Friday, 2 February 2007

The Torture of '24'

At the risk of sounding a bit obsessive (which I am), I return to the topic of the TV show '24' and its depictions of torture. I really love the show, and have just been watching some more of series 4 on DVD (it's nowhere near as good as 1 and 2, but entertaining nonetheless).

How the use of torture is portrayed on the show is interesting, though a little troubling (if you are opposed to the use of torture). Basically Jack Bauer is the 'have a go hero' at CTU who is not afraid to break the rules, and some skulls, to get the job done and save America. While others fanny around with a kid glove approach (it's just occurred to me that a kid glove is a glove made from a kid, which is a kind of weird concept), Jack isn't afraid to shoot the suspect or electrocute his gonads with a broken lamp to get the information that he needs. And of course, he always does get the information he needs.

The show's stance is basically that torture is ok in the name of the greater good. That's not to say that it doesn't leave room for debate - we do see, for instance, innocent and patriotic Americans being tortured if circumstances require it. And, to be fair, Jack recognises that torture is not always the most effective means of getting information - sometimes better 'leverage' can be had via other means. But nonetheless, the general portrayal is that torture is ok, and that it yields results.

It is on this final point that I get concerned about the manner in which similar TV depictions of torture inform debate on the topic. For the reality is that both the innocent and guilty will lie under torture just to make it stop. This is the aspect that is wholly missing from '24': what we always see is the terrorists giving up the required info, instead of a false lead, to make the pain stop. We also see the innocent endure their suffering while protesting their innocence, rather than making something up in exchange for a respite, which is often the case in reality.

Those who argue in favour of 'extreme interrogation techniques' correctly assert that "every man has his breaking point"; they also contend that pushing a suspect to that point is an acceptable way of getting the required information.

What they don't acknowledge is that even the innocent have their breaking point; that's the fact I'd like to see depicted on '24'.

3 comments:

Aaron said...

24 revolves around the mythic and debunked 'Ticking Timebomb' scenario - it is utter fantasy.

The Ticking Time Bomb fallacy is debunked at :
* http://balkin.blogspot.com/2006/10/torture-and-ticking-time-bomb.html
* http://www.docstrangelove.com/2006/07/30/debunking-the-ticking-bomb-argument-for-torture/
* http://www.peterlevine.ws/mt/archives/000746.html


.. and of course it's worth reading the confessions of a 24 script writer (who's obviously never read any bruce schneier) and he admit's it's not realistic and is fantasy.

Aaron said...

.. http://www.slate.com/id/2134395/?nav=navoa ( 24 script writer)

Chrisco said...

I am not sure that the "ticking timebomb" scenario is mythic and debunked.

Any planned event, terrorist attacks included, works on a timeline: if a suspect had been caught on the evening of July 6 2005, or September 10, 2001, there would have been a figurative timebomb in the American scenario, and a literal one in London.

As I indicated, I just don't think that torture would necessarily yield the results to prevent it; however, to say that there is no 'ticking timebomb' scenario is, IMHO, illogical and unhelpful to the argument.

And of course '24' is fantasy; however, my point is that popular depictions of such events help to frame the debate on matters such as these.