iTunes U and Podcasts

Since I got my iPhone, I have started listening to podcasts and courses put online by universities.

Specs listed the podcasts she listens to and Razib also mentioned a podcast recently, so I thought I should list the stuff I have been listening to on my iPhone and may be Razib and others can chime in with some suggestions.

Here’s my current list of podcasts:

In addition, here are some courses and lectures on iTunes U and as podcasts that I have been listening to or that are in my listening queue:

What do you recommend?

The Dark Side

Jane Mayer’s book on the torture regime of the Bush administration is a must-read for anyone interested in politics, civil liberties, war on terror.

I guess you could figure out that I was reading The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by my recent blogging on torture.

This is a must-read book by Jane Mayer. It follows the torture story meticulously and focuses on how the policy developed. It is clear from the book that there were some major villains in the Bush administration who pushed for torture and got their way most of the time. John Yoo, David Addington and others shut the actual officials who were supposed to make national security policy (at the subcabinet level) out. However, the cabinet principals don’t come out looking good. They were either indifferent or supportive of the euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques”, properly known as torture.

While there are several people mentioned in the book who tried to stop torture by the US government, there were also lots and lots of bad guys, lawyers who wrote or approved torture memos, military, civilian and CIA personnel who approved, condoned, supervised or actually tortured suspected or actual terrorists and intelligence, military and law enforcement who consumed the results of torture investigations. There are times when I feel like the Obama administration should release the names and deeds of all those people, anyone who was in any way involved with the torture policy. I know it’s not going to happen and isn’t really fair either.

What should be done is to release all the information about US actions and policy with regards to torture. For example, the thousands of pages of the CIA Inspector General’s May 2004 report.

Taxi To the Dark Side

It’s a documentary about Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver, who was tortured and murdered as well as the torture policies of the Bush administration. I provide a lot of links to information about torture.

We saw Taxi to the Dark Side quite some time ago.

It’s a great documentary about the torture that the US government engaged in when George W Bush was President. The main focus of the documentary is a young Afghan taxi driver, Dilawar, who was stopped at a checkpoint in Afghanistan and then jailed at Bagram by the US military. There he was interrogated and tortured. And finally murdered by US military and intelligence personnel.

The movie also goes into the torture policies of the Bush administration and how they were applied in Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan and various other black sites around the world.

The torture stories are hair raising and it has been clear for some time that the the use of torture was a deliberate policy approved at the highest levels of the Bush administration. However, I felt it difficult to say much about the documentary other than ranting against the war crimes and inhumanity of the previous administration. Thus this review lingered in draft status for a while. After all, what more could I write since I have written multiple times about torture during the past six years.

However, there have been some recent developments since Barack Obama became President. He has released a number of Justice Department memos related to the torture policy which you can read at the ACLU site. All memos are worth reading but if you must read just one excerpt, as Glenn Greenwald says, it should be this one from the May 10, 2005 memo by Steven Bradbury, Acting Assistant Attorney General, OLC, to John A. Rizzo, General Counsel CIA:

State Department Reports. Each year, in the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the United States condemns coercive interrogation techniques and other practices employed by other countries. Certain of the techniques the United States has condemned appear to bear some resemblance to some of the CIA interrogation techniques. In their discussion of Indonesia, for example, the reports lists as “[p]sychological torture” conduct that involves “food and sleep deprivation,” but give no specific information as to what these techniques involve. In their discussion of Egypt, the reports list as “methods of torture” “stripping and blindfolding victims; suspending victims from a ceiling or doorframe with feet just touching the floor; beating victims [with various objects]; … and dousing vitims with cold water.” See also, e.g., Algeria (describing the “chiffon” method, which involves “placing a rag drenched in dirty water in someone’s mouth”); Iran (counting sleep deprivation as either torture or severe prisoner abuse); Syria (discussing sleep deprivation and “having cold water thrown on” detainees as either torture or “ill-treatment). The State Department’s inclusion of nudity, water dousing, sleep deprivation, and food deprivation among the conduct it condemns is significant and provides some indication of an executive foreign relations tradition condemning the use of these techniques.

