Joe Scarborough: More Extreme than Jack Bauer

Today on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough waged a condescending and ill-informed six-minute defense of torture, arguing with the Financial Times’ Krystia Freeland that torture is always effective — and that waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and stress positions aren’t torture anyway. He declared, again without getting specific, that torture has saved American lives:

SCARBOROUGH: Yes I do. Yes I do. And I know for a fact that waterboarding brought our interrogators, brought Americans, probably about 70-75 percent of what they get. What they got from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed opened doors that we are still going through. Waterboarding has produced and given so much evidence to our people in the CIA and in the other intelligence agencies. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed by himself has done more to crush al Qaeda than Dick Cheney or George Bush because of waterboarding.

His blanket argument feels like it’s out of a different era, from before we knew what we know now about the costs of torture and the benefits of humane interrogation. The national debate on this issue has shifted very much in the last few years – people on all sides of the debate have acknowledged that national security and human rights are not at odds, and seasoned interrogators have repeatedly told us that torture makes us less safe. Scarborough sounds like Jack Bauer.

Speaking of which, last night, season 7 of “24” debuted, and Jack Bauer, never known as a subtle kind of guy, is back. He has often been viewed as an archetype of the Bush years, the kind of hero who did not stop to ask questions about legal niceties in his pursuit of the bad guys, an exemplar of the no-holds-barred action Scarborough was endorsing this morning. And yet, at least in the world of “24”, there seems to be some acknowledgement that circumstances have changed since those heady days of reflection-free action post 9/11. Jack Bauer may show some nuance yet; here’s Kiefer Sutherland’s take on the character this season:

Kiefer Sutherland: He’s very disenfranchised with his own country. Even if you take a look at some of the things that he’s had to do. I would have to say the most egregious was killing Ryan Chappelle his boss, by order of the president of the United States. I think he feels he’s being used as a scapegoat when in fact most of the things he was doing were under order by a much higher authority than he. And he’s there to defend his point of view and it’s something that is a through line through the entire season. The one thing that really resonated to me from that very first speech which kind of carries him through, because I think you’ll see, he has huge reservations over some of the things he’s done. So this is not simply black and white where he’s saying I’m right and you’re wrong. He resents the senate investigation but I think on a much more personal and moral level, he’s taking a look at a lot of the things he’s done and does believe there is a responsible way, a legal way, a more proper way.

Crave Online: That’s what he’s done. What about what he’s going to have to do in the next 24 hours?

Kiefer Sutherland: For him, saving the 45 people on the bus, if that’s his objective and that’s what he’s been given as an objective, he will do whatever it takes to save those 45 innocent people. It’s very hard to compare it to what’s happening in the real
world and in our television show world, he happens to be right in the people that he’s actually doing this with but I think he has huge reservations over the violence. I think in the end, which carries right through to episode 24 is I think where he is at now that is so different than the place before, from season one he was motivated by this unbelievable sense of ideology and what he was doing was right. I think now he’s a much older, kind of wiser man who is very dejected by the fact that the world is even like this and requires him on some level. I think he is now just fighting to kind of finish out his life and maybe do something positive with it. Circumstances keep surrounding him that prevent him from doing that.

The beliefs that torture works and that the ticking time bomb scenario is commonplace are as unrealistic as the rest of the “24” universe, a fictional place where major cities can be crossed in ten minutes during rush hour, and where terror threats emerge and are neutralized within a day. It’s unnerving when folks like Joe Scarborough can’t see it.


Published on January 12, 2009


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