Jack Bauer has his day in court

Imagine if you will Jack BauerJack Bauer, the Dark Knight of the Sunny City, Abyss-staring, Monster-becoming, West Point lunatic-inspiring protagonist of the terrist-huntin’ television hit 24

in court.

Hmmm. Messy.

There’s all the torture. All the dead people. There’s the gratuitous gunplay, quite palpably not followed up with proper paperwork. I’m even pretty sure there’s a bit on YouTube where you can see him change lanes without signalling.

Background from the Globe and Mail:

Justice Antonin Scalia is one of the most powerful judges on the planet.

The job of the veteran U.S. Supreme Court judge is to ensure that the superpower lives up to its Constitution. But in his free time, he is a fan of 24, the popular TV drama where the maverick federal agent Jack Bauer routinely tortures terrorists to save American lives. This much was made clear at a legal conference in Ottawa this week.

Senior judges from North America and Europe were in the midst of a panel discussion about torture and terrorism law, when a Canadian judge’s passing remark – “Thankfully, security agencies in all our countries do not subscribe to the mantra ‘What would Jack Bauer do?‘ ” – got the legal bulldog in Judge Scalia barking.

The conservative jurist stuck up for Agent Bauer, arguing that fictional or not, federal agents require latitude in times of great crisis. “Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. … He saved hundreds of thousands of lives,” Judge Scalia said. Then, recalling Season 2, where the agent’s rough interrogation tactics saved California from a terrorist nuke, the Supreme Court judge etched a line in the sand.

“Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?” Judge Scalia challenged his fellow judges. “Say that criminal law is against him? ‘You have the right to a jury trial?’ Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don’t think so.

“So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes.”

What happened next was like watching the National Security Judges International All-Star Team set into a high-minded version of a conversation that has raged across countless bars and dinner tables, ever since 24 began broadcasting six seasons ago.

Jack Bauer, played by Canadian Kiefer Sutherland, gets meaner as he lurches from crisis to crisis, acting under few legal constraints. “You are going to tell me what I want to know, it’s just a matter of how much you want it to hurt,” is one of his catchphrases. Every episode poses an implicit question to its viewers: Does the end justify the means if national security is at stake? On 24, the answer is, invariably, yes.

Because God loves karma just as much as any Hindu, Maer Arar‘s lawyer was also present, and presented his own rather pointed, and highly effective argument: against torture, for trying Bauer.

Practially speaking, over three-quarters of the information gathered through torture is found to be inaccurate or plain lies. It isn’t efficient; it does. not. work. But it’s great television.

When I was studying political philosophy, we got the torture-the-terrorist question on our final exam (hey, some things never go out of style), and oh, how I wish I had that paper with me today, because it was the first perfect paper they’d ever seen in that course. My basic point was that you cannot break moral rules for practical reasons, because you have no control over the outcome (like, if he lies to you), no control over anything whatsoever in this world except one thing: your own actions. If what you actually DO is wrong, then you are wrong. And you must stop.

Can Bauer save your life? Not really; he might be able to postpone your death, but you’re going to die anyway, therefore preventing that through means that might or might not work anyway isn’t a realistic objective. If he gets the right information out of the terrorist, does that guarantee him the time or the ability to do anything about it? Of course not. He can’t control time any more than he can assure immortality.

But seriously, I said it way better, with quotations and everything. The only one I can remember is the most embarassing one, the one I used to conclude the paper, the Chris de Burgh one:

Sweet Liberty is in our hands. It’s part of the plan. Or is it a state of mind?

Those absolutes that Scalia dismisses, I remind you, include the Constitution of the United States of America as well as the Bill of Rights, both of which he is sworn not only to obey, but to uphold in his work on the Supreme Court.

Subverting the Constitution is not the job of the Supreme Court; it is, quite obviously, the job of the White House. Is Scalia thinking of tossing his powdered wig into the ’08 Presidential race? He’s clearly got what it takes.

And don’t you forget it.

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20 thoughts on “Jack Bauer has his day in court

  1. It is a little disturbing when a country loses all sense of ethics. Why, next thing, they may begin to produce WMD’s. They may need to be invaded and have their leader executed for crimes against humanity.

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  6. I just got through saying elsewhere that it’s no surprise the Republican’ts are glomming onto a fictional character like gravy on poutine (even if he’s [say it softly] Canadian).

    It’s because since 2000, every single narrative of the Republican Party is also fiction:

    1) George won the White House.
    2) Dick Cheney’s energy policies are fair and transparent.
    3) No Child will be Left Behind (except the unsaved)
    4) The Clean Air Act (wink, nudge, cough, wheeze)
    5) Saddam had weapons/worked with Al-Q/had his personal chef sodomized by babboons because the soup was too hot.
    6) The United States does not torture.
    7) Pakistan is a valuable ally for democracy
    8) So’s Saudi Arabia
    9) Hey–Iran has weapons of mass destruction too! No, really … you gotta believe us … it’s the Truth this time …

    After a while is it any surprise that like Saint Ronnie (who couldn’t remember if he’d been in the Big Deuce or just in a film about it) they can’t tell fact from fantasy anymore?

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  8. Hi RC! I read this yesterday. Today I saw it in another blog, > I was written by Larry Johnson, former CIA, and stunch supporter of Valerie Plame.(pretty cool dude) Just in case you want to read what he said here is the link:

  9. Interesting . . . subverting the constitution. It’s also sort of like finding a right to privacy in the constitution so that the courts could legislate Roe v. Wade into being. Much to my surprise, I recently saw a history of the Supreme Court on PBS in which each of the jurisprudence scholars they spoke with (both liberal and conservative) pointed out that the 1972 decision was incredibly faulty.

    At any rate, I dislike abortion, but I’m not a staunch pro-lifer so I don’t really want to rangle about aborition. My point here is that people in power too often “bend” the law to make it suit their own needs or their own opinions and this habit crosses party lines.

  10. Jason, I appreciate your point but your theory doesn’t work.

    Roe v. Wade, inasmuch as it has any connection to what we’re discussing here, was at least in part about affirming the rights of the individual over the state.

    Jack Bauer is a fictional character, and therefore allowed a certain amount of license to torture and murder, all apparently in the name of good.

    George W. Bush is, to my contiuing disappointment, real, and is granted a free hand to murder and torture for reasons he and his think best, regardless of countervailing opinions from judiciaries, the Constitution, or simple good sense.

    That includes the notion, peculiar in conservatives, that individual rights are apparently strongest when they are removed from the individual and transferred to the state.

    Regardless of what one may think of Roe, the Constitiution was put in place precisely to prevent such a theft. It is America’s shame that in the early days of the twenty-first century, the political body elected through its provisions is unwilling to stand up on its hind legs and defend it.

  11. Jason, I don’t believe in the right to privacy, but there’s no question that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were very much about respect for the individual and for rights which the framers believed to exist independent of those pieces of paper, but wished to enshrine from the beginning, as they’d seen the consequences of disrespect for those rights, at the hands of the British.

    The cheap sensationalistic math of Scalia, in direct opposition to what he swore to uphold, is chilling. It’s clear that he is nothing more than a very dangerous opportunist at this point; that he’d fuck over his country to save its life is not a GOOD thing. Ask anyone who’s been sold into slavery; they got the same deal.

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