Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jack Bauer and Our Torture Problem

In Day of Reckoning, Peter Finn discusses the Fox show 24 and particularly its portrayal of torture. Jane Mayer's piece in the New Yorker Whatever It Takes is a deep look at 24 that is a longer, but worthwhile read.

I like 24. I yell at the TV every time someone else acts like a "Stupid Kim." There are always a few Stupid Kims every year, so I get to yell once or twice each episode.

Another major device the producers use to keep things moving along is torture. Any time some good person needs information from a bad person, they use physical coercion to get answers. Punches are thrown. Guns are pushed into temples. Oxygen tubes are blocked. Torture is always tried and it almost always works.

This plot device is part of the problem with torture. I know that if you put a gun to my head and asked me for any information that would save my family or that would save my life without endangering my family, I would sing like a bird. I'm weak, so it's easy to imagine that everyone is weak. I would sing. Bad guys on 24 sing. It's clear: torture is effective. The only debate should be about when and how this last resort should be used.

There are two problems with this:
  • First, the baddest of the bad guys are not weak. They are willing to kill and be killed (maybe at the same time) for their cause. The bad guys can deal with torture and their zealotry helps them endure whatever their enemies want to dish out. They can even lie to the torturers just to point them in a wasteful direction.
  • Second, not everyone who is tortured has the information the torturer wants from them. This won't stop them from confessing just to end the torture, but doesn't make any information gleaned from such sessions helpful.
In 24, the bad guys are just about always weak and they always have the information. Torture and coercion work on 24 and that is part of our torture problem.

1 comment:

Jazzy said...