24: A Thriller With Few Surprises

The torture-filled FOX network TV program "24" began on Sunday night. "24" shows more scenes of abusive interrogation than any other program on TV. It can be seen - in some respects - as a one-hour advertisement for torture. Torture always works and virtually every episode shows at least one terrorist reveal critical secrets soon after the pain begins. Though the vast majority of the more than 12 million people who tune in recognize that the program is just meant to be entertaining, there is disturbing evidence that suggests all this torture is having an impact.


Junior soldiers have imitated techniques they have seen on the program. And military educators report that "24" is one of the biggest problems they have in their classrooms. Human Rights First brought Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the Dean of the US Military Academy at West Point, to the set as they were finishing the 6th season to ask the executive producers of "24" to stop showing torture in a way that suggests that it is a near-perfect tool in fighting terror. The beginning of the 7th season shows a slightly different tact on the part of the writers. Torture used to be simply a part of the action. Now the characters are debating it openly. Though the debate lends some nuance, characters who question or oppose torture are portrayed as naive and unaware of what needs to be done to fight terrorism.

Unless the show, known for its unpredictable twists, takes a sharp turn in its depictions of torture, ultimately the take-home message from "24" will continue to be what it always has been - that torture is effective and can be justified.

David Danzig directs the Primetime Torture Project at Human Rights First, a New York City-based international human rights organization.