The Plank

The Jack Bauer Rule

By and

On "Meet the Press" yesterday, Bill Clinton invoked the show "24" to delineate his (and Hillary's) views on torture and the ticking time bomb scenario. I have no problem with putting the issue into easy-to-understand terms, although it was a bit odd when Clinton actually seemed to cite the show's plot twists in defense of his position (see bolded passage at end):

You know, there's a one in a million chance that you might be alone somewhere, and you're Jack Bauer on "24." That's the Jack Bauer example, right? It happens every season with Jack Bauer, but to-in the real world it doesn't happen very much. If you have a policy which legitimizes this, it's a slippery slope and you get in the kind of trouble we've been in here with Abu Ghraib, with Guantanamo, with lots of other examples.
And I'm not even sure what I said is right now. I think what happens is the honest truth is that Tim Russert, Bill Clinton, people filming this show, if we were the Jack Bauer person and it was six hours to the bomb or whatever, you don't know what you would do, and you have to-but I think what our policy ought to be is to be uncompromisingly opposed to terror-I mean to torture, and that if you're the Jack Bauer person, you'll do whatever you do and you should be prepared to take the consequences. And I think the consequences will be imposed based on what turns out to be the truth....
MR. RUSSERT: But, but not heavy formal exception.
MR. CLINTON: Yeah, I don't think you should now. The more I think about it, and the more I have seen that, if you have any kind of formal exception, people just drive a truck through it, and they'll say "Well, I thought it was covered by the exception." I think, I think it's better not to have one. And if you happen to be the actor in that moment which, as far as I know, has not occurred in my experience or President Bush's experience since we've been really dealing with this terror, but I-you actually had the Jack Bauer moment, we call it, I think you should be prepared to live with the consequences. And yet, ironically, if you look at the show, every time they get the president to approve something, the president gets in trouble, the country gets in trouble. And when Bauer goes out there on his own and is prepared to live with the consequences, it always seems to work better.

Clinton's position makes sense to me, although one hopes he's pretty clear-eyed about what we can conclude from how things work out in any given scenario on a television show....

--Michael Crowley

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