I am indebted to Heather Levi for helping me think through conceptual elements in this essay, and to Julia Lesage for astute editorial comments.

This work was supported (in part) by a grant from the City University of New York PSC-Cuny Research Award Program and by an award from the George N. Shuster Faculty Fellowship Fund at Hunter College of the City University of New York.

[return to page 1 of essay]

1. Surnow shares creator and executive producer credit with Robert Cochran, who characterizes himself as a moderate.

2. As reported by Rush Limbaugh at a Heritage Foundation panel on the series, titled “24 and America’s Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction or Does it Matter?” June 2006. Among the attendees were Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court and Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

3. For an excellent analysis of the legal arguments around torture and its normalization, see Ip, who also uses a comparison of 24 and Battlestar Galactica to ground his parsing of the debate.

4. Martha Rosler’s 1983 documentary, A Simple Case for Torture, was made in response to the pro-torture column by Michael Levin, a philosophy professor at City College (City University of New York). See her reconsideration of the video in light of both the wide public airing the pro-torture position has received, and its implementation as policy, in Jump Cut 51. Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, advocated the use of torture warrants in an L.A. Times article published Nov. 8, 2001.

Shortly before that, Jonanthan Alter, a self-described liberal, published an article in Newsweek titled “Time to Think about Torture.”

5. The closest Jack came in season 1 to torturing a suspect was to make a threat that could not be carried out because the man died when he refused medication for a coronary brought on by the encounter (“10 am” 1.11). See “Imagining Torture” by Chuck Kleinhans in Jump Cut 51 for a discussion of depictions of torture in U.S. fiction film and television, including 24.

6. Sarah, who works at CTU and is set up by the real mole, is tasered (“2 pm” 4.8), and Richard, who is Audrey’s brother and is trying to conceal a homosexual encounter, is subjected to sensory deprivation by Richards (“9 am” 4.3).

7. Paul eventually succumbs to complications related to this bullet wound, when Bauer forces the medical team to abandon life-saving surgery on Paul to tend to a dying terrorist informant (“2 am” 4.20).

8. Though season 3 ends with his daughter Kim and her boyfriend Chase resolving to leave the agency because working there is incompatible with a relationship, a choice Jack did not make despite the toll the job took on his marriage and eventually on his wife’s life, every season involves loss and regret for Bauer.

9. Mayer reports that the meeting was arranged by David Danzig of Human Rights First. My discussion of that meeting draws on Mayer’s description. [return to page 2 of essay]

10. Senator Mayer seems to be named for New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, who believes this to be the case. See Zenilman for a Mayer interview to this effect.

11. Season 7 ends with Agent Walker, after consulting with the incapacitated Bauer, about to torture the stonewalling Alan Wilson, terrorist mastermind of that season and season 5’s conspiracies, for information.

12. A report from an advisory group, the Intelligence Science Board, issued just one month later (Dec. 2006) also finds that popular culture, coupled with “ad hoc experimentation have fueled the use of aggressive and sometimes physical interrogation techniques to get those captured on the battlefields to talk, even if there is no evidence to support the tactics' effectiveness” (White).

13. Since 2006, the ratings for 24 have gone down.

14. The torture techniques sanctioned at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib were based partly on SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape), the military training program devised to inure soldiers to torture, which in turn was based on torture modes used by Korean Communists to extract false confessions from Americans. See “Torture Documentaries” by Julia Lesage in Jump Cut 51 for a discussion of the migration of some of these practices from the British (for use against the IRA) decades ago to Guantanamo to Bagram to Abu Ghraib in her analysis of Taxi to the Dark Side (2007).

15. An exception is season 7, where Bauer’s torture by taser of Ryan Burnett lands Burnett in the hospital with serious injuries (“7 pm” 7.12).

16. In 2007, McFarlane Toys released a line of action figures (i.e. dolls targeted at boys) after a delay caused by Kiefer Sutherland’s unwitting destruction of the prototype “after a night of playfully torturing the plastic version of his character!” (Bennett 79). Obviously, torturing a doll does not constitute endorsing torture, however torturing a doll likeness of oneself does suggest that Sutherland might be more ambivalent about the impact of his character’s violent behavior on its audience than the actor is willing to admit.

17. Torture may not work to elicit truthful information, but it worked for the Bush administration. According to John Ip, the CIA rendered al Qaeda operative Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi to Egypt. After being subjected to torture, including waterboarding, “he claimed that Iraq had trained Qaeda members in the use of chemical and biological weapons.” Although he recanted in 2004, al-Libi’s coerced account was used by the Bush administration in its case for the Iraq war (23-4). Recently revealed Justice Department documents have corroborated the assertion that torture was used to try to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein in the run up to the war (Landay). See also Chuck Kleinhans’s discussion of this in “Imagining Torture” (4) Jump Cut 51.

