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As the New Season of '24' Gets Underway, Is Jack Bauer Now Torturing Himself?
In November 2006, Danzig arranged a meeting among the writers and producers of "24"; Brig. Gen. Patrick Finnegan, the dean of West Point; and three professional interrogators.
In an encounter chronicled in detail in the New Yorker by Jane Mayer, the visitors to Hollywood argued that torture never produces actionable intelligence. They added that the show's depiction of such practices gives young recruits false notions about the efficacy of coercion, and, more broadly, damages the image of the United States among foreign viewers.
Finnegan, who declined to be interviewed for this article, told the New Yorker, "I'd like them to stop. . . . They should do a show where torture backfires."
The meeting was by all accounts friendly, and the writers appeared to take on board some of the suggestions of the professional interrogators.
"I was very gladdened to see how receptive they were," says Joe Navarro, a veteran FBI interrogator who teaches a course on the subject at the FBI Academy in Quantico and attended the meeting. "I've dealt with some pretty bad guys, and if you know what you're doing, you can get the truth out of them without violence."
Indeed, Fierro says he found the session "eye-opening" and built a narrative in "The Shield" around the idea that torture can go horribly wrong.
"I assumed torture did work before that meeting," says Fierro.
The new "24 "season is set in Washington rather than Los Angeles, an attempt to freshen the brand. A woman president has just taken office and the country is threatened by operatives from the fictional African nation of Sangala, where a murderous thug has just staged a coup.
As the show opens, Jack is testifying before a Senate subcommittee investigating torture and other human rights abuses. The senator leading the questioning is named Blaine Mayer, a sly dig at the New Yorker writer.
"It was for our own amusement," Gordon says of the name choice.
Jane Mayer didn't quite join in the joke. "It's kind of flattering," she says in an e-mail. "It's also kind of amusing that the Tough Boys of Hollywood, who created Jack Bauer, are total cream puffs themselves, who can't take criticism that their glamorization of torture is about as popular these days as Dick Cheney."
Gordon promises that Bauer will evolve over the course of the season and that the "deep moral questions Americans have had to face" because of issues like Abu Ghraib will provide a context for the show's narrative and the character's evolution. As was clear in "Redemption," the two-hour prequel that ran in November, the sins of the past are beginning to weigh on Jack, and the show's writers. But in the first four hours of the new season, at least, Bauer appears not to have entirely shed his reliance on tough-guy tactics.