Monday, March 2, 2009

24 Season 7 Hours 11-12: The Ethical Hydra of Torture

Well, 24 promised that it would do things this Season it never did before, and it certainly came through in tonight's Hours 11-12 - a double-power-episode - that gave us the White House and the President under breathtaking siege, with heroic action by Jack, Aaron, and, in another theater of the conflict, Renee as well.

First, however, a couple of plot elements I found hard to believe: (1) How did Juma and his cadre get into the United States? (2) How did they so easily overpower all the levels of Secret Service at the White House?

But thoroughly believable was the President giving herself up to save her daughter. Jack told her he would have done that too, but pleaded with the President not to, because she was President and he was not - but I think any parent, President or not, would have done the same as President Taylor.

Torture was also very much in the air and in keen intellectual dispute tonight. In another superb scene, Bill tells Jack he (Bill) can't bring himself to torture the Senator's aide, Ryan, a traitor who clearly knows that the White House will be attacked. The President has sent Jack on his way to prison, because he was torturing Ryan, who was about to break. Jack's shipment out to prison is interrupted by the terrorist attack on the White House, which he is now defending.

So is torture right or wrong, on behalf of stopping an imminent terrorist attack? First, I think it's important to point out that this was nothing like what was going on in Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, where the torture was not designed to stop a terrorist attack only minutes away. My response to whether Jack or the President or Bill were most right in their three different takes on torture is that I'm not sure. I like to think that, at very least, I'm most like Bill, and couldn't bring myself to torture anyone myself. But if innocent lives were literally at risk, in a terrorist attack about to happen, would I have stopped Jack if I were President?

A difficult question - well served neither by apologists for the Bush administration, nor by Keith Olbermann's frequent attacks on 24 as glorifying torture. At very least, 24 presents this issue in the wrenching complexity it deserves - and 24 deserves credit not criticism for this.

Back to the story ... Next hour promises even more deadly surprises, and I'm worried that Bill or Aaron, or maybe both of them, may not come through it...



See also: Hours 1 and 2 ... Hours 3 and 4 ... Hour 5 ... Hour 6 ... Hour 7 ... Hour 8 ... Hour 9 ... Hour 10






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