WASHINGTON - In the hugely popular television series 24, special agent Jack Bauer always gets his man, even if he has to play a little rough. Suffocating, electrocuting or drugging a suspect are all subordinate to national security.
But while 24 draws millions of viewers, it appears some people are getting a little squeamish.
In an unlikely twist, it has emerged the United States military has appealed to the producers of the hit series to tone down the torture scenes because of the impact they are having both on troops in the field and America's reputation abroad.
Forget about Abu Ghraib, forget about Guantanamo Bay, that damned Jack Bauer is giving the US a bad name.
The Military Academy at West Point yesterday confirmed that Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan recently travelled to California to meet producers of the show, in which actor Kiefer Sutherland plays Bauer.
He told them that promoting illegal behaviour in the series - hugely popular among the US military - was having a damaging effect on young personnel.
Finnegan, who teaches a course on the laws of war, said of the producers: "I'd like them to stop. They should do a show where torture backfires ... The kids see it and say, 'If torture is wrong, what about 24?' The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do," he told the New Yorker.
The meeting was arranged by Human Rights First, a non-profit organisation that campaigns against torture in the real world and on television. It says since the terror attacks of September 11, the incidence of torture in television shows has soared. In 2000 there were 42 scenes of torture on primetime US television. In 2003 there were 228.
Campaigner David Danzig said: "We have spoken to soldiers with experience in Iraq who say for young soldiers there is a direct relationship between what they are doing in their jobs and what they see on TV."
The show is produced by Joel Surnow, who boasts that both the military and the Bush Administration are fans of his series and insists that it is "patriotic". But its main protagonist appears to have more concerns about what he does.
In an interview on US television last month, Sutherland said: "You torture someone and they'll basically tell you exactly what you want to hear, whether it's true or not, if you put someone in enough pain."
Other campaigners point out that coercive interrogation techniques that some argue amount to torture, including the use of stress positions and sleep deprivation, have been authorised by the highest levels of the Bush Administration. "If it was being done to US troops we would call it torture," said Wayne Smith, of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, an international human rights group.