Nationally syndicated columnist and Fox News host Cal Thomas inveighed against the Army's new interrogation manual, which explicitly forbids abusive techniques made infamous by the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, by citing an example in which torture proved effective in interrogation: an episode of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s espionage drama 24.
In his May 2 nationally syndicated column, Thomas summarized an episode of 24 in which the show's protagonist, counterterrorism agent Jack Bauer, defied a court order obtained by an "ACLU-type lawyer" and tortured a suspect in order to learn the whereabouts of a terrorist with a nuclear weapon. But before Bauer could act on the information, a Secret Service agent arrested him, allowing the terrorist to escape.
Thomas then linked this "gripping drama" to the upcoming release of the Army's new interrogation manual: "All this is relevant to real life and the scarier drama being played out by the United States Army, which last week announced it is preparing to issue a new interrogations manual that specifically bars the use of 'harsh' techniques of the type used at Abu Ghraib prison."
Thomas went on to pose his own hypothetical situation, and again turned to the exploits of Jack Bauer in order to attack the new interrogation manual:
I can see terrorists getting hold of this and telling their killers they have nothing to fear if captured by the "weak" Americans. What's next, having troops say "please" and "thank you"?
If the Army nabs a person it suspects of knowing the location of a nuclear bomb about to wipe out an American city, would the interrogators and their military and civilian superiors refuse to use torture to squeeze the information out of the captive?
That was precisely the scenario on "24." Agent Jack Bauer rightly chose the greater good -- saving millions of lives -- over the niceties imposed by those whose manual seems inspired by "The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette."
Thomas has extolled 24 in the past. In his January 18 column, he referred to the program as "a remarkable series," and in his February 22 column, he praised 24 as "[o]ne of the best portrayals of the way a [terrorist] sleeper cell operates."
Thomas's column is syndicated by Tribune Media Services. It is published in more than 540 newspapers, making him the most widely syndicated political columnist in the United States.