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The Influence of "24"

FOX's hit show "24" is but one of the many shows which cashed in on the post-9/11 fear of terrorism. Indeed, one could say that the show's success can be attributed to the desire of many Americans to see easily recognizable evidence that we are "winning" against those who would do us harm. Because such evidence is often few and far between in the real war on terror, the exploits of Jack Bauer helps to fill that void.

But it's not without its price. Because in an effort to keep their ratings high, FOX has continually pushed the envelope. This is especially true on the issue of torture, of which the show's lead has become a predictable recidivist. And while such scenes may make for good TV drama, they are also having a negative influence on those tasked with conducting the war on terror.
The grossly graphic torture scenes in Fox's highly rated series "24" are encouraging abuses in Iraq, a brigadier general and three top military and FBI interrogators claim.

The four flew to Los Angeles in November to meet with the staff of the show. They said it is hurting efforts to train recruits in effective interrogation techniques and is damaging the image of the U.S. around the world, according The New Yorker.

"I'd like them to stop," Army Brig. Gen. Patrick Finnegan, dean of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, told the magazine.

Finnegan and others told the show's creative team that the torture depicted in "24" never works in real life, and by airing such scenes, they're encouraging military personnel to act illegally.

"People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they've just seen," said Tony Lagouranis, who was a U.S. Army interrogator in Iraq and attended the meeting.

"The kids see it, and say, 'If torture is wrong, what about '24'?" Finnegan said.

Those who support a "Whatever it takes" approach to combating terrorism often point to the show as an example of how effective such a stance can be. Leaving aside for the moment that "24" is FICTION, another problem with such invocations is the omniscience enjoyed by the audience.

More often than not, the audience is already aware of the guilt or innocence of the person being subjected to torture. We get to see that person as they oversaw the construction of a bomb or the training of suicide bombers. Such omniscience lessens ones aversion to torture because in the eyes of the audience, the person being tortured is clearly guilty and therefore deserving of the punishment.

But real life does not work that way. Interrogators have no way of knowing if the person being questioned has the knowledge they seek or is even guilty of the crimes to which they are accused. And because of what is shown on shows like "24", it only makes it more likely that tactics that are not only ineffective but hurt our standing in the world will be employed.

(Filed at State of the Day)