FOX’s “24” is one of my favorite shows on television. If you aren’t familiar with “24”, the fictional show focuses on the life of Jack Bauer, a loyal, self-sacrificing federal agent who, in a mere 24 hours, destroys terrorist networks threatening the United States. In order to accomplish this, Bauer routinely tortures suspected terrorists.
This season of “24” seems to explore the ethical concerns of torturing terrorist suspects for information, with Jack Bauer’s actions in focus. Bauer’s record is contrasted with the ideals of two FBI agents who are committed not to torture anyone. The FBI agents see Jack as a loose cannon and a tainted agent because of his history of torturing individuals — that is, until they themselves need information from the terrorists. At that point, they view Jack’s skill in torturing individuals as necessary, though not the best way to interrogate.
It’s possible that the show’s writers are juxtaposing the emotional numbness Jack Bauer carries because of his actions with the burden that policies encouraging torture place on the American justice system today. The larger point “24” writers may be making is that while our government tortures suspected terrorists and, yes, those actions may result in solid information, our country must consider the strain torture policies place on the moral fiber of our country.
Some believe that advocating against harsh interrogation techniques like waterboarding is irresponsible, possibly putting innocent Americans in harm’s way. Others believe that torturing people is unethical and contrary to American ideals.
This week, in the real world, President Obama chose to release a memo regarding interrogation techniques the CIA employed during the Bush administration. According to a CNN online report, a 2005 memo from the desk of former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven G. Bradbury reveals that suspected “mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and “suspected al Qaeda leader” Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002.
This information reveals that for 31 days CIA agents subjected Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to simulated drowning an average of six times a day. While I do not make any excuses for either suspects’ alleged disturbing actions and involvement in al Qaeda, they are both human beings and we should have enough emotional distance from Sept. 11 to critically evaluate our moral position on torturing people.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney was interviewed by Sean Hannity on Monday about his moral position on torture. “One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” he said.
Cheney and (we must assume) the other Bush administration officials believe that, when it comes to torturing people — even just suspected terrorists — the ends justify the means. They believe that if torturing people helps the government obtain truthful information, then the suffering of those people as well as the betrayal of our core values as Americans is justified.
President Obama has previously held the position that while waterboarding is torture, he is committed to looking forward rather than investigating the Bush administration’s policies.
However, the release of the May 2005 memo has renewed the significance of the Bush administration’s policy on interrogation techniques.
The president said Tuesday that the decision to hold those who formed the legal opinion on torture responsible should be left to Attorney General Eric Holder. He also said
that he thinks a bipartisan committee should be formed to investigate the policies.
Eric Holder has yet to formally state whether he will evaluate the White House counsel’s legal opinion on interrogation techniques, but in a rather eloquent speech at West Point last week Holder said, “Discarding the very values that have made us the greatest nation on earth will not make us stronger — it will make us weaker and tear at the very fibers of who we are.”
“There simply is no tension between an effective fight against those sworn to do us harm and a respect for the most honored civil liberties that have made us who we are,” Holder continued.
We must evaluate as a civilization whether torturing individuals reflects our core values as a country. Our government should then consider whether the principles we deem “core values” burden our officials’ consciences to act.
Stephanie England is an English junior and a Mustang Daily political columnist.