It was a very regal night of HBO. During the jaw-dropping season finale of Game of Thrones, not one but two valiant warriors vying for the Iron Throne fell. And on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, none other than The Queen herself stopped by to lampoon U.S. torture.
By The Queen we of course mean Dame Helen Mirren, who’s taken home an Oscar and, most recently, a Tony Award for her dazzling portrayal(s) of the Queen of England.
Yes, everyone’s favorite ribald Brit enlisted the services of Mirren to read portions of The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, including the following: “Majid Khan’s ‘lunch tray’ consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused.”
“Just try not to think about that the next time you eat hummus,” joked Oliver.
The report, 525 pages of which was released December 9, 2014—and the rest redacted, naturally—attracted the ire of Oliver, who took the U.S. and the CIA to task over its torture policies during the War on Terror.
“Torture is one of those things that is advertised as something that works, but doesn’t—like a Ford truck or those weird bottles of Horny Goat Weed available at your local bodega,” Oliver said. “But maybe the reason that so many of us innately believe that torture works is that it does—on TV, all the time. Look at 24. Jack Bauer repeatedly saved American lives while behaving like this.”Then, Oliver cut to a montage of Bauer torturing confessions out of a half-dozen or so perps.
“Look, torture works on 24 and in movies because it has to. It’s a dramatic device to move the plot along, but ask terror experts and they’ll tell you it’s one of those movie tropes that’s got no basis in real life. Like a wedding being interrupted, or someone this handsome [Brad Pitt] feeling sad, or this character [Emma Stone in Aloha] being part-Asian. It works because it just says it does and we’re supposed to take it.”
“And yet, even supposedly smart people like Antonin Scalia, an ill-tempered bullfrog in a robe, cite 24 as evidence that torture could be justified. He said, ‘Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles… He saved hundreds of thousands of lives… Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don’t think so.’”
Oliver then proceeded to play a viral video of the man who brought Jack Bauer to ass-kicking life, Kiefer Sutherland, drunkenly tackling a Christmas tree in a hotel lobby.
The HBO host also pointed to Executive Order 13491, which ensures lawful interrogations—a response to torture-prone post-9/11 practices under the Bush administration.
“The problem is the rules we have on the books to stop us from returning to the dark days of torture are in one easily reversible executive order,” said Oliver. “Now, as it happens, John McCain and Dianne Feinstein have proposed an amendment due up for a vote next week which puts the most basic parts of the president’s executive order into actual law, and we should pass that because if we don’t, there is no guarantee that the next president will uphold the ban. In fact, we asked all 14 declared candidates if they would consider overturning the president’s order, and only four of them told us definitively that they would definitely keep it in place”—before throwing to a graphic of Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, and Lincoln Chafee.
“As for the rest, they either ignored us or refused to answer directly,” he added. Oliver concluded the anti-torture segment with a valuable piece of advice.
“Look, here’s the thing: if enhanced interrogation were not torture—which it is—and even if torture did work—which it doesn’t—America should not be a country that tortures people because it is brutal, it is medieval, and it is beneath us. And when the rest of the world thinks about America, they should not think of , because that’s not what this country’s about. They should be thinking about this”—before once again cutting to that video of Sutherland tackling a Christmas tree.
“Yes, there is nothing more American than a drunk man jumping into a Christmas tree.”