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Posted by on Apr 23, 2009 in Arts & Entertainment, Guest Contributor | 2 comments

Jack Bauer Is Not Dead (Guest Voice)

Jack Bauer Is Not Dead

by Rick Moran

Greg Gutfeld wonders (parenthetically) if Jack Bauer is dead because the Obama Administration released the memos concocted by Bush era lawyers to justify the use of torture.

Earlier today President Obama said charges might be brought against those evil Bush lawyers behind the just-released memos justifying the harsh interrogation techniques used against folks who wanted to blow up our country. Or more specifically, blow up Los Angeles.

Which is why I brought up “24.” Not only is it about this sort of thing, it’s made in Los Angeles, a place that might have been totally screwed, if it weren’t for those evil lawyers. Writing in the Washington Post, Marc A. Thiessen refers to a memo noting that “enhanced techniques” led to the discovery of a Second Wave attack determined to crash an airliner into the Library Tower, the tallest building on the west coast. Thiessen writes that the info culled using these interrogations led to the arrest of those in charge of attempting this attack.

Now, Thiessen was once a Bush speechwriter, but that doesn’t take away from his point: that although Obama released memos revealing the interrogation techniques, what those actions actually achieved is blacked out.

And that’s the scary part. Usually what goes on behind the scenes is what keeps us alive. Now we know, however, that not only does our President find that sort of thing distasteful – as a consequence, he’s open to sharing this info with everyone.

Except the part where it says it works.

Jack Bauer is officially dead.

I too am troubled that the Obama Administration decided to play politics with this issue by not placing before the American people all the facts. If releasing information on how torture was justified while detailing the specifics and not worry about the national security implications then it stands to reason Obama could have released the information that showed what breaking the law had accomplished as far as actionable intelligence. Needless to say, any actions taken against the lawbreakers by the Obama justice department would be extremely suspect at this point. And given that Congress knew about this lawbreaking all along (at least the leadership of both parties and the intel committees) and didn’t object, it makes any kind of “truth commission” as proposed by Pelosi an absolute joke.

Her hypocrisy should make her first in the dock.

The entire bleeding government of the United States appears to have lost its collective head and engaged in practices that are both abhorrent to our traditions and a violation of national and international law. The idea that Los Angeles was “saved” by torturing people misses the point.

What certainty is there that other, legal means used on the prisoner(s) might not have yielded the same information? This piece by Heather McDonald in City Journal a few years ago that goes into detail about our early attempts to get information from battlefield detainees clearly shows that the real professional interrogators didn’t have to break the law in order to glean excellent, actionable intelligence from al-Qaeda prisoners. They skated quite close to the edge but never went over, according to McDonald. And these interrogations were taking place at the same time the whole torture issue was roiling the Bush Administration – a bureaucratic battle of which the interrogators were unaware.

In short, we’ll never know if using legal methods would have gotten the same results. And that’s one of the things that bugs the hell out of me. Even the Los Angeles plot was not a ticking time bomb scenario for the simple reason we didn’t know about it until the “enhanced interrogation techniques” had already been used. Hence, retroactive justification for their use is a non-starter.

I made my feelings known about the release of the memos here. But it is apparent that Gutfeld, who claims to be a fan of 24, hasn’t been watching very carefully recently because if he had, he would have known that Bauer had come to grips with his guilt in breaking the law and wanted America to know why he did it. He wasn’t evading responsibility. But he questioned whether anyone who didn’t have the full story could judge him without standing in his shoes.

This is the latest attempt to whitewash history on the part of torture advocates; it worked so why get all bent out of shape? I will be the first to make the case that we cannot judge what went on in a vacuum, employing the premise that the law is the end all and be all – a force into and of itself – and that any slight deviation from the spirit and the letter of the law must be punished severely. This is the absolutist position and I am not comfortable with it. The law was never meant to be a straitjacket. Otherwise, the entire population would be walking on eggshells.

