On Fox's "24" action-drama show Monday nights, art doesn't imitate life. Increasingly, it resembles it. Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU) leader Jack Bauer (played by Kiefer Sutherland) is ordered not to torture a man he believes has knowledge of the whereabouts of terrorist Habib Marwan. Marwan has captured the nuclear code book known as the "football" from a shot down Air Force One carrying the president of the United States.
An ACLU-type lawyer shows up at CTU headquarters (he's been tipped off by a Marwan minion) with a court order forbidding torture of the suspect. Jack Bauer concocts a plan and gets the man released. When the lawyer leaves, Bauer grabs the suspect outside CTU and tortures him until he discloses the location of Marwan.
Bauer leads a team and is about to arrest Marwan and save the country from a nuclear attack when the acting president orders the Secret Service to arrest Bauer for violating his and the court's order prohibiting torture. Marwan escapes, and the gripping drama continues.
All of this is relevant to real life and the scarier drama that is 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.
The manual will prohibit stripping prisoners, placing them in "stressful positions" for extended periods, limiting food, using police dogs to frighten them and employing sleep deprivation as a tool to persuade them to talk, the New York Times reported.
Thomas A. Gandy, director of Army intelligence and counterintelligence, gave the Times a permissible scenario under the new guidelines: An interrogator questioning a prisoner in a small room could throw a chair against the wall in mock rage to make the captive fearful, but the interrogator would not be allowed to throw the chair at the prisoner or to otherwise threaten him directly.
Gandy says the new manual bars physical or mental torture, slapping or humiliation.
I can see the terrorists getting hold of this manual and telling their killers they have nothing to fear if they are captured by the "weak" Americans. What's next, instructing our troops to say "please" and "thank you"?
We are dealing with people who have repeatedly demonstrated they have no moral constraints and are willing to perpetrate mass murder while practicing their religiously twisted ideology in pursuit of their objectives.
If the Army nabs a person it suspects of knowing the location of a nuclear bomb that is 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."
Will someone wise up and remind Army brass and their civilian commanders we are at war? From the flood of illegal aliens entering America - some seeking to destroy it - to "proper" interrogation techniques, we are setting ourselves up for another attack that may be far worse than the one on Sept. 11, 2001.
These people are evil to the core. The only way to protect ourselves is to extract information they might have by whatever means necessary. This war won't be won (at least by our side) if we impose on ourselves restrictions that the terrorists do not impose on themselves.
Are we not paying attention to the beheading videos? The barbarians are at the gate. In fact, they have broken down the gate. Why are we letting them in and treating them only a little more harshly than unwelcome holiday relatives?
Some will say harsh tactics will cause the Arab world to hate us even more. They already hate us enough, or haven't we noticed? This isn't about winning a congeniality contest. It's about winning a war and defeating an enemy so they won't try this garbage again. Let's put the fear of God into them and stop putting it unnecessarily into ourselves.
Put a Jack Bauer type in charge and let him write the manual.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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