Certainty and the Jack Bauer Syndrome

I've taken to calling it the Jack Bauer Syndrome because, though I love and enjoy 24, the situations depicted in the show are extremely unlikely to occur in real life. Bauer always feels justified in his coercive interrogations because he is absolutely certain that lives are at stake and that his subject has important information that will help him avert disaster. This is how the show's writers justify their protagonist doing things that would otherwise get him locked up or worse.

And, in fact, the course of Jack Bauer's life as the show has progressed has strongly reflected Nietzsche's aphorism about fighting monsters. Bauer has sacrificed virtually everything that made him human, including his personal conscience. Everything has been replaced by his sense of righteousness and duty. He is a sociopath for his country, his every action justified by an absolute certainty that it must be done.

24 is, of course, fiction and melodrama. Bauer's preternatural, unerring certainty doesn't happen in real life. We lack perfect means of telling who's who and exactly what's going on. That is, after all, why we need laws and a Constitution in the first place.

It's just frightening how often otherwise reasonable people seem to forget that.

In this case, Mark Kleiman suggests that we should task the military with killing pirates:
When a pirate ship is sunk by naval forces, is there an affirmative duty to rescue the crew? If not, then the question of whether the pirate crews have rights of asylum might not arise. If the duty exists and is triggered by the presence of ships capable of effecting the rescue, then the use of long-range air-to-surface or ship-to-ship missiles might make rescue infeasible.
The problem Kleiman identifies is that some of the people on a ship might try to claim some sort of legal status -- perhaps claim that they are not, in fact, pirates? That they are hostages or cargo or wrongfully targeted?

The solution he offers to the problem of people claiming human rights is to let them drown.

In response to reader objections (mine, at the very least), Kleiman updates:
And I don't see the force of the "due process" objection: while the people being held as "terrorists" may or may not be so in fact, a vessel engaged in piracy is a pirate vessel, and the crew of a pirate vessel consists, by definition, of pirates . . .
Notice the sudden shift of frame: While people accused of being terrorists may or may not actually be terrorists, people who are pirates are actually pirates. In essence, Kleiman rejects the argument employed by the Bush administration in defense of Guantanamo -- specifically, that they don't have rights because they're terrorists, and we know they're terrorists because we say they're terrorists -- only to turn around and use the exact same argument himself: they don't have rights because they're pirates, and we know they're pirates because they're pirates.

Nothing in the post indicates what, if anything, Kleiman thinks will serve as an adequate standard for establishing that any given vessel is a pirate ship and blowing it up on sight. Since he rejects "due process" in the portion cited above, one assumes that it will be the President's discretion who to label a pirate. And since his definition of "pirate" is simple -- anybody unlucky enough to be aboard (or near?) the ship at the time is guilty. It's just that simple. (After all, the Dread Pirate Roberts never takes prisoners!)

I'm sure this would be the kind of American leadership that other nations would be glad to get behind: "Cargo ship? No, those were pirates! No, of course we can't prove it, we let them all die. They were pirates, after all."

Lawlessness begets lawlessness. Lawless individuals create lawless nations, which give rise to lawless cultures, like piracy, full of more lawless individuals. You can feed into that cycle, or you can try to stop it. You really can't do both.

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