[…]

A United States foreign relations tradition of condemning torture, the indiscriminate use of force, the use of force against the government’s political opponents, or the use of force to obtain confessions in ordinary criminal cases says little about the propriety of the CIA’s interrogation practices. The CIA’s careful screening procedures are designed to ensure that enhanced techniques are used in the relatively few interrogations of terrorists who are believed to possess vital, actionable intelligence that might avert an attack against the United States or its interests. The CIA uses enhanced techniques only to the extent reasonably believed necessary to obtain information and takes great care to avoid inflicting severe pain or suffering or any lasting or unnecesary harm. In short, the CA program is designed to subject detainees to no more duress than is justified by the Government’s interest in protecting the United States from further terrorist attacks. In these essential respects, it differs from the conduct condemned in the State Department reports.

In other words, it’s not torture when we do the same things that we condemn as torture when done by others.

There was also an International Committee of the Red Cross Report on torture that came out recently, some excerpts of which are given here and some analysis is here.

If you are interested in my blog posts on torture, here they are:

  1. Torture
  2. Torture Again
  3. Torture, Emperor and Forgetfulness
  4. Do They Look Like Me?
  5. Legal Torture
  6. Reaction to Criticism
  7. Pro-Torture Senators or the Nazgul?
  8. Empire and Torture
  9. War Crimes and Military Justice
  10. Rendition
  11. Rendition and Torture
  12. Torture and Public Opinion

In addition, I have been collecting links to stories, memos and reports about torture (and other topics) in my Browsing list, recent entries of which are shown on the sidebar on the main page. Let’s collect those links (that are not dead) here as well.

Oh I forgot to rate the documentary. It’s a must-see, so 10/10.

Torture and Public Opinion

Let’s take a look at opinion polls about torture. Who supports torture? Which groups are for or against torture? Why isn’t the Bush administration’s pro-torture conduct an issue in the election?

It was heartening to hear the following from Senator McCain at the first debate especially after his support for allowing the CIA to use torture during interrogations.

I have opposed the president on spending, on climate change, on torture of prisoner, on – on Guantanamo Bay. […] And we’ve got to — to make sure that we have people who are trained interrogators so that we don’t ever torture a prisoner ever again.

And Obama said:

And this is the greatest country on Earth. But because of some of the mistakes that have been made — and I give Senator McCain great credit on the torture issue, for having identified that as something that undermines our long-term security — because of those things, we, I think, are going to have a lot of work to do in the next administration to restore that sense that America is that shining beacon on a hill.

To my utter dismay, torture hasn’t become an issue in the US election. Today I want to focus on how popular or unpopular torture has been among the people of the United States and the world, which explains why Senator Obama hasn’t brought up the use of torture by the Bush administration more often and why Senator McCain has been sliding away from his opposition to torture.

Here is a poll from May 2004.

Given pro and con arguments, 63 percent in an ABC News/Washington Post poll say torture is never acceptable, even when other methods fail and authorities believe the suspect has information that could prevent terrorist attacks. Thirty-five percent say torture is acceptable in some such cases.

There’s more of a division, though, on physical abuse that falls short of torture: Forty-six percent say it’s acceptable in some cases, while 52 percent say not.

Majorities identify three specific coercive practices as acceptable: sleep deprivation (66 percent call it acceptable), hooding (57 percent) and “noise bombing” (54 percent), in which a suspect is subjected to loud noises for long periods.

Far fewer Americans accept other practices. Four in 10 call it acceptable to threaten to shoot a suspect, or expose a suspect to extreme heat or cold. Punching or kicking is deemed acceptable by 29 percent. And 16 percent call sexual humiliation — alleged to have occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad — acceptable in some cases.

