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Tony Lagouranis, the former army interrogator who's the subject of John Conroy's cover story in the March 2 Reader, has a name that might ring a bell. Lagouranis is spreading the message that while working for the army in Iraq he tortured detainees, and to no useful end, and among his public appearances is the one in a recent New Yorker article on the TV show 24 . Lagouranis was part of a delegation led by the dean of the U.S. Military Academy that met last November with the show's creative team to protest its free and easy use of torture. "In Iraq," Lagouranis tells the magazine, "I never saw pain produce intelligence." 24's having a rocky year. I watch it faithfully as a guilty pleasure, but pleasure is more evanescent than guilt and the show everybody celebrated last season now seems to have a lot of people feeling queasy.
Consider this discussion of the show's troubling "political theology." I can't be that lofty. 24 is television, so I'll compare it to another show: Medium, whose hero has the knack of being able to solve crimes in her sleep. Toward the end of the one episode I've seen -- my brother-in-law played the murder victim -- the show wasn't anywhere close to tying up its loose ends and there were only a couple minutes to go till the credits. So the writers sent the hero back to bed. In her dream all was revealed. It was the silliest thing my wife and I had ever seen. Yet in 24 torture functions in the same way. The show pretends to be complicated, but it's got a mass audience it can't afford to confuse, so it's really just The Perils of Pauline (or Jack Bauer) gussied up with outlandish plot twists. Any suspense is over whether the writers will paint themselves into a corner they can't get out of. And since the present peril has to be resolved by the end of the hour so the show can get on to the next one, plot expedients are necessary and torture's the favorite.
Torture moves things along. Besides, it doesn't really hurt. Have we all forgotten the terrible things that the Arab extremists did to Jack within an hour after he got off the plane from China already a wreck? To quote no less an authority than the official 24 Web site: "Fayed pierces the bundle of nerves on Jack's shoulder with a knife." And then, "Fayed stabs Jack in the back with something sharp, causing Jack to keel over." Bauer got out of that one and I don't think he slowed down long enough to dab those pierced nerves with Mercurochrome. But 24 is a show where even death is reversible. At least Jack's was (season two). Lagouranis says in the New Yorker that interrogators he knew in Iraq watched 24 to pick up tips on how to make prisoners come clean. That's scary -- the business end of our intelligence pipeline consists of guys who watch Kiefer Sutherland earn his half million dollars an episode and think they're all in the same line of work.