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February 12, 2007

Where Fiction Crosses The Long Gray Line

Posted in: BushCo,GOP ethics,Legal,Pop culture,Random Wingnuttery,War on Terror

jackbauer-2.jpg

Earlier, I cited a piece from Digby regarding geeky Republicans who have a "24" fetish.  Will Bunch at Attytood has more on this as well, including some very interesting background on several "tributes" that these folks have done to a fictional television show that has no real basis in reality other than in their own minds. 

And really, let's stop for a moment to ponder the oddity that is the Heritage Foundation essentially staging a Star Trek fandom convention of Republican governmental officials, Supreme Court justices and big money donors to celebrate the unreality that is a television show about fictional and inaccurate espionage units.  All that's missing is the costume contest and the panel discussions on the true meaning of the technology transfer cypher that showed up in episode 32 and whether or not it would be viable in today's world — or whether recent modifications of nanotechology and advances in chip manufacturing would render the fictional technological theory already obsolete.  (No, I'm not kidding.  And yes, I have been to many an SFF writing convention, including several Worldcons, and have a great respect for the folks in fandom — after all, I'm an SFF fan myself – but at least fans fully understand that they are talking about fictional writing and technological theories when they have discussions.  But I digress…)

Will has some great information packed into his article, but it was this segment of Jane Mayer's excellent New Yorker piece that caught my eye:

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer lays it out in an incredible new story:

This past November, U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, flew to Southern California to meet with the creative team behind “24.” Finnegan, who was accompanied by three of the most experienced military and F.B.I. interrogators in the country, arrived on the set as the crew was filming. At first, Finnegan—wearing an immaculate Army uniform, his chest covered in ribbons and medals—aroused confusion: he was taken for an actor and was asked by someone what time his “call” was.

In fact, Finnegan and the others had come to voice their concern that the show’s central political premise—that the letter of American law must be sacrificed for the country’s security—was having a toxic effect. In their view, the show promoted unethical and illegal behavior and had adversely affected the training and performance of real American soldiers. “I’d like them to stop,” Finnegan said of the show’s producers. “They should do a show where torture backfires.”

The show's creative leader, Joel Surnow, missed the meeting — he was busy talking to Roger Ailes, the former GOP strategist who runs Fox News Channel, about a conservative version of "The Daily Show." (No, we're not making that up.) Here's what he missed:

Before the meeting, Stuart Herrington, one of the three veteran interrogators, had prepared a list of seventeen effective techniques, none of which were abusive. He and the others described various tactics, such as giving suspects a postcard to send home, thereby learning the name and address of their next of kin. After Howard Gordon, the lead writer, listened to some of Herrington’s suggestions, he slammed his fist on the table and joked, “You’re hired!” He also excitedly asked the West Point delegation if they knew of any effective truth serums.

At other moments, the discussion was more strained. Finnegan told the producers that “24,” by suggesting that the U.S. government perpetrates myriad forms of torture, hurts the country’s image internationally. Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors—cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by “24,” which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, “The kids see it, and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about “24”?’ ” He continued, “The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.”

There's a lot more here — one retired West Point law professor flatly calls the fictional Bauer "a criminal" — and we would encourage anyone who's interested in these issues to read Mayer's entire piece.

As it happens, I have a number of dear friends who attended West Point and who have either served or are still serving our nation's military as very good, very decent officers.  I also happen to know a retired West Point professor or two and several current and former JAG folks.  And, just to be completely clear, several former intel folks as well. 

All of the ones with whom I have spoken over the last couple of years about this weird "24" GOP phenomenon – including a number of folks who have special ops experience in the military, and several who are so conservative it still amazes me we've remained friends all these years (*g*) – think that "24" is a fictional load of sensationalized crap that makes all of them look bad.  And that anyone who thinks that things are actually done this way in the real world needs to get up off their asses and actually WORK in the real world and see how things are really done.  (Just taking a look back at the hearings that Henry Waxman held regarding the potential ramifications of the outing of a CIA NOC back in the day is enough to bring home the reality versus fiction dilemma for all but the most kool-aid addled, I should think.)

Here's a clue for folks who may be confused:  24 is a fictional show.  It's made up.  It's unreality scenarios are designed to hold your attention through manufactured moments of angst and cliffhangers of sadistic ritualized nastiness.  In other words, it's torture porn for the arm-chair warrior wannabes.  The fact that this made-up idiocy has apparently permeated the mindset of the video game set that is now entering the United States Military Academy to the point that its teachng leadership felt compelled to visit the set of the show and ask them to tone down their hyped-up idiocy?  Well, that ought to be one big red flag for all of us.

I have spent a professional lifetime tra-la-ing through the DSM-IV.  I'm not certain there has been any diagnosis of delusional sadism brought on by television unreality.  But the fact that leaders in our nation's military are worried enough about a particular show pushed by wingnut idiots like Limbaugh?  Now THAT is something we all ought to worry about.  From Mayer's article:

Gary Solis, a retired law professor who designed and taught the Law of War for Commanders curriculum at West Point, told me that he had similar arguments with his students. He said that, under both U.S. and international law, “Jack Bauer is a criminal. In real life, he would be prosecuted.” Yet the motto of many of his students was identical to Jack Bauer’s: “Whatever it takes.” His students were particularly impressed by a scene in which Bauer barges into a room where a stubborn suspect is being held, shoots him in one leg, and threatens to shoot the other if he doesn’t talk. In less than ten seconds, the suspect reveals that his associates plan to assassinate the Secretary of Defense. Solis told me, “I tried to impress on them that this technique would open the wrong doors, but it was like trying to stomp out an anthill.”

The “24” producers told the military and law-enforcement experts that they were careful not to glamorize torture; they noted that Bauer never enjoys inflicting pain, and that it had clearly exacted a psychological toll on the character. (As Gordon put it to me, “Jack is basically damned.”) Finnegan and the others disagreed, pointing out that Bauer remains coolly rational after committing barbarous acts, including the decapitation of a state’s witness with a hacksaw. Joe Navarro, one of the F.B.I.’s top experts in questioning techniques, attended the meeting; he told me, “Only a psychopath can torture and be unaffected. You don’t want people like that in your organization. They are untrustworthy, and tend to have grotesque other problems.”

What does it say that the current Republican leadership, spokespeople and other higher-ups in the Republican party are all hot for a show that hypes a sociopathic criminal who flouts the rule of law? Shouldn't we all be asking why, exactly, they all think this is okay?  Because the fact that the leaders of the nation's top military academies and high level law enforcement experts in interrogation techniques find this disturbing ought to raise a whole lot of questions from all of us.  This is not a political question — this is a values question that crosses political boundaries — and it deserves some thought and some answers.


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