Dick Cheney Still Thinks He Was a Character on "24"

Dick Cheney felt moved to write an entire book about the heart troubles he's had over the years, which I can understand. After all, we all find our particular maladies fascinating. What I don't get is why anybody else would care, since we don't tend to find other people's maladies interesting in the least. If you'd let me, I'd love nothing more than to blather on about my various knee injuries, but since I'm not RGIII, I have the sense to know that you really don't give a crap. Nevertheless, there's apparently an interesting tidbit or two in Cheney's book, including this reported by CBS News, which may validate what you already thought about him:

Cheney had [his defibrillator] replaced in 2007 and his doctor, cardiologist Jonathan Reiner, with whom he wrote the book, had the device's wireless function disabled so a terrorist couldn't send his heart a fatal shock. Some years later, Cheney was watching an episode of the SHOWTIME hit "Homeland," in which that terrorist scenario was woven into the plot. "I was aware of the danger...that existed...I found it credible," he responds to Gupta when asked what went through his mind. "I know from the experience we had and the necessity for adjusting my own device, that it was an accurate portrayal of what was possible," says Cheney.

Did he also avoid sea travel, since the terrorists could use their nuclear-powered subs to send microwaves at him and fry his brains? What world was he living in?

The answer, in case you've forgotten, is that he and so many other Bush administration officials were basically enacting a fantasy in which the enemy—"the terrorists"—were not actually a bunch of semi-literate religious fanatics who got incredibly lucky one time with an extraordinarily low-tech attack, but were actually evil geniuses, had unlimited resources at their disposal, and could execute complex, highly technical schemes with multiple interlocking parts that enabled them to do things like get close enough to the Vice President to deliver him a fatal electric shock. And of course, we can't close Guantanamo and house the prisoners now there in supermax prisons in the United States, from which no inmate has ever escaped, because they're terrorists, and who knows what super-powers they might have developed in the fantastically well-equipped lab in their hollowed-out-mountain lair? 1I joke, but do you remember Bin Laden's mountain fortress? It was quite a remarkable feat of engineering—check out this conversation between Tim Russert and Donald Rumsfeld, going over all its amazing details. "A ventilation system!" marveled Russert. "The entrances large enough to drive trucks and even tanks!" Even computer systems and telephone systems. It's a very sophisticated operation!" "Oh, you bet," responded the Secretary of Defense. "This is serious business. And there's not one of those. There are many of them." You may also remember that the mountain fortress never existed. It was all made up.

Back in the real world, actual terrorists were struggling unsuccessfully to make their shoes or their underwear explode. So why did people like Cheney want so badly to believe they were fighting Magneto or Dr. No? I think it's because they all wanted to be Jack Ryan or Jack Bauer. The more terrifying your enemy is, the more courageous and heroic you are. While Bin Laden was holed up in a house in Abbottabad watching DVDs of Three's Company reruns, Bush and Cheney were imagining that their foe was so unstoppable that at any moment he could penetrate the Secret Service perimeter and kill them with death rays.

You may not remember, but there was a time when actual government officials talked about the television show 24 as though it were not absurd escapist entertainment, but a real representation of reality. Here's a little  blast from the past :

According to British lawyer and writer Sands, Jack Bauer—played by Kiefer Sutherland—was an inspiration at early "brainstorming meetings" of military officials at Guantánamo in September 2002. Diane Beaver, the staff judge advocate general who gave legal approval to 18 controversial interrogation techniques including waterboarding, sexual humiliation and terrorizing prisoners with dogs, told Sands that Bauer "gave people lots of ideas." Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security chief, gushed in a panel discussion on 24 organized by the Heritage Foundation that the show "reflects real life."

John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who produced the so-called torture memos—simultaneously redefining both the laws of torture and of logic—cites Bauer in his book War by Other Means. "What if, as the Fox television program 24 recently portrayed, a high-level terrorist leader is caught who knows the location of a nuclear weapon?" Even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking in Canada last summer, shows a gift for this casual toggling between television and the Constitution. "Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles … He saved hundreds of thousands of lives," Scalia said. "Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?"

Well no, your honor, because Jack Bauer is a fictional character. We also don't need to pass a law boosting penalties for using the Imperius curse on someone without their permission, because that isn't real either.

There's a practical side to this, which is that the more people thought 24 represented the reality of terrorism, the more willing they'd be to shrug their shoulders at things like vastly expanded surveillance and the use of torture. In the real world, "ticking time bombs" are so rare as to be essentially non-existent, and the torture policy (and even the actual torture techniques) were designed by people who knew virtually nothing about how to get information from a prisoner who doesn't want to give it to you. But hey, on 24, not only did torture always work, it worked fast—60 seconds was about average—and everything a terrorist said under torture turned out to be true. How could you not use it?

This still matters because these fantasists built an infrastructure—legal, programmatic, psychological—that we still live with today. And they don't seem to have regained their ability to distinguish between fiction and reality.

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