[…] Whatever their personal tolerance for various practices, 51 percent of Americans believe the U.S. government is employing torture “as a matter of policy” as part of the war against terrorism. And two-thirds think the government is using physical abuse that stops short of torture.

[…] Regarding the Abu Ghraib case, which has resulted in charges against some U.S. soldiers and calls for congressional investigations, the public is twice as likely to see what occurred there as abuse (60 percent) rather than torture (29 percent).

In December 2005, an opinion poll tried to measure attitudes to torture around the world.

In America, 61 percent of those surveyed agreed torture is justified at least on rare occasions. Almost nine in 10 in South Korea and just over half in France and Britain felt that way.

[…] In Canada, Mexico and Germany people are divided on whether torture is ever justified. Most people opposed torture under any circumstances in Spain and Italy.

A Harris Poll in December 2005 makes the American populace look quite pro-torture.

55 percent of all adults believe that rendition is justified either often (14%) or sometimes (41%), when interrogating suspected terrorists. 60 percent of adults believe that the use of “secret prison camps in Europe or elsewhere” is justified either often (14%) or sometimes (46%). 52 percent of all adults believe that the use of torture is justified either often (12%) or sometimes (40%).

82 percent of all adults believe that the U.S. uses rendition, as defined above, often (25%) or sometimes (58%). 81 percent believes that the U.S. uses secret prison camps outside the country often (23 ) or sometimes (58). 83 percent believe that the U.S. uses torture often (17%) or sometimes (66%).

At least it seems that the public doesn’t take Bush’s statements about “we do not torture” at face value.

A BBC Global Poll in October 2006 found that majorities in 19 countries are in favor of clear rules against torture. In order of decreasing popularity, those countries are Italy, France, Australia, Canada, Britain, Germany, South Korea, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Poland, Chile, Brazil, United States, Philippines, Iraq, Ukraine, Kenya, Indonesia. Note the position of the United States in that list; it’s near the bottom with developing countries. torture is more popular here than in most of the developed world.

There are some uncivilized countries where there is no clear majority for or against torture: Israel (43-48), Nigeria (39-49), Russia (37-43), China (37-49), India (32-23), and Mexico (24-50).

According to a CNN poll of the US in November 2007,

Asked whether they think waterboarding is a form of torture, more than two-thirds of respondents, or 69 percent, said yes; 29 percent said no.

Asked whether they think the U.S. government should be allowed to use the procedure to try to get information from suspected terrorists, 58 percent said no; 40 percent said yes.

In the procedure, water is used on restrained prisoners to make them feel like they are drowning.

A World Public Opinion Poll in June 2008 found that:

A WorldPublicOpinion.org poll of 19 nations finds that in 14 of them most people favor an unequivocal rule against torture, even in the case of terrorists who have information that could save innocent lives. Four nations lean toward favoring an exception in the case of terrorists.

However, large majorities in all 19 nations favor a general prohibition against torture. In all nations polled, the number saying that the government should generally be able to use torture is less than one in five.

On average across all nations polled, 57 percent opt for unequivocal rules against torture. Thirty-five percent favor an exception when innocent lives are at risk. Just 9 percent favor the government being able to use torture in general.

The four publics that favor an exception for terrorists when innocent lives are at risk include majorities in India (59%), Nigeria (54%), and Turkey (51%), and a plurality in Thailand (44%).

Support for the unequivocal position was highest in Spain (82%), Great Britain (82%) and France (82%), followed by Mexico (73%), China (66%), the Palestinian territories (66%), Poland (62%), Indonesia (61%), and the Ukraine (59%). In five countries either modest majorities or pluralities support a ban on all torture: Azerbaijan (54%), Egypt (54%), the United States (53%), Russia (49%), and Iran (43%). South Koreans are divided.

