Alex Blaze

Jack Bauer, masculinity, and torture

Filed By Alex Blaze | April 22, 2008 7:42 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics, The Movement, The Movement
Tags: Diane Beaver, Guantanamo Bay, Jack Bauer, Republicans, torture

It seems that so much has been coming out these past few weeks about who knew and authorized what re torture at the White House. The Guardian has an interesting article up about Guantanamo Bay and the Haynes memo, and while it gets into a lot of the details of who was talking to whom, etc, there were a few passages I wanted to highlight on this here queer blog:

The younger men would get particularly agitated, excited even: "You could almost see their dicks getting hard as they got new ideas." A wan smile crossed Beaver's face. "And I said to myself, you know what, I don't have a dick to get hard. I can stay detached."

More on that after the jump.

Diane Beaver was a low-level military lawyer who was apparently put in charge of giving the legal OK to many of the techniques used at Gitmo. While many lower-level officials were allowed in for the ideas phase, she and people above her had a more final say (although the chairman of the joint chiefs of staffs expressed a shockingly low-level of knowledge of what had been approved and where the ideas were coming from).

But it's interesting to note how big a role mythologized masculinity played in the atrocities there:

Beaver told me she arrived in Guantánamo in June 2002. In September that year there was a series of brainstorming meetings, some of which were led by Beaver, to gather possible new interrogation techniques. Ideas came from all over the place, she said. Discussion was wide-ranging. Beaver mentioned one source that I didn't immediately follow up with her: "24 - Jack Bauer."

It was only when I got home that I realised she was referring to the main character in Fox's hugely popular TV series, 24. Bauer is a fictitious member of the Counter Terrorism Unit in LA who helped to prevent many terror attacks on the US; for him, torture and even killing are justifiable means to achieve the desired result. Just about every episode had a torture scene in which aggressive techniques of interrogations were used to obtain information.

Jack Bauer had many friends at Guantánamo Bay, Beaver said, "he gave people lots of ideas." She believed the series contributed to an environment in which those at Guantánamo were encouraged to see themselves as being on the frontline - and to go further than they otherwise might.

If anything's more macho than Jack Bauer, than I just can't think of it.

That and the before-jump blockquote about penises (evidently Beaver wasn't able to stay "detached" considering the torture techniques she approved. In fact, one of the dissenters at Gitmo accused her of drinking the "Kool-Aid") puts torture back into its proper context, or at least they do for me. There isn't really anything intellectual about it, any real reason that we need to do it, or any way that it improves the world. The only justification for doing it is that it makes some people feel better to be able to hurt other people they don't like.

But what does it say about us when we have 18- to 20-year-olds getting their jollies off possible ways to hurt others and when Jack Bauer is somehow read as a representation of reality? The idea that there's a ticking time bomb at a preschool and the terrorist who set it up is tied to a chair and the only way to stop the bomb is to beat him is utter fiction. It's a situation that doesn't happen, and it wasn't happening at Gitmo.

But it's not just teenagers looking to construct their masculinity around a TV character's violence and sadism, it's also Republican presidential candidates. Remember this?

During tonight's presidential debates, candidates were asked whether they would support the use of waterboarding -- a technique, defined as torture by the Justice Department, that simulates drowning and makes the subject "believe his death is imminent while ideally not causing permanent physical damage."

Both former mayor Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) suggested they would support using the technique. Specifically asked about waterboarding, Giuliani said he would allow "every method [interrogators] could think of and I would support them in doing it." Tancredo later added, "I'm looking for Jack Bauer," referencing the television character who has used torture techniques such as suffocation and electrocution on prisoners.

The Republican presidential nominee (and the Democratic one, to a lesser degree) has been the winner of a contest of who can construct the most appropriate masculine image. American politics comes down to those two themes - gender and imagery - more often than we'd like to admit, so it's no surprise that the GOP candidates were trying to out-macho each other by talking up how much torture they'd support (double Guantanamo!).

If any more evidence that torture was more about domination and hierarchy than it was about obtaining information, it came in this release from the ACLU:

Today's documents reveal charges that Special Forces beat, burned, and doused eight prisoners with cold water before sending them into freezing weather conditions. One of the eight prisoners, Jamal Naseer, died in U.S. custody in March 2003. In late 2004, the military opened a criminal investigation into charges of torture at Gardez. Despite numerous witness statements describing the evidence of torture, the military's investigation concluded that the charges of torture were unsupported. It also concluded that Naseer's death was the result of a "stomach ailment," even though no autopsy had been conducted in his case. Documents uncovered today also refer to sodomy committed by prison guards; the victims' identities are redacted.

