Thursday, June 05, 2008

It works on tv

The following is a passage from Torture Team by Philippe Sands in which he is recounting his discussion with former Staff Judge Advocate at Guantanamo Diane Beaver about brainstorming sessions that took place in Sept. 2002 to come up with new interrogation techniques after President Bush decided that the Geneva Conventions did not apply there. Besides having ideas come from people's personal experiences with interrogations and reverse engineering of SERE training, there was one particularly odd source of inspiration for how to interrogate prisoners

Ideas also came from other sources and Beaver mentioned one that surprised me. I noted the words "24 - Jack Bauer," but didn't immediately follow this up with her. It was only when I got home that I realized she was referring to the main character of Fox Channel's popular series 24, which everyone watched. Jack Bauer is a fictitious member of the counter-terrorism unit in L.A. who helped prevent many terror attacks on the United States; for him torture and even killing are justifiable means to achieve the desired result. "Rules don't apply to Jack Bauer," another character says in one episode, "he does what he wants, when he wants, and he doesn't care whose life it affects." Bauer had many friends at Guantanamo Bay, Beaver said, "he gave people lots of ideas." Later on I watched the second season of 24, that started broadcasting in October 2002, with my son. The first episode opened with a scene of a man being tortured, apparently with chemicals. The information he divulged - that a nuclear device was to be exploded in Los Angeles within the next twenty-four hours - was the basis for the series. The message was clear: torture works. I raised this with Beaver when I next saw her. "We saw it on cable," Beaver explained, "people had already seen the first series, it was hugely popular." She believes the scene contributed to an environment in which those at Guantanamo were encouraged to see themselves as being on the frontline - and to go further than they otherwise might. Nowadays she can't watch 24 anymore.
Splendid. America abandons the principles of human rights that it itself had championed into becoming enshrined in Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" - and which has since become customary international law, and it does so partly because the people tasked with coming up with new guidelines for interrogation at the legal blackhole site created by the White House were persuaded by seeing torture work on a fictional tv show.

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