Again, notice where US public opinion lies. Near Russia, Egypt and Azerbaijan! Is that what we aspire to be? As Andrew Sullivan said:

So America’s peers in the fight against torture, in terms of public opinion are Azerbaijan, Egypt, Russia, and Iran. This is what America now is: a country with the moral values of countries that routinely torture and abuse prisoners, like Egypt and Iran. Even the Chinese, living in a neo-fascist market state, oppose torture in all circumstances by 66 percent, compared to Americans where only 53 percent do! More horrifying: a higher percentage of Americans – 13 percent – believe that torture should generally be allowed than in any other country save China, Turkey and Nigeria. And in the last two years, as the American president celebrates and authorizes the torture of people who have not been allowed a fair trail, support for torturing terror suspects has increased from 36 percent to 44 percent.

Why are so many Americans morally bankrupt about torture now? It turns out it might be the fault of the religious, or more specifically the Southern Evangelicals.

A new poll released Thursday (Sept. 11) finds that nearly six in 10 white Southern evangelicals believe torture is justified, but their views can shift when they consider the Christian principle of the golden rule.

The poll, commissioned by Faith in Public Life and Mercer University, found that 57 percent of respondents said torture can be often or sometimes justified to gain important information from suspected terrorists. Thirty-eight percent said it was never or rarely justified.

But when asked if they agree that “the U.S. government should not use methods against our enemies that we would not want used on American soldiers,” the percentage who said torture was rarely or never justified rose to 52 percent.

[…] The findings of this poll, which did not define torture, compared to a Pew Research Center poll from February that found that 48 percent of the general public think torture can be justified.

The new poll found that 44 percent of white Southern evangelicals rely on life experiences and common sense to determine their views about torture. A lower percentage, 28 percent, said they relied on Christian teachings or beliefs.

[…] Pollsters also found that 53 percent of white Southern evangelicals believe the government uses torture in its anti-terrorism campaign, despite claims by government officials to the contrary. About one-third, or 32 percent, said the government does not use torture as a matter of policy.

Wow, so a majority of white Southern evangelicals are not only pro-torture, but they do not rely on Christian teachings either. Who would have thought they would be so immoral?

Charlie Wilson’s War

The movie is fun to watch, but it’s the book that’s a must read.

We watched Charlie Wilson’s War in the theater. It is a movie about the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion and how Congressman Charlie Wilson and how he and CIA officer Gust Avrakotos helped the Afghan Mujahideen.

It is a good movie, but it does focus more on the flamboyant and scandalous than the nitty gritty details of congressional funding. Also, Om Puri did the worst impression of Pakistani dictator General Zia ul Haq that I have ever seen.

While I liked the movie, these deficiencies mean I can rate it only 7/10.

Watching the movie reminded me that I still hadn’t read the book Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times by George Crile that the movie is based on. So I got it from the library.

It’s a great book and I finished it as fast as I could. It reminded me more of fiction than of reality. And it scared me. The book includes a lot of details about how the Afghan war was funded and details the way Congress and its committees work behind the scenes. As someone very interested in politics, it was a bit scary to realize how something of the scale of the US funding of the Afghan war could happen with just the personal connections and chit-calling and no open debate in Congress.

My conflicted feelings towards the Afghan war don’t help matters. I was and am a fervent anticommunist and hence did support the fight against the Soviets. At the same time, those Mujahideen groups, including Ahmad Shah Massoud, were not exactly good for Afghanistan. And the Afghan war (and Zia) is a major reason for why Pakistan is in such bad shape today.

If you are interested in the Cold War, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the war on terror, CIA, or US foreign policy, Charlie Wilson’s War is a must read.

Global Gender Attitudes

I count the reasons why I won’t raise my daughter in Pakistan. The attitudes of Pakistanis towards women leave a lot to be desired and women don’t have much opportunity there.

This could also be titled Why I won’t raise my daughter in Pakistan.

