Thursday, February 26

Why "24" is a Blight on this Nation's Soul

Yesterday Senator Sheldon Whitehouse made the following statement concerning investigating the Bush Administration's execution of the "War on Terror".

WHITEHOUSE: We also have to brace ourselves for the realistic possibility that as some of this conduct is exposed, we and the wold will find it shameful; revolting. We may have to face the prospect of looking on with horror at our own counties deeds.

But how much horror can America muster, when This is our idea of "entertainment"?

24 - 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM

Now, one can certainly argue that one little tv show doesn't really matter all that much. And maybe it doesn't for most people. No one really knows How many people are using the same excuses ably provided by "24" to turn a blind eye to illegal NSA wiretaps, Torture, revoking Habeaus Corpus Gitmo. There are also many who are willing to excuse the moral ambiguity of he show simply because they LIKE it, but don't confuse it with real actions taken by real people. Ok, but then again, we just had a situation where "Milk" won the Academy Award for best Actor and Screenplay and both winners took the oppurtunity to clearly highlight the political and real life ramifications of the film. (Yes, I know Harvey was real - but Sean Penn isn't Harvey - sometimes that doesn't matter if people choose to believe the story is plausible)

The last time I went to Jury duty, I ran face first into the "CSI Effect" as the prosecutor's first statement to us was "This isn't CSI - we won't have some great piece of physical evidence that makes this case a 'slam-dunk'". The fact that he had to make such a statement separating fact from fiction in a criminal case should be shocking, but it's not.

It's clear that fictionalized versions of realistic events when presented with enough skill can sometimes shift the center of gravity of public debate on controversial subjects either toward or against a progressive position. We've seen it with South Africa and the story of Steven Biko in "Cry Freedom", the brutal methods of British government against suspect members of the IRA in "In the Name of the Father", and the issue of HIB/AIDs in "Philadelphia". Each of these popular and Award Winning Films made a difference.

It doesn't always happen ("Siriana", "Over There", "Stop Loss"), but it can, which has been true since "Birth of a Nation" helped rationalize the brutal and violent reign of the KKK, inspiring tens of thousands to join their ranks. Art is the expression of emotion and ideas - sometimes those ideas resonate, sometimes they don't. It often doesn't matter if those ideas are any good or not - but whether those ideas are ones that people find relatively easy to accept.

When he accepted his Academy Award this week Sean Penn nearly pre-shadowed Sheldon Whitehouse on Torture.

..For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect, and anticipate their great shame, and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support. We've got to have equal rights for everyone.

Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black on Harvey Milk...

BLACK: When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas, to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life; it gave me the hope that one day I could live my life openly as who I am and that maybe even I could fall in love and one day get married. [...]

We can only imagine what new RNC Chair Michael Steele thought of that, considering his response to the idea of the GOP supporting civil unions.

No, no no. What would we do that for? What are you, crazy?

Or the Colorado State Senator who recently said this:

“I’m not saying this (homosexuality) is the only sin that’s out there,” said Renfroe. “We have murder. We have all sorts of sin. We have adultery. And we don’t make laws making those legal, and we would never think to make murder legal.

To some Harvey Milk is a hero - to others it's Jack Bauer and the methods he employs to save American Lives - by any and all means necessary.

One of Bauer's greatest fans is long-time conservative columnist Cal Thomas.

I can see terrorists getting hold of this and telling their killers they have nothing to fear if captured by the "weak" Americans. What's next, having troops say "please" and "thank you"?


If the Army nabs a person it suspects of knowing the location of a nuclear bomb about to wipe out an American city, would the interrogators and their military and civilian superiors refuse to use torture to squeeze the information out of the captive?

That was precisely the scenario on "24." Agent Jack Bauer rightly chose the greater good -- saving millions of lives -- over the niceties imposed by those whose manual seems inspired by "The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette."

Another possible big fan could be Former Bush speech writer Marc Thiessen on the interrogators who waterboarded Abu Zubaydah.

THIESSEN: They’re not torturers. They’re heroes. ... And the thought that we’re sitting here discussing whether these people should be prosecuted or investigated is just outrageous. These people are American heroes who saved lives and stopped the next Sept. 11.

Or Dick Cheney

“Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the U.S.,” he told Politico.

But I think that maybe we ought to listen to someone who actually does what it is tha Jack Bauer is supposedly doing - an expert - an actual interrogator - a genuine American Hero. Someone like Brig. General David Irvine who taught interrogation and SERE for 18 years and wrote the following about Bauer on VetVoice.

We are supposed to feel bad for Jack Bauer, the lead character on FOX's hit show "24." Only he and a handful of his colleagues, it seems, have the moral strength necessary to do what has to be done. While Senators whine and his superiors wring their hands about what is "right," Bauer acts and saves the nation. What this means -- and has meant for more than six seasons of "24" -- is that Bauer is a not-so reluctant torturer. He beats up the bad guys because, as he has said so many times, "there is no other way."

I taught interrogation and the law of war for 18 years to U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marine interrogators. The truth is that torture is just as likely to lead to false information or no information, not solid intelligence. History is replete with victims who have refused to talk or lied or died under torture. American torture has killed or addled suspects who might have provided vital intelligence if interrogated humanely. One problem with TV fiction is that viewers assume that if Jack Bauer can break some fingers and crack the case in an hour, anyone could.

In Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and Iraq, life has too often imitated art. It is particularly regrettable that Jack Bauer, in his new season, is shown persuading a "naïve" FBI agent that torture is the ultimate weapon in democracy's arsenal. After all, it was the FBI whose truly expert interrogators were aghast at what they saw at Guantanamo and who were finally quarantined by the Director lest they be implicated in war crimes. As the 7th season begins, I am joining Human Rights First in asking the producers to stop showing torture so irresponsibly.

In this post I've provided the entirety of the latest episode - so that everyone can view and analyze it in the context both of Cheney, Thiessen, Thomas, Whitehouse and General Irvine's contrasting views. Clearly Bauer represents the Cheny-esque view while FBI Agent Renee Walker - after being initially seduced by Bauer's methods - is now is far closer to Whitehouse.

In trying to track and capture the terrorist Colonel Dubaku Bauer and Walker encounter his girlfriend and decide to use her and her cell phone to track him. (Something they could have and should have done to track Dubaku himself without exploiting and risking the life of an innocent woman, since she had just received a call from him in the previous episode). They loose Dubaku after a traitor inside the FBI issues a fake warrant for their arrest and terminates the Satellite cell phone trace.

So naturally Jack decides to do something Desperate and Crazy instead of quietly following them to their destination or waiting to cut them off and force them to stop. That would have worked fine, and Jack did something quite similar just a couple hours ago to capture a currupt Secret Service Agent - but Nooooo... Once they pull to within a block of Dubaku's car he cuts across a park filled with people, beside risking running someone down - this Alerts Dubaku to who and where they are and begins a high speed chase.

I'm from L.A. and people in L.A. know damn well - these chases never end well.

Jack gets cut-off so Dubaku's girlfriend Does Something Desperate and Crazy causing the car to crash, flipping end over end. Note how different the reactions of Jack and Renee are. Jack, being Jack, focuses on Dubaku at the expense of everything else - Renee tries to save the girlfriend.

She has to pull her gun on him to get him to HELP SAVE SOMEONE - but it's too late, she's gone. Jack then forces the paramedics to wake Dubaku up and chillingly proceeds to threaten to hunt down, torture and kill his entire family if he doesn't talk. (Which - besides being a exact reversal of what happened to Jack's family in Season one - isn't necessary since Dubaku was going to give up the info anyway if he didn't escape) Jack then pulls his gun on the medics and makes them perform impromptu surgery on the unconscious Dubaku to get a disc hidden under his skin. It's flat out barbaric and criminally negligent from top to bottom.

Every bit of that was unnecessary - they could have found and caught Dubaku without involving Marika, they would have got the information they wanted by simply asking Dubuku or questioning the driver that was sent to pick her up - plus there was no reason for the urgency of performing surgery in the street since there was NO IMPENDING ATTACK that they knew of at that time.

Renee, being a stereotypically overly emotional woman, eventually breaks under the stress and confronts Jack in the hospital with what he's done. His reaction is dismissive, cold and condescending. They got what they needed, the "Good Guys" won - no regrets are necessary for any of the collateral damage that may have occurred, no need to consider better methods just "You have to find a way to live with it."

She should have just shot him, it's what Jack would do.

Jack's behavior is that of a sociopath, he's completely unhinged - he may seem calm but his moral compass is spinning like a top. The entire show depends on you believing Jack's "THERE IS NO OTHER WAY" bullshit, but he's dead wrong- even within th parameters given within the script there's always another way - A LEGAL WAY - he just refuses to consider it just like Cheney, Thiessen and Thomas. At this point I think Renee sees it, maybe, but Jack never will. I fully suspect that next episode will put the Senator who was grilling jack on torture (Curtwood Smith) in harms way - and Jack himself will ride in to Save the Day clearly demonstrating that his methods "Save American Lives" including the President's, paving the way for a renewed and reconstituted CTU next year. All collateral crimes pardoned for the greater good, nevermind the pile of bodies in Jack's wake - innocent and guilty alike. You Betcha! Maybe he'll even keep Renee as his new partner - she's a good little woman if you can take the constant whining.

Bah, humbug.

This is the guy that the right wing looks up to, this is their idea of a "Hero" it's no wonder that they failed so miserably at everything they've attempted from not responding in time to 9-11 despite dozens of warnings, to Iraq, to Afghanistan, Katrina and our entire economy - death, destruction and chaos is what they aspire to, it's all they capable of understanding.

Torture is a dangerous stain on America's Soul, if we don't fight it and every attempted argument to excuse, justify and rationalize it at every turn including the romanticizing of it on shows like "24"- we risk allowing it to spread, and the crimes perpetrated at Gitmo, Bagram AFB, Abu Ghraib won't be isolated incidents from a dark misguided time, they'll be our future as well.'

I wish Sens Leahy and Whitehouse all the luck in the world, and hope their efforts help lead to a Special Counsel to truly investigate and prosecute Bush's many crimes against America and the World, but I think that after years of indoctrination courtesy of shows like this - deprogramming the desensitized American public from excusing and justifying any and all means, despite the ends just might prove far more difficult than they expect.

In fact, I have my doubts it's even possible - we don't have that much conscience left to shock.


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