Panetta Shoots Down "24 Myth" In Testimony

03/09/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Earlier this week, Kiefer Sutherland, star of the television series 24, attempted to impose some sanity in an interview with the London Guardian. The short version: Yeah, 24 is a ripping good yarn, but if you think we've proven the efficacy or necessity of torture in counterterrorist policy, you're crazy; there's a distinction between fiction and the real world.

Well, out in the real world, we have Leon Panetta, giving testimony in his confirmation hearings to be the Director of the CIA. Panetta had the opportunity to face the 24 myth straight on. By Spencer Ackerman's account, Panetta was steady, forthright, and reality-based:

"We don't have to choose between our safety and our ideals," Panetta said. If there ever is a ticking time bomb -- and the scenario pretty much doesn't exist in the real world, since it presumes too much and therefore isn't a genuine case -- Panetta said he'd urge "everything possible within the law to get that information ... If you talk to [FBI Director] Bob Mueller, talk to [Sen.] John McCain, talk to Gen. [David] Petraeus, they believe that information can be obtained without resulting to extraordinary measures."

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) tries to get Panetta to carve out a loophole. Panetta doesn't bite. "No one is above the law," Panetta says.

Let me add an observation, based on the past few years of watching the pro-torture crowd ply their argument. One on hand, we're told that our national security is dependent on our being willing to indulge in some 24-style brutality -- at minimum -- when the need arises. On the other hand, we hear glib pronouncements -- that waterboarding is just a dunk in the drink, that torture is no worse than the sleepless nights Rudy Giuliani spends on the campaign trail. This is an absolute contradiction. This is policy incoherence. This is the weak link in the chain.

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