Tag Archives: documentary

The Civil War

Recently, I have been reading about and listening to lectures on the US Civil War. So I decided to watch the Ken Burns documentary about the Civil War. I have watched it off and on and in bits and pieces on TV before, but this time I was serious and borrowed the 5-DVD set from the library.

It’s a total of 11 hours. So it took me almost two weeks to watch it but it was worth it. The documentary makes the events of the Civil War alive in a way only a visual medium can.

I rate it 10/10 and recommend it to everyone interested in the United States or history.

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Taxi To the Dark Side

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.

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An Inconvenient Truth

Finally, we watched the documentary An Inconvenient Truth on TV.

The documentary basically follows Al Gore as he gives a presentation on global warming. I was skeptical about the format as it intersperses Gore’s past (including his childhood and his election loss in 2000) with the lecture on global warming. However, it does humanize the presentation and is probably more effective than just presenting information on climate change by multiple people.

I would highly recommend everyone watch An Inconvenient Truth as it is done well and is about (probably) the most important issue of our times. I rate it 9/10.

If you are interested in information about global warming, I would suggest the list of links compiled by the Real Climate blog, or you could read the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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