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October 15, 2008

Tonight’s the last of the presidential debates, and we’ve got our fingers crossed that a few constitutional issues will be addressed—like government spying on American citizens living abroad, including military personnel overseas, and the torture and indefinite detention of prisoners in the so-called “war on terror.” (They haven’t discussed this stuff yet, but we’ve got our collective fingers crossed.)

Tomorrow night, your 9 p.m. time slot should be locked up with one of two terrific, highly recommended documentaries (depending on your PBS broadcast market).

The first is Soldiers of Conscience, a documentary by Gary Weimberg and Catherine Ryan, which debuts nationally on P.O.V. The film, made with official permission from the U.S. Army, explores the ethical dilemma soldiers face when confronted with the task of killing in war. Four soldiers who all sought conscientious objector status after concluding they could not kill are interviewed. In addition, three more soldiers, all who are willing to kill, balance with their points of view.

Major Peter Kilner, a West Point professor of ethics and former 82nd Airborne Infantry Commander, is also interviewed. He says in the film: “When you train them reflexively, they learn to make those decisions much more quickly, but the price of that is they’re not thinking through the great moral decision of killing another human being.”

Check out the trailer:

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Also at 9 p.m. tomorrow (again, it all depends on what your local PBS station chooses to air), is Torturing Democracy, a documentary about the U.S. military’s treatment and interrogation of prisoners in U.S. custody overseas. The film also investigates the use of the “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape” (SERE) program on detainees, and how it became the foundation for the torture methods used against them.

It was in conjunction with the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, filed in July 2004, for information relating to the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody overseas that some of the first evidence showing SERE in practice against detainees (PDF) came to light. As recently as August of this year, ACLU attorney Jennifer Turner observed Army investigator Angela Birt testify about the use of SERE tactics on prisoners at Guantánamo.

So while it’s all pretty heavy stuff, both documentaries are fascinating. Grab some popcorn, sit back, and get ready to be schooled.

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