The Jack Bauer Rules?

I must say, the return of 24 (awesome) in tandem with some using 24-esque scenarios to absolve Alberto Gonzales of his torture-friendly legal opinions (awesomely scary) is a little surreal. It gives one a little window into just how deep the fictionalization of reality is for the armchair terror warriors--their appeal bears little resemblance to the complicated, nuanced and often mundane thing we call reality. Instead, they truly believe that global terrorism somehow rockets 'reality' off its moorings and makes the action movie, and the action movie's morals, come ass-kickingly alive.

That said, the distinction between the hypothetical "terrorist in NYC who knows where the nuke is" and liberalizing U.S. code to allow or at least weasel around torture needs to be addressed head on. Dry proof about the low efficacy of torture in obtaining reliable information, the mushy question of proportional losses in our soft power from torture scandals, and predictions of retaliation against American troops all seem to fade away in the face of the "Jack Bauer" hypothesis. In the end we have to be realistic about what "laws" and "standards" really are. They don't represent our ultimate moral choice in every instance. Life is messy. Some considerations trump others that did not trump the last time. That is ok. Jack Bauer doesn't need to be thrown in jail cuz he tortured away the imminent nuclear holocaust.

Laws on the other hand? They're not really for the Jack Bauers and historical singularities. They are for Joe Schmo who doesn't have any better ideas than torture. For states that have something to prove even if they have no idea how to go about proving it. That is who you want anti-torture laws for. Our laws don't provide for every possibility--that's why we insist on a subjective human element mediating between the law and punishments. But laws do set standards, and they make clear which principles are not to be trifled with lightly.


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