TV Makes the Case for Torture

Breaking free of the Box.
Post Reply
Posts: 229
Joined: Mon Oct 16, 2006 4:22 am
Location: California

TV Makes the Case for Torture

Post by TerryS » Sat Feb 06, 2010 5:18 pm

TV Makes the Case for Torture

Cross posted at: ... r-torture/

Quoting Alexis de Tocqueville

"In a Democracy, the people get the government they deserve."
So considering the newest poll numbers, it seems that
Americans deserve (and are in the process of getting) a government
that supports torture:
"Fifty-eight percent (58%) of U.S. voters say waterboarding and
other aggressive interrogation techniques should be used to gain
information from the terrorist who attempted to bomb an airliner
on Christmas Day." ... nformation

Rasmussen may be biased, but other surveys have come to
similar conclusions: ... of-torture ... year-high/ ... e-glo.html

In 1776 the United States was founded on Enlightenment values,
which includes the constitution which bans "cruel and unusual punishments".

For over 200 years, Americans have supported this ban. Even
during the War of Independence with England, and during WWI
and WWII, torture was never sanctioned by the government
or the public.
"John Adams argued that humane treatment of prisoners and deep
concern for civilian populations not only reflected the American
Revolution's highest ideals, they were a moral and strategic
requirement. His thoughts on the subject, expressed in a 1777
letter to his wife, might make a profitable read for Dick
Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld as we endeavor to win hearts and
minds in Iraq. Adams wrote: "I know of no policy, God is my
witness, but this — Piety, Humanity and Honesty are the best
Policy. Blasphemy, Cruelty and Villainy have prevailed and may
again. But they won't prevail against America, in this Contest,
because I find the more of them are employed, the less they succeed.""
"Even British military leaders involved in the atrocities
recognized their negative effects on the overall war effort.
In 1778, Col. Charles Stuart wrote to his father, the Earl
of Bute: "Wherever our armies have marched, wherever they
have encamped, every species of barbarity has been executed.
We planted an irrevocable hatred wherever we went, which
neither time nor measure will be able to eradicate."" ... 01170.html ... 91153.html

What has changed?

I'm sure there are a number of reasons for erosion of Enlightenment
values and increased support for brutality and torture.
But considering the huge amount of TV that Americans have
watched over the past 50 years, there is good reason
to believe that TV has caused a good part of this shift
in values.

TV causes Desensitization and increased Aggression

For example: "An average American child will see 200,000
violent acts and 16,000 murders on TV by age 18 " ... m#violence

This leads to desensitization and to increased aggression
(and aggressive attitudes).

TV Decreases Respect for Rule-of-Law
"Sadly, for decades the media model for a hero has been the rogue
cop who lies, cheats, steals, bashes heads and generally trashes
the rights and often the bodies of guilty and innocent alike, to
catch some vile thug. From James Bond, to the Beverly Hills Cop,
to the latest episode of "Law and Order," media cops have little
use for such archaic concepts as "constitutional rights," "your
home is your castle," or "innocent until proven guilty."" ... rture.html

TV and the Ticking-Time-bomb Argument

Until recently, it was pretty much unheard of for the hero in a
fictional story to tie someone up and torture them. (It is still
unheard of now for the hero to rape, so some values do still
prevail). In fact, the usual way for writers to show just how
evil the villain was, was to show him torturing someone.

So how to change torturing, which used to be seen as personifying
evil, into something good and heroic? Luckily for torture-supporters
there is the Ticking-Time-bomb Argument. Namely that the hero has
captured someone whom the hero is sure knows where there is a
ticking-time-bomb about to go off. That is, the ticking-time-bomb
will blow up and kill countless of innocents unless the hero
is willing to do the unthinkable and torture his captive into
giving up the location of the deadly ticking-time-bomb before
it is too late.

Never mind that the torture-supporters can't point to a real-life
example of such a scenario. Theoretically, hypothetically, such
a scenario could very well arrive, (according to the argument)
and we must be ready to put away our sensitivities about "human
rights" and "human dignity" and do what is necessary.

It is this ticking-time-bomb argument that make up the basis
for Fox's TV show "24", where it plays out every week in an
extremely entertaining and exciting fashion.

When Alan Dershowitz came out with his ticking-time-bomb defense
of torture he was quickly and roundly condemned by numerous
liberals. But because "24" is a fictional TV show, liberals were
slow to condemn it, since it was "only TV" and "people know the
difference between fact and fiction". This ignores the fact
that an argument can be made equally well in a academic paper
as in a fictional story. Alan Dershowitz illustrated his
argument using the ticking-time-bomb scenario, "24" illustrates
this same scenario week after exciting week on the TV. Few people
will actually read Alan Dershowitz odious paper, while millions
enthusiastically watch Jack Bauer use torture week after week
to save millions of American citizens.