There was a discussion among the Urdu bloggers last month about women in Pakistan and especially the staring they have to encounter. Rashid started the discussion. Farhat gave some examples of the difficulties women have to endure and then explained her point of view. Qadeer gave some examples of how women are harassed. Badtameez talked about the reasons of this harassment and staring in his usual inimitable, meandering style. Mera Pakistan discussed the issue and then suggested some solutions. Qadeer also lamented how women are not given their due role in society in Pakistan. Mawra also pontificated on the topic of men staring women in Pakistan. My Dad gave some examples from his youth, discussed whether this problem is limited to Pakistanis and gave some final comments.

I am not very interested in the staring issue myself since I don’t live in Pakistan. However, the larger issue of the role and place of women in society interests me very much. As mentioned above, I do worry about my daughter and how she can have the best opportunities despite the fact that women haven’t achieved equality in any society. With that personal note, I’ll focus on actual survey data rather than anecdotes.

Let’s look at the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, specifically Chapter 5: Views on Gender Issues.

People were asked if it is more important to educate boys or girls or both equally. Here are the responses from a few select countries:

Country Boys Girls Both equally
United States 1% 1% 98%
Turkey 4% 9% 86%
Egypt 22% 4% 73%
India 6% 8% 86%
Pakistan 17% 7% 74%
Bangladesh 8% 3% 89%

Egypt is the worst on this question, but Pakistan is pretty bad too. Compare Pakistan to the rest of the subcontinent and Pakistan looks so much worse than even Bangladesh.

Another question is who makes better political leaders:

Country Men Women Both equally
United States 16% 6% 75%
Sweden 3% 6% 90%
Pakistan 54% 8% 32%
Bangladesh 52% 8% 41%
India 19% 17% 62%

It looks like Indians like Indira Gandhi much better than Pakistanis like Benazir Bhutto and Bangladeshis like Khaleda Zia or Haseena Wajid. It is strange though that PPP (which was led by Benazir Bhutto until her assassination on December 27) has a solid vote of a third of the Pakistani voters, but even some of them think men are better politicians.

The worst is yet to come though: There was one question on the survey asking who should choose a woman’s husband. The options given were woman or family. A lot of people in traditional societies, however, were intelligent enough to volunteer an answer of “both”, except of course Pakistanis.

Country Woman should choose Family should choose Both should have a say
Brazil 97% 1% 2%
Turkey 58% 9% 32%
Egypt 21% 26% 53%
Indonesia 64% 9% 27%
India 26% 24% 49%
Bangladesh 12% 36% 52%
Pakistan 6% 55% 38%

Pakistan was the only country where no one cares about the woman’s choice at all. In fact, they want the family to have exclusive rights to decide a woman’s marriage. Let’s look at it in more detail:

Only in Pakistan does a majority (55%) say that it is better for a woman’s family to choose her husband. Women in that country are slightly more likely than men to express that opinion – 57% of women and 53% of men say a woman’s family should choose whom she marries. This view is especially prevalent among married women. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) married Pakistani women say it is better for a woman’s family to choose, while about a third (32%) say both a woman and her family should have a say. Women who have never been married are more divided; 42% say a woman’s family should choose her husband and 42% say both should have a say. Pakistani women who have never been married are nearly twice as likely as married women in that country to say a woman should choose her own husband (13% of unmarried vs. 7% of married women).

Wow! Married Pakistani women don’t want their daughters and sisters to have any say.

Also, 61% of Pakistanis think that there should be restrictions on men and women being employed in the same workplace.

