Standard Operating Procedures – A Movie Review

 Culture, Movies, Politics, War  Comments Off on Standard Operating Procedures – A Movie Review
Jun 292009
 

Standard Operating Procedure DVDAn examination of the unintended consequences of the Iraqi war with a focus on events at Abu Ghraib prison which began to appear in global media in 2004. The prison quickly became notorious for the shocking photos of the abuse and torture of terror suspects by military men and women. Ultimately, it is the story of soldiers who believed they were defending democracy but found themselves plunged into an unimagined nightmare.

Genres: Documentary; Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.; Release Date: April 25th, 2008 (limited); MPAA Rating: R for disturbing images and content involving torture and graphic nudity, and for language.

Starring: Joshua Feinman, Zhubin Rahbar, Merry Grissom, Janis Karpinski, Chris Bradley

Directed by: Errol Morris

Morris has covered some interesting and weird subjects. I hoped that Morris would explore the total human aspect of Abu Ghraib, the focus of the file,  and do a really good job of delivering this part of it.

Unfortunately what Morris produces is a film that is solid but not as remarkable as the subject deserves. There are films that do it better. Taxi to the Dark Side comes to mind specifically because it uses the prison as its starting point before following the smell upwards and outwards to paint a much bigger picture of failure and things that are impacting beyond specific acts of torture.

The early signs are good because I was surprised to see several of the main names/faces that I knew from the news coverage of the scandal and thus this was going to be the story from those involved firsthand. This was a gamble in a way because the problem with the aftermath of Abu Ghraib was that it was only the “little people” that got the spotlight and nobody else. By focusing on them, Morris needed to get a lot from them or else his film would end up the same way.

He does this to a point as they discuss in detail what they did and what they saw, and it does still have the power to shock and depress. In some regards the anger described makes the violence a little understandable but what I was shocked by was the sheer banality and boredom-inspired viciousness of it all. Everyone is a bit defensive and Morris doesn’t ever manage to draw much emotion from them in the telling – factually the material is engaging but Morris never really gets beyond that. While “Taxi to the Dark Side” moved up the chain of command, Morris needed to move into his interviewees’ soul – something he doesn’t manage to do.

The second failing of the film is the overuse of “recreated” scenes and asides. With so much shocking reality to discuss and so many real images, some of the recreations are out of place. I’m not talking about the creative sequences that Morris uses as a bed for dialogue (eg a cellblock full of shredded paper, the letters written back to a partner in the US) but rather the recreations and stuff “around” the pictures. It was unnecessary and distracted from what as real and powerful enough.

The film still works as a good summary of events within Abu Ghraib but it is hard to get excited about it since so much of it feels familiar. The tight focus itself is not an issue but it is when Morris cannot manage to produce searing questions, a bigger picture or intimate soul-searching it doesn’t ever do anything that makes it standout in a crowded marketplace.

Through most of this, I have been very sympathetic to the field soldiers who took the brunt of this. It was clear that most of the ones interviewed here were doing their best (a la Dick Cheney) to dimish what they did. I remained convinced that many of them were used as scapegoats, but Lynndie England, Charles Graner, and Megan Ambuhl did nothing to redeem themselves. In fact, in my eyes, they did much to prove the case against themselves. That does not mean I think everyone who should have been punished was…it simply means these three were clearly at fault here.

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Waterboard Rumsfeld?

 Constitution, Corruption, Crime, Politics, Presidency, Society, War  Comments Off on Waterboard Rumsfeld?
Nov 102006
 

If he has nothing to hide…

Just days after his resignation, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is about to face more repercussions for his involvement in the troubled wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. New legal documents, to be filed next week with Germany’s top prosecutor, will seek a criminal investigation and prosecution of Rumsfeld, along with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA director George Tenet and other senior U.S. civilian and military officers, for their alleged roles in abuses committed at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Hey, maybe the Germans can try that cute little trick that Bush’s CIA did in Italy. Just swoop in and steal people off the street of a NATO ally, then ship them out of the country to be tortured. I mean, after all, America is the beacon of hope in the world and we set the standard for decency. Hell, we are decency country-ified. Anything we do is per se humane and legal. So why couldn’t the Germans use the same tactics on us? I understand war criminals don’t get the same rights as real people anyway – you know, like habeas corpus or the Geneva Conventions – so no harm no foul.

We are at war, you know.