In Lagouranis's case, his unit mostly reproduced "harsh techniques" that other units casually mentioned in passing or copied what other units were doing at the time. But he and his team leader remember how their superiors wanted to reproduce a psychological torture technique they had seen on their office TV screen: a mock electrocution, whereby a detainee would hear the screams of someone they presumed to be another detainee coming from the room next door. The soldiers who were present protested, and ultimately the suggestion was never enacted. (Lagouranis even filed official reports about the torture he saw and was involved in, and wrote a book about it titled Fear Up Harsh.)
Yet there was another chilling instance that occurred around the same time Lagouranis served in 2004. US troops in Tikrit, Iraq, were abusing their detainees. Army Inspector General, Lieutenant General Paul T. Mikolashek, investigated and filed a report that found "at the point of capture, non-commissioned officers were using interrogations techniques they literally remembered from the movies."
Pop culture's stories about torture and interrogation have been shown to influence not only troops on the ground in the heat of a moment, but also US officials at home.
Speaking before a Canadian legal conference in June 2007, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cited a 24 episode, in which Bauer tortures a suspect and collects vital information that prevents an attack against Los Angeles, as proof-positive that torture works.
"Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles ... He saved hundreds of thousands of lives," Scalia said. "Are you going to convict Jack Bauer? Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don't think so ... So, the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes, and ought we believe in these absolutes."
Another judge, Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who was managing real-world terrorist threats during the Bush administration, said he saw parallels between the show and his own work while speaking to a sell-out crowd at the Heritage Foundation in 2006.
"Whether it's the president in the show or Jack Bauer or the other characters, they're always trying to make the best choice with a series of bad options ... and you have to weigh the costs and benefits of a series of unpalatable alternatives," Chertoff said. "And I think people are attracted to that because, frankly, it reflects real life. That is what we do every day."
Decision-makers-in-training have been affected by media as well. According to West Point instructors, after September 11, cadets pointed to TV shows and movies to defend the real-life use of torture by US military personnel. The pointed to torture scenes in movies like Rules of Engagement and The Siege to make their case. And one of the most-cited shows that cadets used to argue for torture was 24.
Let's pause for moment to consider that so far there's no empirical evidence showing that enhanced interrogation techniques, "harsh techniques," torture—whatever you want to call it—are a reliably effective means of collecting actionable intelligence. In fact, even the CIA's own studies and scientists have found that "intense pain is quite likely to produce false confessions, fabricated to avoid additional punishment" and "any circumstance that impairs the function of the brain potentially affects the ability to give up information, as well as the ability to withhold it." There are many other ways in which torture's verifiable costs have outstripped its supposed gains, including grave costs to intelligence and military operations.