Let us now look at the Global Gender Gap Report 2007. Here are some choice rankings:

1. Sweden
2. Norway
3. Finland
15. Sri Lanka
18. Canada
20. South Africa
31. United States
32. Kazakhstan
34. Tanzania
41. Uzbekistan
51. France
59. Azerbaijan
81. Indonesia
91. Japan
100. Bangladesh
114. India
118. Iran
121. Turkey
124. Saudi Arabia
126. Pakistan
127. Chad
128. Yemen

Yes, Pakistan is 3rd from the bottom. Let’s look at the detailed results for Pakistan. Pakistan seems to be really bad for women in terms of economic participation and opportunity (a measure which includes labor force participation, wage equality for similar work, income, legislators, senior officials and managers, and professional and technical workers), educational attainment (literacy rate, and enrollment in primary, secondary and tertiary education), and health and survival (sex ratio at birth and healthy life expectancy). On the other hand, Pakistan ranks 43rd for political empowerment of women (women in parliament, women in ministerial positions, and number of years with a female head of state).

Rendition

This is a movie about sending a man, suspected to be a terrorist, to another country so that he can be tortured. The practice of extraordinary rendition actually dates from the war on drugs. It’s a good movie, worth watching.

Rendition is about an Egyptian American who is sent to a North African country as he is suspected of having some connection with a terrorist. There of course he is tortured. This process of handing out suspects to other countries to be tortured is known as extraordinary rendition.

The impressive parts of the movie are what happens in North Africa. The torture scenes are not easy to watch but affect you a lot. Also, the subplot about the daughter of the local law enforcement guy overseeing the torture is also very interesting.

On the other hand, the acting of Meryl Streep, who is a great actress, and Reese Witherspoon did not impress me much.

Overall, I rate the movie 8/10.

And finally a question: Considering that the United States has (indirectly) tortured innocent people via extraordinary rendition (for example, Maher Arar), do you worry something like this could happen to you or your loved ones? Also, please note that extraordinary rendition did not start with the war on terror. Instead, it dates from the war on drugs as Jonathan Edelstein shows in a great blog post.

War Crimes and Military Justice

War crimes happen in all wars. And are rarely punished appropriately. There are structural reasons for that which are unlikely to change. This is one more reason why war should be the last resort.

I wrote a long time ago that soldiers are almost never punished severely for war crimes against the enemy. During the past three years, I haven’t seen any evidence to the contrary.

A review of the Iraq War by the Washington Post last year showed that:

The majority of U.S. service members charged in the unlawful deaths of Iraqi civilians have been acquitted, found guilty of relatively minor offenses or given administrative punishments without trials, according to a Washington Post review of concluded military cases. Charges against some of the troops were dropped completely.

Though experts estimate that thousands of Iraqi civilians have died at the hands of U.S. forces, only 39 service members were formally accused in connection with the deaths of 20 Iraqis from 2003 to early this year [2006 — ZA]. Twenty-six of the 39 troops were initially charged with murder, negligent homicide or manslaughter; 12 of them ultimately served prison time for any offense.

Some military officials and analysts say the small numbers reflect the caution and professionalism exercised by U.S. forces on an urban battlefield where it is often difficult to distinguish combatants from civilians. Others argue the statistics illustrate commanders’ reluctance to investigate and hold troops accountable when they take the lives of civilians.

[…] The harshest penalty, meted out to two soldiers in separate murder cases in 2004, was 25 years in prison — one of the convicted shot an Iraqi soldier, and the other shot an Iraqi man in his house. Two others convicted in what was called a mercy killing of an Iraqi each received one year in jail.

Solis, who has studied civilian homicides from the Vietnam War, said there were 27 Marines and 95 Army soldiers convicted of murder and manslaughter in that conflict, which lasted much longer and produced many more casualties than the Iraq war has so far.

According to The Post’s review of publicly reported cases from Iraq, 39 U.S. service members were charged with crimes in connection with the deaths of Iraqi civilians or for allegedly covering them up, from the start of the war in March 2003 through early 2006.

Twenty-four Army personnel were charged in connection with civilian deaths. Twelve were convicted of crimes and received jail sentences that ranged from 45 days to 25 years. Four others were tried at courts-martial, resulting in one acquittal and three convictions with no confinement.

Charges against two others were dropped. Six received administrative punishments, including four who cooperated with government prosecutions of their superiors. In administrative cases, no trial is held and the charges and penalties are not made public.