In Bauer’s case, the routine, almost casual use of torture (with the knowledge and approval of his immediate superiors), was, at first, portrayed as a moral good. Even Jack’s more extreme uses of torture like kneecapping a subject or breaking their fingers one at a time (or his famous zapping of his rival for Audrey’s affections, using a cut off lamp cord as electrodes) was seen as right and necessary to save America from terrorists. But the last few years as Americans became aware of what the government was doing in their name and people became more skeptical of the war in Iraq, the situations where Bauer tortured to get information played out in a much more morally ambiguous universe. There were even attempts to give both sides of the issue a hearing. Bauer himself never really questioned his tactics but it was made clear that he was cognizant that what he was doing was against the law. This culminated in his kidnapping by the Chinese during the season finale two years ago and torture was applied liberally to him while a prisoner. Needless to say, the experience gave Bauer a whole new outlook on torture and made him, if not more reluctant to employ it, more cognizant of the moral framework he was operating under.

This season, Jack’s reputation for torture has been widely derided in the government with some scenes actually casting aspersions on his willingness to break the law. “The FBI doesn’t torture,” said Special Agent Larry Moss whose girlfriend Renee Walker adopted some of Jack’s tactics and felt miserable about it. Gutfeld fails to appreciate the yin and yang of Bauer and Agent Walker who both employ interrogation techniques that are far outside the law but the sympathetic nature of Walker’s character shows the audience the psychic cost involved in torture and that those who practice it are wrong. Bauer is able to deal with his moral ambiguity by seeing the world in black and white – a consequence of his job where friends are few and enemies are as ruthless as they come.

Torture is wrong but so is blowing up innocent Americans and whatever means are employed to prevent the latter takes priority over any moral judgments that are inherent in the former.

This new appreciation for the diameters of Bauer’s moral universe, rather than killing Bauer off has instead imbued him with more humanity. His contempt for people who have no clue what his methods have cost personally does not override the fact that he is fully aware that torture is illegal and that, as he said at the senate hearing in this year’s first episode, he will gladly take the consequences of his actions as long as the people get the full story. That story includes the machinations of people very high in government who turned the other way and didn’t care how the job got done as long as Bauer kept Americans from being killed in large numbers.

Each president Bauer served under was fully aware of what Bauer was doing to prisoners in order to glean actionable intelligence and never once remonstrated against him for it. His bitterness is partly fed by the fact that some of those same people are now trying to put him behind bars for what he believes, in essence, following orders.

I said this two years ago:

The moral choices made by characters on 24 do not necessarily shed light on contemporary America so much as they illustrate time-honored thematic constructs from great literature and drama of the past. By definition, these themes are “conservative” in that they reflect a traditional approach to drama while offering a point of view regarding the threat of terrorism that more conservatives seem to be comfortable with than liberals. But at the same time, the show seeks to redefine the moral universe inhabited by the characters who are asked to sacrifice traditional values for the greater good of saving the country.

But we don’t live in Jack’s world. The world we live in is a many layered, textured nightmare of progressively darker shades of grey. What is torture? Is it right to make someone stand for 12 hours straight? Can you “waterboard” someone? Beyond the moral choices regarding torture, does it work? Is it necessary? The rest of the world is appalled at some of our answers. Shouldn’t we be?

I would argue with Gutfeld that rather than killing him off, the release of the torture memos places Jack Bauer in a much more human light. They allow us to understand that Bauer’s actions cannot be considered “rogue” in the sense that he was going off half cocked. Jack’s torturing was not a reflection of anything necessarily wrong with him as it was a reflection of the times in which he lived and the moral choices made by his superiors.

It humanizes Bauer to have functioned in this atmosphere and rather than announcing his death, one might argue that he has been reborn and while still willing to use torture in the process of saving lives, is much more aware of the moral dimensions to his actions.

Rick Moran is Associate Editor of The American Thinker and Chicago Editor of Pajamas Media. His personal blog is Right Wing Nuthouse.