Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Abu Ghraib: The Documentary

In "Standard Operating Procedure", Oscar-winning director Errol Morris uses recovered footage, reenactments and the notorious photographs published round the world to shed light on the forces behind the sexual and physical maltreatment of Iraqi inmates at the hands of US troops.

The film, screened at a press preview, avoids the familiar ground widely documented in the press after the first incriminating images surfaced in 2004: the global public outrage, the trials and the eventual apology by US President George W. Bush.

Instead, in probing interviews with the troops, Morris illustrates their contrition but also the defiance many involved in the abuse show as their superiors go unpunished.

The troops' candid confessions, shot in Morris' trademark close-ups, fly in the face of claims that the events at Abu Ghraib were a mere aberration.

The soldiers describe massive pressure from the highest echelons of the military to acquire "actionable intelligence" to stop the bloody insurgency in Iraq and locate then fugitive leader Saddam Hussein.

"We were told to soften them up for interrogation," Specialist Lynndie England, who was sentenced to three years in prison in 2005, tells Morris.

Put me in that group of people that just couldn't get upset at those Abu Ghraib pictures. Whether it was a few kooks who got carried away or an interrogation tactic, the pictures made it look far worse than it was.

I don't know how much you can trust someone like Lynndie England after her conviction , but if Morris is trying to say she was a scapegoat for orders given by leaders higher up the chain, then we need to discuss whether softening them up for interrogation is a worthy trade for stopping the insurgency. Mixed in the prison were no doubt a good many non-dangerous people, but war causes tough measures and sometimes hurts the innocent. Humiliation as a tactic against the enemy is about as benign as a war tactic can get.

And we can argue whether or not humiliation is a crime at a time of war, but the greater humiliation was brought about not by the actions at Abu Ghraib, but the photos circling the globe via the press. What Morris has done here is add to the embarrassment of the inmates while pretending to be their champion.

File under Genre: "Cause Seeks Victim"

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