(I agree with Sean that we should refer to it as "rape" instead of "sodomy" when it's non-consensual, but that's nit-picking here. We know they aren't referring to consensual anal sex.)

The only intent I can see for raping the prisoners here is merely to establish dominance in one of the most primal and sadistic ways possible. And in a culture that has made masculinity a game of one-upsmanship, it's not surprising to see it appearing in and taking over when the order that would normally keep these urges in check is removed.

Consider this from the National Journal a few years ago:

"If you talk to people who have been tortured, that gives you a pretty good idea not only as to what it does to them, but what it does to the people who do it," he said. "One of my main objections to torture is what it does to the guys who actually inflict the torture. It does bad things. I have talked to a bunch of people who had been tortured who, when they talked to me, would tell me things they had not told their torturers, and I would ask, 'Why didn't you tell that to the guys who were torturing you?' They said that their torturers got so involved that they didn't even bother to ask questions." Ultimately, he said -- echoing Gerber's comments -- "torture becomes an end unto itself."

Indeed it does. If information were the end being served here, then we would have pursued more fruitful avenues a long time ago.

Masculinity, though, needs an intervention.


Recent Entries Filed under Politics:

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.


Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | April 23, 2008 2:56 AM

Some Democrats now admit that the invasion and military colonization of Iraq was based on the impeachable criminal lies of the Clinton and both Bush Administrations. However, they adamantly refuse to call for immediate and total withdrawal, impeachment or convening an International War Crimes Tribunal.

John McCain is promoting a hundred years war of attrition while the Democrats call for phased draw downs. None are for total withdrawal. Their approaches are identical except that McCain’s is a bit more honest. Whoever wins the election will continue fighting for control of the regions oil until the US is defeated on the ground. The inevitable result will be to add even more bodies to the pile of one million plus murdered civilians and to continue and regularize a regime of anti-civilian terrorism and widespread torture.

The US did not liberate Iraq; it occupied and colonized it to steal their oil. The US is not tying to stabilize Iraq or end the violence. It’s doing exactly the contrary, arming different Sunni and Shiite sects and pitting them against one anther in a classic divide and rule strategy. ALL polling of Iraqis, including those of the US State Department, indicates that a huge majority of Iraqis exclusively blames the US for the violence. It’s delusional to think that stabilization will occur until the US totally withdraws from the region and severs its ties to the zionist apartheid state.

Then we can deal with those responsible for reawakening the ghost of the Inquisition, attacking the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and poisoning our society with state sponsored torture and murder.

agcasebeer | April 23, 2008 3:45 AM

We went to war on a lie, no doubt about it. I can't write anything else, or I'd be arrested by the stormtroopers from the Schutzstaffel, er, Bureau of Homeland Zecurity.

I hope Bush and his family and friends die long, protracted, severely painful, lonely, evil deaths from some sort of incurable disease that would eat him alive from inside out.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 23, 2008 8:12 AM

What has happened to America as I was taught she was supposed to be? Was it all a lie, this bastion of Liberty and Freedom for all. Our military pays psychiatrists to run studies for them in how to most effectively torture.

On BBC today the chief psychiatrist (sorry,I tuned in after the interview was underway and did not note his name) who devised the study was interviewed on "BBC Hard Talk." He not only defended the tactics, but said that they should have been more closely supervised to be sure no one went too far. Still, he described soldiers who torture in glowing terms as perfect young men who followed their orders. That prison sentences for any of them was grossly unfair.

How is America, at this point, different from the Germany of Adolf Eichmann? Oh, that's right, we take our concentration camps offshore.

If karma had a sense of humor, georgy would come back as an iraqi, sunni, member of the republican guard. Then he would have to live trhough the crap he and his father caused in his prior life.

But what does it say about us when we have 18- to 20-year-olds getting their jollies off possible ways to hurt others and when Jack Bauer is somehow read as a representation of reality?

It says that we've had a President with the mental and emotional capabilities of a 18-20 year old with a need to prove his masculinity has allowed these atrocities to continue - even going so far as to lie to be allowed to do it.

The sad part is that through all of these years, no one has seriously tried to impeach the son-of-a-bitch - even when we elected Dems to end the war and get rid of him.