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Jack Bauer of '24,' The Interrogator's Marquee de Sade?

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Is it just me or is the world getting weirder?

The other day, I'm reading an article in the latest issue of the New Yorker -- "Whatever It Takes" by Jane Mayer -- and for a while I couldn't tell if it was an outrageous satire or a simple, factual depiction of a world gone mad. It turns out the story is true. Maybe that's why it's laugh-out-loud funny. These days, reality is funnier than satire.

The key scene in Mayer's story occurred last November, when Brig. Gen. Patrick Finnegan, the dean of West Point, decided that he needed to do something to end the horror of Americans torturing prisoners. So he gathered three of the top military and FBI interrogation experts and they headed for the airport.

Did they fly to Abu Ghraib? No. Guantanamo? No. One of those secret prisons where the CIA allegedly tortures terror suspects? Nope.

Finnegan and his experts flew to Hollywood to meet the producers of the TV show "24," so Finnegan could urge them to stop the actors who play American agents from pretending to torture the actors who play terrorists in the show.

Really. This actually happened.

The problem, Finnegan told Mayer, is that his students at West Point see Americans torturing terrorists on "24" -- which happens nearly every week -- and they wonder why they're not supposed to do it in real life: "The kids see it, and say, 'If torture is wrong, what about "24"?' " he says.

Gee, if these cadets can't tell the difference between TV and reality, I sure hope they're not watching "Superman" reruns. They might try to fly out windows or catch bullets.

But wait. The story gets better. When the general arrives at the studio, wearing a uniform decorated with countless ribbons, people figure he's an actor playing a general and they ask when his scene will be shot. Then, at the meeting, one of Finnegan's experts suggests some non-abusive interrogation techniques including -- get this! -- "giving suspects a postcard to send home, thereby learning the name and address of their next of kin."

And when the show's lead writer, Howard Gordon, hears that, he slams his fist on the table and says, "You're hired!"

Do you see why I thought this might be satire?

Am I crazy or is attacking torture by lobbying the producers of "24" almost as ridiculous as trying to make nuclear power plants safer by urging the producers of "The Simpsons" to stop letting Homer play with plutonium in the lunchroom of the Springfield nuke plant?

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