“24” in the real world: What’s a little torture between enemies?

By Mark Rahner from the Seattle Times

It’s hard not to get sentimental when you hear comforting words from someone you trust.

“You are going to tell me what I want to know. It’s just a question of how much you want it to hurt.”

That’s not Hallmark, it’s Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) making a heartfelt appeal to a bad guy on Fox’s “24,” which counts as inspirational programming.

Now that “24” is back on the air for a fifth torturific season (with the new twist that the bad guys are the ones who think Jack died last season, when in fact his death was faked), it’ll put the issue ‘ what the White House calls “not-torturing” ‘ into perspective. Why do people get all uptight when the U.S. roughs up detainees who wouldn’t deserve it if they hadn’t been detained in the first place? And is white phosphorous a faux pas after Labor Day?

I’m bad with fashion, but something I’m absolutely sure about is that torture is essential ? at least for “24” fans. Any “24” viewer knows exactly what to do when the clock’s ticking ? torture fans astutely call this a “ticking time-bomb scenario.” Official procedure:

1. No shyster lawyers or court.

2. Ignore the rear-covering, procedure-fixated bureaucrats who Just Don’t Get it ? while still taking cell calls from your annoying daughter who unfortunately didn’t get eaten by the mountain lion.

3. Shoot the America-hating scumbag in the leg or break his fingers back one at a time, because it’s the only way to get the information you need before the commercial.

“24’s” credits don’t list Vice President Cheney as a consultant, though he fought legislation banning cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners the way Dennis the Menace fights baths.

You may have heard the treatment called “extraordinary rendition.” That’s no reference to my warbling “Cracklin’ Rosie” in a bar. But our intelligence wordsmiths must be karaoke buffs, since the goal is to make someone sing. They ship terrorism suspects to third-party nations where they’re tortured at secret camps. Allegedly.

Blatantly piggybacking on “24’s” season premiere, Human Rights Watch claimed Jan. 18 that the Bush administration has a deliberate strategy of doing that nasty stuff. Bush spokesman Scott McClellan called the claims “based more on a political agenda than facts.” You can’t take at face value a group with a shifty name like Human Rights Watch. An equally suspect “human rights” group, the Council of Europe, accused the U.S. on Jan. 24 of “outsourcing” torture to CIA secret prisons in Europe.

If these allegations are true, it’s an outrage.

We need to stop sending jobs overseas.

If I call for computer or credit-card help, I can hear the water of the Ganges sloshing on the other end of the line. But this is about pride. We’ve got foreigners in foreign countries like Egypt and Greece not-torturing captives when Americans could be not-torturing them better than anyone, right here in America. New Orleans folks need jobs. Why let Halliburton hog all the work? Don’t tell me that FEMA can’t get a few thousand car batteries with electrodes there.

“Y’all gonna tell me what I want to know … ”

Thanks to all those “24” training videos, any patriot with a TV can hit the ground running.

We’ll need to fine-tune the language first, since the outright denials aren’t working so well. Our Department of Euphemisms has called torture “enhanced interrogation.” But Americans love “extreme” things ? sports, burritos, makeovers, renditions. Interrogation is out. Having an “extreme conversation” is in. Or for that Taco Bell feel, a Conversation Extreme.

Some torture is already PR-friendly. Waterboarding involves making victims ? let’s make that “guests” ? talk by simulating drowning. And it’s sporty-sounding, kind of Mountain Dewy. That makes a difference at a Senate committee:

Version 1: “Well, senator, we were engaging in an enhanced interrogation technique involving the use of water to blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Version 2: “We were waterboarding, dude!”

“Well, then take your guest snowboarding next time! Case closed and high fives.”

Pat Buchanan recently said of President Bush, “He’s Jack Bauer in the war on terror.” But there are a couple of minor differences between Jack Bauer Brand Torture{trade} and the way it’s been panning out in the real world.

1. Jack usually tortures the right bad guy. Our guys … ehhh, not so much. Oops.

2. Jack gets information out of them. Our guys … kind of spotty. Turns out folks will just say whatever you want, to get you to stop hurting them. Who knew?

I also admit that I don’t know what percentage of real detainees are the ticking time-bomb kind.

To get past these speedbumps, we can employ the same logic as airport security: “render” the “guests” at random for “extreme conversations.”

“You are going to tell me what I want to know … Mrs. O’Brien. Now get out of the wheelchair NOW!”