Sunday, November 23, 2008

Redemption Lost in Transition

Warning: the following post contains significant spoilers about the TV movie 24: Redemption. Those still interested in seeing this TV movie should consider themselves warned.

24 provides painful reminder of humanitarian failure

In just under two months, Barack Obama will replace George W Bush as the President of the United States.

Obama will assume office during what may be the most tumultuous period in the history of the United States. With American troops involved in two separate wars, humanitarian atrocities taking place in any number of places around the world and an economic crisis on the domestic front, Obama will face significant challenges.

As 24: Redemption, the most recent adventure of 24's Jack Bauer, demonstrates one of the greatest challenges Obama will face will be in terms of chasing down whatever gets lost in the transition between administrations.

In the film, Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) is waiting out the last couple of hours before her inauguration as president.

Across the world in Senegal, however, events are already underway that will shape the early hours of her Presidency. General Benjamin Juma (Tony Todd) has raised an army and is preparing to take control of Senegal.

During the final hours before his attack -- financed by an obscure conspiracy between American financial interests and rogue intelligence agents -- Juma is making a last push to recruit the child soldiers he will use as cannon fodder during his campaign.

His efforts lead him to a school where Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) is helping an old friend, Carl Benton (Robert Carlyle) raise and educate war orphans. When Benton dies in the course of helping the children escape, Bauer will have to face his past and answer a subpoena to answer for his torture of terrorism suspects -- a subpoena he has been running from for over a year.

The film concludes with a heart-wrenching scene replayed over and over throughout the history of the past 40 years -- American troops leaving desperate refugees behind as they evacuate their citizens, leaving men, women, and children to face certain torture and death at the hands of Juma's coup.

The film forces viewers to consider several realities: first off, a scene in which Bauer is tortured in order to force him to reveal the location of a the school's children reminds us that many of the dangerous forces at work in the world today don't respect our values. Neither flexibility nor strictness in how we observe our own values will change that.

Secondly, that hope for a better future simply isn't enough. We in the western world have to keep the courage to live up to our responsibilities, and do whatever we can to keep the world's most dangerous individuals -- whether it be military strongmen like the fictional Juma or terrorist masterminds like the very real Osama Bin Laden -- in check and under control.

Third, the vaunted neutrality of the UN means very little to these individuals. In the film, a UN aid worker helping Bauer and Benton is captured and beaten into revealing the position of Bauer and the children (although, to be just, he doesn't make them beat him very hard).

Finally, we must do whatever we can to prevent scenes such as that playing out in Dakar at the end of the film from ever happening again. Leaving helpless men, women and children to the tender mercies of a brutal military regime is nothing more or less than a betrayal of the values we claim to hold dear.

Whether this means being proactive on various fronts -- including controlling the international black market arms trade -- or simply ensuring that we have the capability to stage effective evacuations of refugees, we owe it to ourselves and to our values to ensure that these shameful scenes -- played out most famously in Vietnam and Rwanda -- never happen again.

For Canada, this means properly equipping our embassies around the world with the necessary security and transportation tools necessary to effect such evacuations. It also requires taking up Lloyd Axworthy's prescribed establishment and reopening of consulates in cities around the world, particularly those where Canada can exert the greatest influence, and do the greatest good.

Our values as a country -- which intersect with those of our allies in so many important ways -- depend on this.

The Canadian conscience simply must tell us "never again". If our allies won't take responsibility for the protection of refugees, we must.

The American political system, sadly leaves a good deal of time for redemption to get lost in the cracks. Canada, however, does not have the luxury of that time. Not if our national values are to survive intact.

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