Going back to the Vietnam War, the Los Angeles Times had this to report:

The files are part of a once-secret archive, assembled by a Pentagon task force in the early 1970s, that shows that confirmed atrocities by U.S. forces in Vietnam were more extensive than was previously known.

The documents detail 320 alleged incidents that were substantiated by Army investigators — not including the most notorious U.S. atrocity, the 1968 My Lai massacre.

Though not a complete accounting of Vietnam war crimes, the archive is the largest such collection to surface to date. About 9,000 pages, it includes investigative files, sworn statements by witnesses and status reports for top military brass.

The records describe recurrent attacks on ordinary Vietnamese — families in their homes, farmers in rice paddies, teenagers out fishing. Hundreds of soldiers, in interviews with investigators and letters to commanders, described a violent minority who murdered, raped and tortured with impunity.

Abuses were not confined to a few rogue units, a Times review of the files found. They were uncovered in every Army division that operated in Vietnam.

[…] Among the substantiated cases in the archive:

  • Seven massacres from 1967 through 1971 in which at least 137 civilians died.
  • Seventy-eight other attacks on noncombatants in which at least 57 were killed, 56 wounded and 15 sexually assaulted.
  • One hundred forty-one instances in which U.S. soldiers tortured civilian detainees or prisoners of war with fists, sticks, bats, water or electric shock.

Investigators determined that evidence against 203 soldiers accused of harming Vietnamese civilians or prisoners was strong enough to warrant formal charges. These “founded” cases were referred to the soldiers’ superiors for action.

Ultimately, 57 of them were court-martialed and just 23 convicted, the records show.

Fourteen received prison sentences ranging from six months to 20 years, but most won significant reductions on appeal. The stiffest sentence went to a military intelligence interrogator convicted of committing indecent acts on a 13-year-old girl in an interrogation hut in 1967.

He served seven months of a 20-year term, the records show.

Many substantiated cases were closed with a letter of reprimand, a fine or, in more than half the cases, no action at all.

You can read the documents and more reports related to war crimes in Vietnam at the LA Times website.

Then there is the case of Sergeant Joseph Darby.

In January 2004, Darby provided a compact disc of photographs and an anonymous note to Special Agent Tyler Pieron of the US Army Criminal Investigation Command, who was stationed at Abu Ghraib Prison, triggering an investigation which led to the implication of several soldiers violating the Geneva Convention. Darby initially wanted to remain anonymous — he and those implicated all served in the 372nd Military Police Company, but became known after Donald Rumsfeld publicly named him during a Senate hearing. Darby had agonized for a month beforehand, but finally decided to blow the whistle on his former friends explaining “It violated everything I personally believed in and all I’d been taught about the rules of war.” He had known Lynndie England, one of the most well-known suspects, since basic training. He testified that he had received the photos from Charles Graner, another soldier in the photographs.

The Joe Darby came home and was reviled in his hometown for ratting out fellow soldiers.

“If I were [Darby], I’d be sneaking in through the back door at midnight,” says Janette Jones, who lives just across the border in Pennsylvania and stopped here at midday with her daughter for a Pepsi and a smoke.

[…]

“They can call him what they want,” says Mike Simico, a veteran visiting relatives in Cresaptown. “I call him a rat.”

And so Joe Darby had to leave his hometown and move.

If you have read this far and are thinking that these war crimes and the lack of punishment is only the United States’ fault, think again. War crimes happen in all wars and are rarely punished or even seen as wrong. Take Israeli occupation of Palestine or the Pakistani army’s actions in Bangladesh/East Pakistan in 1971. Or any other example from history. And you’ll see the same thing being repeated again and again.

