Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Standard Operating Procedure|
Actors: Christopher Bradley, Sarah Denning, Robin Dill, Joshua Feinman, Jeff L. Green
Director: Errol Morris
Genres: Documentary, Mystery & Suspense, Military & War
Errol Morris examines the incidents of abuse and torture of suspected terrorists at the hands of U.S. forces at the Abu Ghraib prison.
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No Critical Eye-- Misses an Opportunity to Find the Real Sto
D. Millar | Washington, DC | 06/17/2010
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I was intrigued by the tagline: "The Scandal Was A Coverup." This was promising, because we know that the reversal from denial to an enthusiastic "investigation" only occured when the press blew the story to the public. So how do you respond, when the world is horrified and demanding explanations?
You pick a sacrificial lamb. Then you kill it.
So, here you have the documentary that tries to explain what actually happened. And yet it fails, on several accounts:
1) It gave the people directly interviewed-- in particular, Lynndie England, Sabrina Harmon, and Janis Karpinski-- a unchecked forum to cast the story their way. Let them have their say, yes-- but their claims should also be validated or challenged through other evidence, if your purpose is to get at the truth. Instead, the filmmaker chose to let them talk unchallenged for hours, interspersed with sympathetic visuals showing closeups of handwritten letters and violin music. What are we to make of this? Where are the interviews with the Iraqi prisoners, for instance? With interrogation experts? Psychologists? Military trainers?
2) Very rarely does Morris explore where these people came from: their family background, how they grew up, why they chose the military, what they learned in training, how they ended up doing this job, how they think about their country and the rest of the world. You would think that might be important, but you only get accidental hints. Instead, the message seems to be that they are "Anyone USA"-- that they were just helpless pawns, like anyone else would be in the same situation. I don't believe it.
3) It never really gets to the heart of why it happened. Everybody in the film is to some degree an "accidental bystander" to the main event, if you believe their account-- and yet no one is ultimately blamed, either. There are the vague references to anonymous people who told them what to do, and top-level administration officials. But what about the culture that made it possible to go through with it? What about the messaging from the Bush administration? What about the system of desensitizing Americans to the pain and suffering of other human beings that goes on BOTH through formal military training and the "culture" in a warzone? There's almost nothing on this.
4) Rarely does the filmmaker pursue the real psychological motivations that many of us suspect: I did it because I could. I did it because I enjoyed it. I did it *because* I knew it was wrong-- because it was taboo. I did it out of revenge. I did it because I was feeling sadistic. I did it to regain power in a powerless situation. Again, there are hints but apparently very little probing. I guess this is a certain style of filmmaking.
The best thing it does-- near the end-- is to explain the rationale behind what is judged "Standard Operating Procedure" and what constitutes a criminal act, in terms of the photos. And, also, to show the cropped and altered photos that were used in the media, and separate out fact from interpretation in evaluating photos. And to give the accused a chance (with piano music) to describe how they saw their accusations.
But I don't see any great accomplishment in simply telling a (different) one-sided story. Was there a culture of torture? Yes. Was there a calculated effort to cover up the high-level mistakes, the lack of leadership? Yes. I believe this is true. But that is no excuse for letting these people off the hook so easily. It's almost nothing more than a propaganda film for the people who agreed to interview. And that, sadly, is a huge failure."