in an exchange in the premiere between Bauer and an FBI agent whose response to the comment that "the American people should decide whether I'm a criminal or not" is something along the lines of "yeah, but we need you out there Jack."

Fair and balanced the show is not. But then again, looking to 24 for credible analysis of our nation's policy on torture is like asking Wiley E. Coyote for his stance on birth control. The same people who take 24 as serious political commentary probably think that CSI is an accurate representation of civil servants. Screw em, they're lost anyway.

Jennifer said...

It's so Bush era? lmao.

Smitty said...

The same people who take 24 as serious political commentary probably think that CSI is an accurate representation of civil servants.

And thus you have Antonin Scalia.

A Supreme Court Justice, basing legal decisions on a ficitonal tv show. Can it get lower?

steves said...

My position has always been this: Torture needs to be illegal. Period. No allowances for "ticking time bombs" and "24-scenarios." And penalties need to be extremely harsh—the same as a kidnapper who tortured or killed a victim-harsh.

It is illegal, under US law, for torture to occur on US soil and for US citizens to conduct torture on foreign soil. The penalties are pretty harsh, though I don't know the specific sentence off the top of my head. It is also a violation of the Geneva Convention and several other treaties of which we are signatories.

More importantly, it is immoral and just doesn't work, for the most part. I don't understand how this is even a debate in this day and age. We tried German and Japanese officers after WWII for torturing POW's. In some cases, people that were convicted were shot or hung.

To be fair to Scalia, he made those comments at a symposium, IIRC. They were not part of any specific case. They also echo the same thing that Mr. F is saying. Realistically, if you had a person that saved thousands of lives through the use of torture, they are probably never going to be charged and I doubt any jury would convict the person.

As an aside, I have never watched 24.

steves said...

Can it get lower?

I have it on good authority that Stevens falls asleep during oral argument.

It does get worse. I have read legal opinions where it seemed they just pulled stuff out of their asses to justify the result they wanted.