The problem is actually structural. First, when we are at war, we consider the enemy to be subhuman. The job is to kill the enemy and to defeat it. The soldiers need to muster up the courage to be able to kill on the battlefield. The psychological defenses they put up to justify all the mayhem around them creates a black and white world with no gray. When a war crime is committed, it is difficult to get it reported. If the enemy nationals are the ones complaining, it is easy to dismiss it as enemy propaganda. At a trial, the jury and judge belong to the same side as the accused soldiers and the victims are in general seen as part of the other. The military justice system in a good country like the US gives a lot of the benefit of doubt to the accused, which is as it should be. However, in a war situation and in the case of crimes against enemy nationals this makes the task of proving guilt very difficult.

And that’s why it is imperative that we do not go to war unless it really is absolutely necessary. As Matthew Yglesias notes:

I don’t think ordinary people can read Sydney Freedberg’s excellent cover story in the new National Journal but the teaser text explains the basic dilemma well:

Sometimes U.S. troops kill Iraqis in self-defense. Sometimes they kill them for other reasons. And sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

The crux of the matter is that soldiers in ambiguous situations understandably tend to err on the side of their own personal safety and that of their fellow soldiers. Likewise, officers faced with ambiguous situations tend to err on the side of giving the soldiers under their command the benefit of the doubt. And courts-martial, likewise, err on the side of taking a favorable view of American soldiers.

All of which is fine. Unless you happen to be an Iraqi. Which is precisely why people tend not to enjoy being under foreign military occupation.

Deflated Balls and Military Bureacracy

A military spokesman sputters nonsense in reply to reports that the US army distributed deflated soccer balls to Iraqi kids because no one had the foresight to order pumps or pins.

Via Unqualified Offerings comes this tale of the US military handing out deflated soccer balls to Iraqi kids. The whole article is worth reading but the most amusing part is the response of the military spokesman:

“America is filled with veterans who know that this comic view of soldiers dumbly following orders is completely without basis and almost laughable in its propagation of stereotype,” Kubik wrote. “Soldiers are Americans, not automatons.” He added: “To focus on the air in the balls, or lack thereof, undermines the American spirit of generosity and completely misses the point of giving.”

Funny as hell!

Muslim Occidentalism

Thabet argues that Muslims see the West similar to the way the West sees Muslims. Western Orientalism has a counterpart in Muslim Occidentalism. What is even more interesting is that Western Muslims set themselves apart from the West.

Thabet has a great post about Muslim attitudes towards the West.

Western Orientalism and its science of Islamology is a very well-studied and understood phenomenon. Edward Said, above all others, did much to highlight the distorting filters through which some of the most widely read Western scholars of Islam. […]

One would have thought that Muslims, and mostly Western Muslims, would have understood what it means to distort and crudely reduce entire human traditions and cultures into vulgar stereotypes or dismissal of other ideas as pointless and meaningless. Yet Muslims are far too happy to engage in their own form of Occidentalism when engaging with Western traditions.

[…] the discussion moved to ‘liberty’ and Muslim states. I pointed out that they fail miserabley on that aspect; that they do not leave people alone who is not directly harming anyone or causing any great offence. This, I said, was an ideal from Western traditions and Muslims who lived in Western states should appreciate this liberty (give or take the recent fascination with arresting and harassing people). They weren’t about to be arrested everytime they left their front door (or even if they were asleep). The response from one friend was to suggest that my approval of ‘liberty’ was tantamount to advocating ‘binge drinking’. The logic being that because people were free to drink, then they would want to binge drink, and so binge drinking would this become an ‘ideal value’, as it has in Britain. Whatever the flaws of the argument — and the point here isn’t even about binge drinking, which is a massive problem in Britain — this isn’t critical engagement with another tradition or culture, but is the reduction of these traditions into vulgar forms, where the worst aspects are held as the ideals. It is no different to suggesting that the subjegation of women is an ideal of Islam, because far too many Muslims engage in opressive practices against women in the name of Islam (and that do this shouldn’t be denied).

Do read the whole post. It is not too long and definitely worth your time.