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David Danzig

David Danzig

Posted January 10, 2009 | 01:36 PM (EST)

24, Torture, and the Obama Age


This Sunday night, Fox's show "24" returns with a new season after a 20 month hiatus. As the New York Times points out, Jack Bauer finds himself in a different United States at the dawn of 2009 - the "age of Obama" - as do the rest of us. Bauer, an archetype of the Bush years, was embraced by the country when "24" debuted just after 9/11, as a hero "who did not stop to ask questions about legal niceties in his pursuit of the bad guys."

"24" may just be a TV show, but Human Rights First's Primetime Torture project found that its impact was anything but fictional: junior soldiers have imitated the interrogation techniques they have seen on television. Military educators report that Jack Bauer was one of their biggest training challenges. What's more, "24" helped reinforce how Americans, including policymakers, thought about torture: as necessary in certain situations. Human Rights First sought to limit the negative impact "24" was having on the way U.S. troops operate by developing training materials, and also by reaching out to Hollywood. We arranged for a meeting between creative team behind "24" and the dean of West point and experienced interrogators. Howard Gordon, an executive producer of "24", also participated in the training film we developed for use at military academies.

What to Expect on Sunday

From the Times:

"Howard Gordon deserves a lot of credit, outside the lines of the show, for trying to do the responsible thing," said David Danzig, director of the Primetime Torture project.

But he said he had doubts that those views would completely translate into the program's plot. Mr. Danzig noted that previews portray Jack Bauer as vigorously defiant in defending his methods of interrogation, which have included beatings, stabbings, electrocutions and the use of drugs, suffocation and other coercive measures. "I fear that the result," he said, "will be for the show to contend that Bauer has always been right."

Mr. Gordon told the New York Times that Jack Bauer, in the new season, will show a more nuanced worldview, "It was to sort of account for the fact that the world has changed," he added, "that things are much more complex than maybe we thought, and that some of our actions have had consequences in the world."

It remains to be seen whether Jack Bauer - or anyone in the Bush Administration for that matter - will be held accountable. HRF is urging President-elect Obama to establish a nonpartisan commission to investigate the facts and circumstances relating to U.S. government detention and interrogation operations since 9/11.

David Danzig directs The Primetime Torture Project at Human Rights First.