We might call a new argument for torture the “24 argument”. Whatever works on the fictional TV show 24 (a) really works in reality and (b) tacitly approved by the shows fans, who think it’s a documentary. Among these fans is Jonah Goldberg, he writes:

>Yet, according to the torture prohibitionists, there must be a complete ban on anything that even looks like torture, regardless of context, even though we’d never dream of a blanket ban on killing.

>One reason for this disconnect is that we’ve thought a lot about killing and barely at all about torture. Almost no one opposes killing in all circumstances; wars sometimes need to be fought, the hopelessly suffering may require relief, we reserve the right to self-defense. The law recognizes a host of nuances when it comes to homicide, and the place where everybody draws an unambiguous line on killing is at something we call “murder.”

>But there is no equivalent word for murder when it comes to torture. It’s always evil. Yet that’s not our universal reaction. In movies and on TV, good men force evil men to give up information via methods no nicer than what the CIA is allegedly employing. If torture is a categorical evil, shouldn’t we boo Jack Bauer on Fox’s “24”? There’s a reason we keep hearing about the ticking time bomb scenario in the torture debate: Is abuse justified in getting a prisoner to reveal the location of a bomb that would kill many when detonated? We understand that in such a situation, Americans would expect to be protected. That’s why human-rights activists have tried to declare this scenario a red herring.

Need we point out the obvious? (1) The scenarios on the TV show “24” are fictional. Fictional means “made up,” or “invented.” If they are used to test our moral intuitions, then we must keep in mind that they have been written for dramatic effect (and that the show’s premise is that Jack Bauer has yet another fast-paced 24-hour period to save us from someone). So someone who gives up the location of a ticking bomb under torture on the TV show does not mean either that the scenario might obtain in reality or that the person would not lie to great effect. (2) Most people watch a fictional TV show in order to be entertained and just because they watch it doesn’t mean they believe it. (3) We have provisions in our Constitution and criminal procedure that ban torture (even in the case of the ticking bomb and so forth). Perhaps the proponents of torture ought to look to those actual legal and ethical principles for guidance on this question.

2 thoughts on “Twenty-four”

  1. my impression of this entire “24” meme that is fast becoming the standard exemplar of the neocon punditocracy is that it belies the paucity of actual, concrete, evidence that the CIA “program” is actually bearing fruit. given the proclivity of this administration to parade its successes like the proud hen, if there were actual, concrete results from this program, we would know. it would be flung at the door of every member of the opposition and the “liberal” media like so much flaming dung. yet, this has not occured, so we are asked to accept nebulous “proofs” like, “this program makes america safer,” or this flabbergasting appeal to a television show as evidentiary of the efficacy of torture. behind all of this is the cold, hard fact that this program has yielded nothing concrete, nothing actualizable. so this stinking, overwrought red herring is flung on the path and the tottering media types hungrily followits stench rather than continuing down the path and asking the hard question–“where’s the beef?” don’t ask about programs or Geneva–those are secondary issues–ask for the cold, hard proof. the president and his crony-tocracy ask if we prefer to be safe or to have people tortured; we should answer, like Socrates, that we prefer nothing unless it is true.

  2. Reminds me of a scene in one of the Dirty Harry movies where Clint Eastwood’s character tortures a serial rapist/murderer to find the location of a little girl who will die in a matter of hours if not discovered. When his superior reprimands him for violating the suspects rights, Harry sardonically replies, “Well, I’m all broken up over that man’s rights.”

    I’m surprised torture supporters don’t quote this more often. Where have all the demagogues gone?

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