There’s no doubt, Jack Bauer as portrayed by the talented actor Kiefer Sutherland, has become an American cultural icon of late. As the hero of the smash television production, 24, Bauer often uses torture, lies, and theft to save the free world from annihilation at the hands of terrorists.
The Bauer character, championed by many prominent conservatives, is hailed through consequentialist justifications for doing evil. Michael Brendan Dougherty’s excellent piece in the American Conservative lays out a list of conservative Bauer devotees, including: Kathryn Jean Lopez, Ben Shapiro, and Cal Thomas. Recently, in response to whether torture is justified in stopping a nuke attack, Tom Tancredo ironically exclaimed:
"[W]e’re wondering about whether waterboarding would be a bad thing to do? I’m looking for Jack Bauer at that time!… We are the last best hope of Western Civilization. When we go under, Western Civilization goes under."
Justice Antonin Scalia reminds us that, after all, Jack Bauer’s methods saved the city of Los Angeles. Of course in TV land, My Little Ponies fly. But, back to the real world and while we’re speaking of a federal judge, when confronting arguments that some of the Gitmo prisoners might be innocent, Justice Scalia replies, "I don’t care about holding people. I really don’t." Finally, when asked about interrogation techniques, the new euphemism for torture, candidate Mitt Romney argues:
"I want them on Guantanamo, where they don’t get the access to lawyers that they get when they’re on our soil. I don’t want them in our prisons. I want them there. Some people have said we ought to close Guantanamo. My view is we ought to double Guantanamo."
Such is the Jack Bauer—induced garbage coming out of conservative brains that flow "from the fullness of the heart [which] the mouth speaks." (Mat 12:34).
But before we jump into prudish moralizing about torture, Deroy Murdock informs us that all is not bad at Gitmo. After all, non-lethal waterboarding aside, the inmates get great health care, dental fillings, psychiatrists, the ability to care for a veggie garden, a weekly movie for good conduct, and the ability to watch episodes of the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch. What I want to know is do the Gitmo detainees get to watch Jack Bauer on 24? I guess not, since that would give away our counter-terrorism plans [sic fantasies]. Anyway, Mr. Murdock says we should be proud of Gitmo and keep people locked up regardless of their proven guilt. These Moslem types are fanatics, of which those who’ve left Gitmo have recently engaged in acts of violence against the US military in Afghanistan. No word on whether the former inmates were upset about the waterboarding [Nota bene: conservatives, I’m not saying terrorists are justified because of waterboarding either, their acts are evil as well].
That’s right, almost forgot, the federal government engages in waterboarding at Gitmo. Nice try Mr. Murdock, but it doesn’t matter if the inmates were taken to Club Med or the presidential suite at the Waldorf Astoria. If these people are being tortured by means of waterboarding, no justification by reason of hotel amenities will suffice. Nor is this torture ethically justified by any perceived benefits that might arise from it, including saving the Brooklyn Bridge, the city of Los Angeles, or the planet Earth. This of course doesn’t mean that one cannot do good things to defend from imminent danger. But the evil heart is lazy, and can only comprehend evil methodologies. "A good person brings forth good out of a store of goodness, but an evil person brings forth evil out of a store of evil." (Mat 12:35).
The late great Pope John Paul II, speaking magisterially in Veritatis Splendor, mentions physical and mental torture, as well as arbitrary imprisonment, as intrinsically evil acts, condemned by the Church. According to Augustine and Aquinas, evil is essentially the lack of good. Not the opposite of good, but the lacking of it. In his work On Evil, Aquinas states that evil "harms a good composed of potentiality and actuality insofar as evil takes away from such a good its perfection" (p.57). Both torture and arbitrary imprisonment are acts which always take away from and individual the potentiality and actuality of their human dignity. Waterboarding takes place when one is tied to a board and loads of water are dumped down the throat to cause a gag reflex and simulate drowning. Short of the psychotic, all know that this act performed upon themselves, to be a violation against themselves. Further, all know, from their own hearts, arbitrary imprisonment to be wrong as well. Therefore, one need not be a Catholic or a Christian to understand what evil acts of waterboarding or random imprisonment are.
But Justice Scalia asks, "So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes." In a brief answer to the first question, we Americans as a whole no longer believe in such absolutes. For example, most Americans have no problem with the consequentialist justifications for bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nor do many Americans have any problem with aborting a child to defend the life of a mother. Americans, whether liberal or conservative, are mostly moral relativists, even when it comes to the sanctity of human life.
In answering the second question, whether we ought to believe in absolutes, like condemning torture to always be intrinsically evil, we should turn to Tom Tancredo’s invocation of Western Civilization, formerly known as Christendom. We as Americans must remember that what made Western Civilization the city shining on the hill was none other than Christianity. Western notions of criminal justice, due process, humane treatment of prisoners, and war justification all form their basis through the confidence westerners maintained through the study of Christian theology. (For more on this thesis, see Thomas Woods How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization and Rodney Stark The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success). We see many of these absolutes in America’s founding documents. Whether it is the Declaration of Independence speaking of inalienable rights of all human persons or the U.S. Constitution denying the federal government arbitrary powers, these ideals owe their basis from Christianity and Christendom. Heck, even the modern federal code prohibits such evil under 18 U.S.C. 2340. So much for conservatives who worship law and order. If we really don’t want Western Civilization to go under, then we must defend these absolutes. Otherwise we become the barbarians; we only hope it is not too late.
Therefore, we must kill Jack Bauer in earnest. His propaganda further poisons the American mindset, offering hope through evil means. Which begs the question, can we kill Jack Bauer that good may come? Fortunately, Jack Bauer is a fictional character which can be written off in a screenplay and not an actual person to be murdered. Besides, he could be killed off by some natural accident or cause, like slipping and falling in the shower or dying of some unknown brain tumor. Instead of calling the next season 24, the producers could call it 7/7/07 Hour 7, Minute 7, Second 7, when Jack Bauer’s life flashes before his eyes from a massive heart attack. Standing before him is the Judge of his evil ways. As for Gitmo, charge the inmates with crimes before a US court of law, bring home the Marines, and burn it down. Gitmo has gone from a relatively noble view as a fort in the cold war struggle, to the pervasive view of a torture shack. Who cares if the inmates get caviar and perfume; what is done there is plainly and simply evil.