On 24

The Reality of Interrogation

By Eli Lake

Jack Bauer knows something that polite society does not: torture works. Whether it’s simulating the execution of a terrorist’s family, the fear of pain, or the application of pain (either injected or makeshift; a lamp and a live socket will do), every man breaks.

The military and intelligence services would be detaining and interrogating terrorists with or without 24, but in its own way the show has become part of the public debate. Bill Clinton in 2006 said there are exceptions when “of course” torture should be allowed, and then proceeded to give the Jack Bauer example of the ticking bomb. When his wife was asked about this at a debate in New Hampshire in September 2007, she averred, saying it should never be policy. “These hypotheticals are very dangerous,” she said. “Because they open a great big hole in what should be an attitude that our country and our president takes toward the appropriate treatment of everyone. And I think it’s dangerous to go down this path.”

According to many of our cultural elites, torture does not work. There is the problem of the false confession. Plus, how can we as a nation diplomatically criticize torture states, if we ourselves torture? Eventually ad hoc torture practices will lead to the tormenting of the innocent, such as in Abu-Ghraib. What the admirers of Jack Bauer do not know, the responsibles tell us, is that 24 is just a television show. The time bomb is almost never actually ticking, often the  …

More from Eli Lake

Stay Updated

on our daily essay, giveaways, and other special deals

Our Books

Subscribe via RSS