Thursday, January 18, 2007

Whatever would Grandfather think!

The Tyee has been busy taunting the folks addicted to their television sets with an interesting piece reprinted from The Nation magazine.

In an article titled, Keifer Sutherland, Torture Guy, Jon Wiener examines the current interest in Jack Bauer and his penchant for torture all in the name of protecting the state.

For those that have Fox blocked on their television sets, Bauer (Sutherland) is THE agent of the Counter Terrorism Unit of Los Angeles, and on a weekly basis finds himself in the middle of some rather nasty business protecting America from the Evil Doers.

24 is one of Fox’s most popular programs, a devoted batch of fans who watch in wonder while Bauer gets himself out of one tough situation after another, kind of a MacGyver with a real mean streak and weapons.

The article compares Sutherland’s television persona with his public one, and how he might reconcile the testosterone warrior of CTU with the teachings of his father Donald and grand father Tommy Douglas.

It’s an interesting review of the Sutherland/Douglas family tree and provides some curious facts about the show and its impact not only on American culture, but its political climate as well.

As for Sutherland and his character, the best material ends up in the comments section of the web page link, as is normally the case far too many folks get caught up in the aura of the character and transfer ownership of Bauer to Sutherland.

In the end, Sutherland is an actor and this is a role, he probably has about as much in common with practitioners of torture than Sir Alec Guinness might have had with Nazi's, it might be helpful if some of the more raging of contributors kept things a tad in perspective.

However, it’s all good fun for reading and we provide the article below, the link to the Tyee page and the frequently increasing comments page can be found here.

Keifer Sutherland, Torture guy

How Tommy Douglas's grandkid became poster boy for US anti-terror tactics.
Jon Wiener
Published: January 18, 2007
The Nation

24 is back on Fox TV. The hit show starring Kiefer Sutherland once again features at least one big torture scene in every episode -- the kind of torture the Bush White House says is necessary to protect us from you-know-who.

The show is much more convincing than the White House at making the case for torture; its ratings have gone steadily up over the last five years, while Bush's ratings have gone steadily down.

In 24, Sutherland plays special agent Jack Bauer, head of the Counter Terrorism Unit. He fights some of his biggest battles not with the dark-skinned enemies trying to nuke L.A., but rather with the light-skinned do-gooders who think the head of the Counter Terrorism Unit should follow the rules.

Back in season four, for example, the bumbling bureaucrats released a captured terrorist before he could be tortured -- because a lawyer for "Amnesty Global" showed up whining about the Geneva Conventions. Jack had to quit the Counter Terrorist Unit and become a private citizen in order to break the suspect's fingers.

Dad Donald protested Vietnam

It's especially unfortunate to see Kiefer Sutherland play the world's most popular torturer -- because his father, Donald Sutherland, has been a prominent antiwar activist since Vietnam days and starred in some great films critiquing fascist politics, including MASH and Bertolucci's 1900 -- and also because Kiefer's grandfather, Tommy Douglas, was Canada's first socialist premier, and was recently voted "the greatest Canadian of all time" -- because he introduced universal public health care to Canada.

The grandson meanwhile is being paid $10 million a season by Rupert Murdoch to shoot kneecaps, chop off hands and bite his enemies to death (Sunday's special thrill).

The show's connection to the Bush White House and the conservative establishment became explicit last June, when Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff appeared alongside the show's producers and three cast members at an event sponsored by the conservative Heritage Foundation to discuss "The public image of U.S. terrorism policy." The discussion was moderated by Rush Limbaugh. The C-SPAN store sells a DVD of the event -- price reduced from $60 to $29.95.

That's entertainment!

Sunday's two-hour premiere again argued not just that torture is necessary but that it works -- and it's also really exciting to watch. The show as usual made the "ticking time bomb" case for torture: we need to torture a suspect, or else thousands, or millions, will die in the next hour.
It's the same case made by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who proposed that judges ought to issue torture warrants in the "rare 'ticking bomb' case," and by University of Chicago law professor and federal judge Richard Posner, who has written, "If torture is the only means of obtaining the information necessary to prevent the detonation of a nuclear bomb in Times Square, torture should be used." He added that "no one who doubts that this is the case should be in a position of responsibility."

Thanks to 24, tens of millions of TV viewers know exactly what Dershowitz and Posner are talking about. As Richard Kim pointed out in The Nation in 2005, those are the cases where "the stakes are dire, the information perfect and the authorities omniscient." Of course that's a fantasy of total knowledge and power, and of course the U.S. has never had a real "ticking time bomb" case -- but Jack Bauer faces one every Sunday night on Fox.

Related Tyee stories:

Torture: Hand off, Wash Hands
Canada's Retreat from Laws of War
Harsh Road to Guantanamo

Jon Wiener teaches history at UC Irvine and is a contributing editor of The Nation magazine. This article is distributed by

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