Posted by: Lister | February 13, 2007

General Patrick Finnegan Vs 24’s Surnow

Here are Surnow’s views on torture:

“I think torture does work. It would work on me! I believe torture has been around since the beginning of time because it works. I just think that for any person in the circumstances that Jack Bauer is in, you’d be a fool not to. If someone’s family was going to be killed in 10 minutes unless you tortured something out of somebody, they would do it. A lot of these experts, people in the human rights field, will tell you it doesn’t work, it may not work, that there may be more humane ways to get information out of people, and I believe that, but in our show, if you have 10 minutes to stop a nuclear bomb, tell me what you’re going to do.

I mean, it’s unrealistic, and it’s not how the world works, but we’re not purporting to be the world, and we’re creating our own little world. And we’re not saying it’s good, bad or whatever. We’re saying, tell me what you would do.

Not all the people that criticise him work in the Human rights field. General Patrick Finnegan and military/FBI interrogators were among the group that went to visit the producers of 24. CSMonitor did a summary, referencing the NewYorker. The main thing I noticed is the claim that the show is having an effect on soldiers in the field.

[The creative team of 24 were told that] the show’s graphic depictions of the torture of suspects was “hurting efforts to train recruits in effective interrogation techniques and is damaging the image of the US around the world.”

[…General] Finnegan and the others had come to voice their concern that the show’s central political premise “that the letter of American law must be sacrificed for the country’s security” was having a toxic effect. In their view, the show promoted unethical and illegal behavior and had adversely affected the training and performance of real American soldiers. “I’d like them to stop,” Finnegan said of the show’s producers. “They should do a show where torture backfires.”

Gary Solis, a retired law professor who designed and taught the Law of War for Commanders curriculum at West Point, told the New Yorker that his students would frequently refer to Jack Bauer in discussions of what is permissible in the questioning of terrorist suspects.

He said that, under both US and international law, “Jack Bauer is a criminal. In real life, he would be prosecuted.”

Yet the motto of many of his students was identical to Jack Bauer’s: “Whatever it takes.” His students were particularly impressed by a scene in which Bauer barges into a room where a stubborn suspect is being held, shoots him in one leg, and threatens to shoot the other if he doesn’t talk. In less than ten seconds, the suspect reveals that his associates plan to assassinate the Secretary of Defense. Solis told me, “I tried to impress on them that this technique would open the wrong doors, but it was like trying to stomp out an anthill.”

The New York Daily News reports that the terrorism experts told the staff that almost all of the interrogation techniques depicted in “24” would not work in real-life situations.

“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 US Army interrogator in Iraq and attended the meeting.

In the Guardian article, Surnow says:

I would bet there are a lot of soldiers fighting wars, on all sides, in all sorts of conflicts, under pressure when the bullets are flying and wanting information, who do all sorts of things. And I don’t want to know about it. I just want to be safe.

I think he’s missed the point. Torture might actually make him less safe. That is why Gen Finnegan says they ought to have a storyline where torture backfires.

Finnegan knows that Surnow doesn’t understand the consequences of torture. You have 10 minutes to save a million lives. Surnow wants suspects shot in the leg, regardless of how uncommunicative and unreliable they may be afterwards.

The New Yorker has another quote:

Joe Navarro, an FBI interrogation expert who was at the meeting, said he wouldn’t want anyone like Bauer on his team. “Only a psychopath can torture and be unaffected,” he said. “You don’t want people like that in your organization. They are untrustworthy, and tend to have grotesque other problems.”

(Last link [originally to the NY Daily News] found at Donkey O.D.. [I’ve updated, that link now goes to the New Yorker, because the first no longer works])



  1. A Washington Post article: Interrogation Research Is Lacking. The quote relevant to this post is:

    [In the study] experts find that popular culture and ad hoc experimentation have fueled the use of aggressive and sometimes physical interrogation techniques to get those captured on the battlefields to talk, even if there is no evidence to support the tactics’ effectiveness.

  2. An episode of 24 that was too long to air.

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