Season 4 of “Chuck” premiered on September 20, 2010.  The episode titled “Chuck Versus the Anniversary” began with the title character attempting to resume a civilian lifestyle after three seasons of working with the CIA and NSA.  During this episode, two active agents of the United States Intelligence Community are kidnapped and taken to Russia.  The agents awake in the basement of a former KGB facility facing the threat of torture from a Russian agent portrayed by Dolph Lundgren.  Although the two American operatives are rescued by the title character before any harm comes to them, the possibility of torture raises a question about who is protected by the Geneva Conventions.

The Geneva Conventions are a series of treaties which set standards of international law and treatment of prisoners of war.  The protocols, adopted in 1949, protect sick and wounded soldiers, prisoners of war, civilians, and occupants of a territory.  The Conventions protect civilians, medical and religious personnel and the wounded on land and sea.

The definition of “prisoner of war” is outlined in the third Convention of 1949.  A “prisoner of war” is outlined in Article IV.  The person in question must fall under one of the categories including members of the armed forces, support staff of the armed forces, occupants of territories, and militias.

In the episode, neither American agent admits to being an American soldier.  This lack of association with American military forces prevents both agents from qualifying for prisoner of war classification under Article IV of the Third Convention.  Although torture is not socially acceptable by the international community, the laws requiring humanitarian treatment of soldiers are not extended to those engaged in espionage, even if both torturer and victim are citizens of nations which are parties to the Conventions.

The American agents were rescued before the Russians return.  By not showing any scenes of torture, NBC can ensure the show appeals to younger audiences and is not met with the criticisms about its depiction of torture that faced “24” during its time on television.  Jack Bauer’s use of torture and the realistic depiction of torture were a general  focus of articles about the show.  The Parents Television Council consistently called the show “Worst Show of the Week” due to its depiction of torture.