Jack Bauer: Patriot, Hero, Terrorist-Torturing Badass?

In the weeks following 9/11, the Jack Bauer character in the “24” series is exactly the type of character Americans craved to see on their TV screens, and the Fox Television Network delivered. As The New York Times said when the show began, it seemed as if there had been a “deadly convergence between real life and Hollywood fantasy.” None of us realized then how right the Times was. Over the past eight seasons, “24” has entertained, outraged and set the stage for discussions of one of the most controversial current issues: torture. This May, “24” comes to an end, but unfortunately the desensitization to torture the show has taught the public cannot be undone with a simple series cancellation.[1]

While real-life counterterrorism does exist, “24” could not be further from reality. Issues are not always as black and white as good guy vs. bad guy, and the ticking time bomb scenario rarely happens. In reality, torture does not work, contrary to the show’s constant demonstration. Members of the US military visited the set of “24” in an attempt to persuade producers that the show is misleading and influences members of the military to act illegally and immorally.[2]

Jack Bauer is exactly the character former President Bush would create to manipulate American minds. While the government may not have been directly involved in the creation of this “Super-Patriot,” American policy has authorized the mental and physical abuse of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan and anywhere else our government sees fit. After Abu Ghraib, some Americans believe these crimes have been punished and deterred. This cannot be further from the truth. Because of President Obama’s orders to keep documentation of this torture hidden, Americans do not understand its extent.[3] Some torture in Abu Ghraib included forced sexual acts, repeated sodomy, molestation and gang rape of civilian women and children – some as young as eleven years old.[4] The American Civil Liberties Union has reported 28 murders in Abu Ghraib. Many victims were innocent.[5]

President Obama insists that the photos and videos he hides are not “sensational.”[6] This is doubtful, and by helping to cover up these crimes, our president is not only acknowledging torture, he is allowing it. A few low-ranking military personnel were charged with some lesser crimes, but even the Senate Armed Services Committee admits these crimes are not solely their fault.[7] Top officials convey that this behavior is acceptable and encouraged. No senior officials have been held accountable for their behavior.[8]

The Bush administration ironically used Saddam Hussein’s mistreatment of his people, and use of torture, as justification for invading Iraq. Since America’s invasion, Iraqis receive equally bad treatment on a smaller scale. Abu Ghraib was known as a symbol of torture before the American invasion, but our government is also guilty of authorizing torture there and in its secret prisons, called “black sites.” In these prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Europe, prisoners are held for years without charges, trials or basic human rights.[9]

Some might say if torture saves American lives, we must use it. However, experience has shown torture’s futility. Retired Air Force Col. John Rothrock headed a combat interrogation team in Vietnam. Even when he was faced with the rare ticking time-bomb scenario, he refused to use violence and used psychology instead. He knew that harming the prisoner may be faster, but a person being tortured will say anything to stop the pain, so results are unreliable. Rothrock says he does not know “any professional intelligence officers of his generation who think [torture] is a good idea.” Army Col. Stuart Herrington conducted interrogations in Vietnam, Panama and Iraq, and he says torture is immoral, illegal and “not a good way to get information.” Herrington concludes if a person is uncooperative, torture would only cause them to say anything to make you stop. It will not get you the truth.[10]

We need to be held accountable to a higher power. No, I am not talking about God, although that will come in time, I am talking about the International Criminal Court. The ICC’s purpose is to punish crimes against humanity, including human rights infringements and war crimes.[11] The Rome Statute has been ratified by 110 countries, allowing each country to charge others with crimes and allowing its citizens to be charged by the court.[12] President Clinton agreed to work with the ICC, but Bush backed out of the agreement.[13] Before his election, President Obama said, “The United States should ratify the Rome Statute and become full partners in the International Criminal Court.”[14] He has taken no steps to ratify the statute.

As Americans, we pride ourselves on willingness to stand up not only for our rights, but for the rights of all people, especially the voiceless. America’s refusal to ratify the Rome Statute goes against everything our government claims to uphold. Government officials attempt to defend their position by claiming that cooperation with the court will jeopardize national security. National security has been used to justify infringement on constitutional rights, as can be seen in the anti-American and ironically entitled Patriot Act. “National Security” has also been cited to defend the use of water-boarding and other sadistic abuse.[15] When will Americans realize that until we demand accountability, our government will continue to commit atrocities in our names?


[1] American Thinker. “Farewell and Adieu, Jack Bauer,” March 29, 2010.

[2] Ibid.

[3] For information on Obama’s orders to hide the evidence see: https://www.aclu.org/national-security/aclu-calls-abu-ghraib-scandal-predictable-result-us-detention-policies-asks-govern

4Whitmer, Benjamin. “Torture Chambers and Rape Rooms: What Abu Ghraib Can Tell Us about the American Carceral System,” CR: The New Centennial Review – Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 2006, pp. 171-194.

[5] Ibid.

[6] To read President Obama’s further quotes, see: https://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/05/12/prisoner.photos/

[7] BBC News, Bush Policy “led to Abu Ghraib,” Wednesday, 22 April 2009.

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Washington Post, “CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons,” Dana Priest. November 2, 2005.

[10] Interviews cited in The Washington Post. “The Torture Myth,” Anne Applebaum. January 12, 2005; Page A21.

[11] More information: https://www.icc-cpi.int/Menus/ICC/About+the+Court/

[12] Ibid.

[13] More information: https://www.globalpolicy.org/empire/us-un-and-international-law-8-24/us-opposition-to-the-icc-8-29.html

[14] Ryan, Josiah, CNS News, March 30, 2009.

[15] More information on US defense of torture can be found at: https://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2008/02/08/national/main3807334.shtml