18. The attacks of 9/11 can be seen as a form of blowback. Bin Laden and the mujahadeen, CIA “assets” who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, were empowered by their victory there to form Al Qaeda and turn against us. For a discussion of the narrative centrality of blowback to BSG, see Pinedo.

19. After BSG ended its run, the channel, owned by media conglomerate NBC Universal, rebranded itself as Syfy, as it is now known.

20. Cofer Black used the phrase in relation to post-9/11 America: "All I want to say is that there was before 9/11 and after 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off" (qtd. in Schell). For a discussion of the Abu Ghraib photographs see Julia Lesage, “Torture Documentaries” in Jump Cut 51.

Katee Sackhoff, who played Kara Thrace, is cast in season 8 of 24 as Dana Walsh, a CTU mole. Late in the season, she is waterboarded by private contractors employed by the government and subsequently executed by Jack Bauer (she was indirectly responsible for the murder of Renee Walker, Jack’s lover). Jack’s murder of Dana serves to compensate for his inability to protect Renee. [return to page 3 of essay]

21. For a contrasting take on the incompatibility of torture and liberal democracy, see Talal Asad who argues that despite the public outrage voiced against suicide bombings by liberal democracies, mortal violence has historically been integral to liberalism as a political formation. Though his focus is not torture per se, the moral distinction – between the “them” who commit acts of barbarity and the “us” who do not – clearly comes into play in the need to define torture as necessary in this exceptional case, or to define it out of existence.

22. We only learn in “Razor” (aired between seasons 3 and 4) that Gina and Cain were also lovers, suggesting the additional involvement of narcissistic motives.

23. Standard Operating Procedure is also the title of Errol Morris’s 2008 documentary investigating torture at Abu Ghraib. He argues that torture was not the aberrant practice of the few low-ranking “bad apples” who were prosecuted, but rather the standard operating procedure at this and other detention camps, authorized by high ranking officials and instituted by bureaucratic channels. See Julia Lesage’s detailed discussion of the film in “Torture Documentaries,” Jump Cut 51.

24. The DVD commentary for the extended version of “Pegasus” has David Eick explaining that the network executives based their objections on the belief that women in the audience will be alienated by explicit sexual violence. But Eick and Moore fundamentally disagreed .

25. Baltar’s torture sequence departs radically from the series’ otherwise realistic depiction of torture. It plays like a reverse primal scene in which a violent encounter is interpreted as a sexual encounter. While the Cylon D’Anna tortures Baltar, his imaginary Cylon lover, Six, whom he interacts with on a regular basis, mounts him and encourages him to disassociate from the pain and focus on the pleasurable sensations produced by her gyrations. As the sequence cross cuts between Baltar having sexual intercourse, with Baltar subjected to grueling pain, it deliberately and disturbingly mixes pleasure and pain, eroticism and torment, sex and violence, not for the perpetrator but for the victim of torture, transmuting it into something like an ecstatic masochistic experience, at the end of which Baltar declares his love for Six/D’Anna (“A Measure of Salvation” 3.7). Carrying the lack of realism even further, as in 24, Baltar walks away psychologically unscathed and proceeds to have a consensual sexual relationship with D’Anna. For a nuanced discussion of the erotic frisson that may be evoked by photographs of torture see “Torture Documentaries,” by Julia Lesage in Jump Cut 51.

26. In season 2, Jack withholds medical care for a bullet wound from terrorist Marie Warner, a more indirect form of duress (“9 pm” 2.14).

27. In the wake of the torture memos released by the Obama administration, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan and others have discouraged any investigation into possible crimes committed in the formation of torture policy by the Justice Department and White House officials. As Noonan put it on the 4/26/09 edition of ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos, “Sometimes in life you want to just keep walking” (my transcription).

28. Political blogger Andrew Sullivan avers that the role of 24 in normalizing torture, has been deliberate. He recounts that in 2006,

“a private luncheon was held in the…White House for Surnow and several others from the show. (The event was not publicized.) Among the attendees were Karl Rove, the deputy chief of staff; Tony Snow, the White House spokesman….After the meal, Surnow recalled, he and his colleagues spent more than an hour visiting with Rove in his office.”

29. BSG’s perspective may have been a dissident one in the US, but it is in keeping with other western democracies, as witnessed by the United Nations, which on March 17, 2009, convened a panel to discuss BSG’s treatment of terrorism and torture.

30. For an insightful analysis of the torture discourse embodied in the Obama administration’s refusal to prosecute top-level Bush administration officials under the stance of looking forward, not backward, see Julia Lesage, “Torture Documentaries: Limits on Torture Epistephilia” Jump Cut 51.

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