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.