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Does '24' encourage US interrogators to 'torture' detainees?

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"People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they've just seen," said Tony Lagouranis, who was a US Army interrogator in Iraq and attended the meeting.

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According to the Parents Television Council, in the five years before 9/11 there were 102 scenes of torture on prime time TV. In the three following years, that number increased to 624, they said. The PTC said that with 67 scenes of torture during its first five seasons, "24" was the number one show in terms of showing torture.

Rick Moran, of the blog American Thinker, called the New Yorker piece "serious and thoughtful," but nevertheless disagrees with the idea that a TV show can affect the way American interrogators do their job.

I have no doubt that General Finnegan and the agents are genuinely concerned about the show's impact on the troops. But the idea that some of the abuse of prisoners meted out by American soldiers is the result of watching a television show is absurd on its face. Blame it on our not giving the prisoners Geneva Convention protections or on poor discipline or leadership. But the intelligence professionals who carry out the overwhelming number of interrogations on prisoners can't all be that stupid. ...

This is not to say that there hasn't been torture committed by Americans. There have been more than 700 investigations carried out by the Army involving prisoner abuse and 25 detainees have died in American custody that have been ruled homicides. But to posit the notion, even tangentially, that the actions of Jack Bauer on a fictional TV show somehow contributed to this state of affairs strains credulity.

The show also has some fans in the human rights community who believe that the depictions of torture actually serve to undermine its acceptance in the US public. USA Today reported in March of 2005 that Alistair Hodgett of Amnesty International said that "24" gave realistic depictions that provide "a clearer idea of what torture involves. ... They do more to educate than desensitize."

The Associated Press reports that Human Rights First, the group that arranged General Finnegan's meeting with the "24" staff (the group also talked to the creators of "Lost," which also features torture scenes), said its ultimate idea is to "drive home the notion that torture by an American would never be tolerated.

"We would never try to censor anybody," [Jill Savitt, the group's director of public programs] said. "We would never tell Hollywood what to do, but we are trying to tell them what legal interrogation looks like. If it makes them pause, that's a bonus."

The Los Angeles Times reports that, after the meeting with Finnegan and the interrogators, "24" executive producer Howard Gordon has been filmed "for a Humans Rights First video about torture that is expected to be used next fall at West Point and perhaps other military organizations as well." Surnow, however, said he would not participate in the film. In the New Yorker article, Surnow said he believes that torture does work to get suspects to confess, despite the warning of the group that visited his show.