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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Special agent Jack Bauer is back on a television thriller "24," and after an almost two-year break, he is feeling a little conflicted -- especially on the controversial subject of torture.
The popular Fox program took heat in 2004 and 2005 for what was seen as popularizing torture at a time when the United States was being condemned worldwide for its treatment of detainees at Guantanamo and at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
But actor Kiefer Sutherland, who returned to American TV screens this week in a two-hour premiere of "24," says counterterrorism unit head Bauer is older, wiser and undergoing an inner struggle both personally and professionally.
"Jack Bauer is in a position where he is questioning a lot of what he has to do," Sutherland said on Tuesday at the Television Critics Association meetings. "He is wrestling with his own history and what he believes is right and fair. ... It is a line which travels through all the episodes this year."
In the season premiere, Bauer faces questions over possible human rights violations before a congressional hearing.
Sutherland and "24" writer and executive producer Howard Gordon said the change was partly a response to growing discomfort in the media over Bauer's methods of extracting information from his suspects.
Some of the more extreme methods included chemical injections, an interrogation using a defibrillator and showing a detainee a video of his child being executed.
"If you take a look at the debate over physical torture in our country, I thought it was fantastic of Howard to embrace that and bring it into the show," Sutherland said.
But he and Gordon said the depictions of torture in the fast-paced show were not intended to condone the practice in the real world.
"It is a television show. The results (Bauer) gets help to move the plot forward. It has always been a dramatic device to show the urgency of the situation," Sutherland said.
But in the new season, Bauer "certainly raises the moral question of what is right or wrong," he added.
"24" airs on the Fox television network, which is owned by News Corp.