In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • "Now the Gloves Come Off":The Problematic of "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" in Battlestar Galactica
  • Karen Randell (bio)

I realized that if we re-do this today, people are going to bring with them memories and feelings about 9/11, and if we chose to embrace it, it was a chance to do an interesting science fiction show that was also very relevant to our time.

—Ronald D. Moore, co-creator of Battlestar Galactica [End Page 168]

We don't sit around saying "let's do an Abu Ghraib episode" but we're informed members of society and we watch the news—these things seep in.

—David Eick, co-creator of Battlestar Galactica1

Battlestar Galactica (SciFi, 2004-2009) was a zeitgeist sci-fi series that critiqued the post-9/11 American political landscape. This essay considers one key episode, "Flesh and Bone," from the first season, to interrogate the ways in which the series engaged with its cultural context. As Susan A. George has noted, Battlestar Galactica (BSG ) "consistently addresses hard human issues" and "does not shirk at showing the worst of the human condition."2 Launched three years after the events of 9/11 and a year after the invasion of Iraq by US and coalition forces, the reimagined BSG is an erudite and politically motivated space opera.3 The traditionally Manichean sci-fi plot is problematized on a weekly basis as the series narrates the lives of approximately fifty-five thousand human survivors of the Cylon (human-made androids) attack on the Twelve Colonies.4 The survivors are forced to live a nomadic life in space as they search for a mythical destination: Earth. Each episode opens with the surviving-human roll call, a poignant reminder of the numbers of those dead and wounded not reported during the "war on terror" and the attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. As commander of the Afghanistan operation General Tommy Franks stated, "You know, we don't do body counts."5 By contrast, the roll call of the number killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11 has been ritually counted and annually commemorated. BSG offers an echo of all of those lost, counted or not.

C. W. Marshall and Tiffany Potter state that the "resonances between BSG and the American experience at home and abroad in the early twenty-first century operate on a number of levels and are evident in nearly every episode."6 The episode under consideration here explores the notion of civil and human rights when torture is used to obtain information. Cylon Leoben (Callum Keith Rennie) is apprehended hiding aboard the only battleship that appears to have survived, Battlestar Galactica; when [End Page 169] captured, he states that he knows where a nuclear warhead has been placed among the fleet, and that the warhead is set to explode at 18:30 hours. The episode considers the techniques used to extract information from the enemy in such a "ticking bomb" scenario. Sci-fi critic and blogger Martin Anderson has argued that "'Flesh and Bone' is about human torture [and] not about cybernetics," and that "its tacit acceptance of torture is a ratification" of this interrogation technique: "The torture is justified because Leoben says he has information about the nuclear warhead." Anderson finds this narrative unacceptable ("Am I the only one person in the world who stopped watching BSG . . . when Starbuck tortured a Cylon?") because this is a "transparent simile of the motives behind rendition in our current society."7

In BSG, torture becomes a pragmatic approach to civilian safety. This, I would argue, is exactly why this episode is so important. The issues dealt with—but not resolved—in "Flesh and Bone" draw attention to the behavior of the US government in the post-9/11 moment. As John Ip has pointed out, "[V]ersions of the 'ticking bomb' scenario have [also] appeared in Bush administration documents and official statements that asserted the legality of torture and various coercive interrogation techniques."8 Anderson observes that "what most offended me about 'Flesh and Bone' was not that it sought to rationalise torture but that it took the validity of such an interrogation procedure for granted and immediately went...