on my way into the office, I stopped by my mail slot, where a book lay in wait. It was called “Secrets of 24: The Unauthorized Guide to the Political & Moral Issues Behind TV’s Most Riveting Drama.”
One of my Times columns on “24” was included in it. So I spent the rest of the morning re-reading the piece five or ten times, and happening upon the table of contents, where I’d accidentally find my name.
I also read interviews with Joel Surnow, “24”’s co-creator, with Mary Lynn Rajskub, who plays Chloe O’Brian, with Shohreh Aghdashloo, who played the anguished wife, Dina, in the terrorist sleeper cell family featured in Season Four. I read some “Reflections on 24 and the Real World” by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, assertions that “The Threats Portrayed on 24 Are Quite Realistic” by former CIA Director James Woolsey, an interview with former FBI Director William S. Sessions (“I Sleep Well at Night”) and a surreal account of how the dean of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point plus three experienced military interrogators traveled to Hollywood to meet with the “24” creative team to try to beg them to tone down the show’s use of torture for the good of the American viewing public – and for our troops.
I learned how some of the young American military interrogators in Iraq, in places like Mosul, Fallujah and, of course, Abu Ghraib, used “24”’s screenplays as a guidebook when trying to figure out the right way to extract information from detainees. Lacking leadership from the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush, they turned instead to Jack Bauer for insight and inspiration.
“All the people who were actually conducting interrogations were privates or specialists who had no idea what they were doing,” Tony Lagouranis, a former U.S. Army interrogator at Abu Ghraib, said in an interview. “[The Bush Administration] said the Geneva Conventions don’t apply, so we had no idea what the rules were. They took away our rules and our training, so we really had nothing to fall back on, and the only role models we had were from TV and movies.”
There is much that can be said, pro and con, about “24.” But contemplating the inner lives of troops who, devoid of guidance, education, and consistent training, turned to a sadistic action adventure series for direction, leaves me speechless.
What kind of country produces this kind of person and ships him – or her – overseas? What kind of military leadership would leave such people unattended to run sensitive operations in the nightmare hours when “24” goes dark?
I’ve always considered “24” to be pure fluff and fun. But it is time, I think, to widen out the gaze to the periphery, and let it dwell there for an uncomfortably long time.
This is one sick era.