"24" not only makes the ticking-time-bomb argument, it also
portrays opponents of torture as either weak and spineless,
naive or as opportunistic weasels. In addition "24" argues
that Jack Bauer, the heroic torturer, not only doesn't
take pleasure from torturing people, but that he pays a huge
psychic price for his torturing ways. In other words, there's
no need to bring criminal charges against torturers, they've
already suffered enough. This last argument one that I find
the most repugnant, that somehow our sympathies should be
with the torturer instead of his victim. And, of course,
the writers of "24" do a very good job manipulating viewers
into feeling that sympathy for the "heroic" Jack Bauer.

It wasn't until U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan
went public with his experiences at West Point that liberals
finally woke up to the fact that "24" really was having a
large effect on people's attitudes towards torture:
"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.”
" ... rentPage=3
"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.” ... rentPage=4

"Although reports of abuses by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan
and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have angered much of the world, the
response of Americans has been more tepid. Finnegan attributes the
fact that “we are generally more comfortable and more accepting of
this,” in part, to the popularity of “24,” which has a weekly audience
of fifteen million viewers, and has reached millions more through DVD
sales. The third expert at the meeting was Tony Lagouranis, a former
Army interrogator in the war in Iraq. He told the show’s staff that
DVDs of shows such as “24” circulate widely among soldiers stationed
in Iraq. Lagouranis said to me, “People watch the shows, and then walk
into the interrogation booths and do the same things they’ve just seen.”

He recalled that some men he had worked with in Iraq watched a
television program in which a suspect was forced to hear tortured
screams from a neighboring cell; the men later tried to persuade
their Iraqi translator to act the part of a torture “victim,” in
a similar intimidation ploy. Lagouranis intervened: such scenarios
constitute psychological torture." ... rentPage=4
"Yet David Nevins, the former Fox Television network official who,
in 2000, bought the pilot on the spot after hearing a pitch from
Surnow and Cochran, and who maintains an executive role in “24,”
is candid about the show’s core message. “There’s definitely a
political attitude of the show, which is that extreme measures
are sometimes necessary for the greater good,” he says. “The show
doesn’t have much patience for the niceties of civil liberties or
due process. It’s clearly coming from somewhere. Joel’s politics
suffuse the whole show.”
" ... rentPage=5
"Surnow told me that he would like to counter the prevailing image
of Senator Joseph McCarthy as a demagogue and a liar.
Surnow and
his friend Ann Coulter—the conservative pundit, and author of the
pro-McCarthy book “Treason”—talked about creating a conservative
response to George Clooney’s recent film “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
Surnow said, “I thought it would really provoke people to do a movie
that depicted Joe McCarthy as an American hero or, maybe, someone
with a good cause who maybe went too far.”" ... rentPage=7
Last March, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife,
Virginia, joined Surnow and Howard Gordon for a private dinner
at Rush Limbaugh’s Florida home. The gathering inspired Virginia
Thomas—who works at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think
tank—to organize a panel discussion on “24.” The symposium, sponsored
by the foundation and held in June, was entitled “ ‘24’ and America’s
Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction, or Does It Matter?”
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who participated in
the discussion, praised the show’s depiction of the war on terrorism
as “trying to make the best choice with a series of bad options.”
He went on, “Frankly, it reflects real life.” Chertoff, who is a devoted
viewer of “24,” subsequently began an e-mail correspondence with Gordon,
and the two have since socialized in Los Angeles. “It’s been very heady,”
Gordon said of Washington’s enthusiasm for the show. Roger Director,
Surnow’s friend, joked that the conservative writers at “24” have
become “like a Hollywood television annex to the White House. It’s
like an auxiliary wing. ... rentPage=7
"The Heritage Foundation panel was moderated by Limbaugh. At one point,
he praised the show’s creators, dropped his voice to a stage whisper,
and added, to the audience’s applause, “And most of them are conservative.”

When I spoke with Limbaugh, though, he reinforced the show’s public posture
of neutrality. “People think that they’ve got a bunch of right-wing writers
and producers at ‘24,’ and they’re subtly sending out a message,” he said.
“I don’t think that’s happening. They’re businessmen, and they don’t have
an agenda.” Asked about the show’s treatment of torture, he responded,
“Torture? It’s just a television show! Get a grip.”" ... rentPage=7
"In fact, many prominent conservatives speak of “24” as if it were real.
John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who helped frame the Bush
Administration’s “torture memo”—which, in 2002, authorized the abusive
treatment of detainees—invokes the show in his book “War by Other Means.”

He asks, “What if, as the popular Fox television program ‘24’ recently
portrayed, a high-level terrorist leader is caught who knows the location
of a nuclear weapon?” Laura Ingraham, the talk-radio host, has cited the
show’s popularity as proof that Americans favor brutality. “They love
Jack Bauer,” she noted on Fox News. “In my mind, that’s as close to a
national referendum that it’s O.K. to use tough tactics against high-level
Al Qaeda operatives as we’re going to get.” Surnow once appeared as a guest
on Ingraham’s show; she told him that, while she was undergoing chemotherapy
for breast cancer, “it was soothing to see Jack Bauer torture these terrorists,
and I felt better.” Surnow joked, “We love to torture terrorists—it’s good for you!” ... rentPage=8

So, from the famous Rush Limbaugh:
“Torture? It’s just a television show! Get a grip.”

For more on torture see: ... f-torture/


Post Reply