Standard Operating Procedure: The People Behind the Abu Ghraib Abuse
Academy Award winner and documentary filmmaker Errol Morris’s Standard Operating Procedure is an inquiry into the prisoner torture and abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison. It is, predictably, a very bleak and depressing movie. But the very scale of Standard Operating Procedure, which in its expensive-looking production values, special effects and elaborately choreographed re-enactments, shows that Errol Morris has grown weary of working in the dimly lit outer fringes of motion picture productions, to which documentary filmmakers are still too often relegated.
Standard Operating Procedure is a big, provocative and disturbing work, although what makes it most provocative is that its greatest ambitions are for its own visual style. In sweeping strokes, the documentary addresses many of the issues that abound when government-authorized torture is accompanied by that very government’s public denial of responsibility, leaving young male and female soldiers bereft of anything except their own poorly-informed tactics.
Morris explains that a major force driving the project was the profusion of photographs that were taken by the American soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison that document, in horrifyingly graphic detail, the prisoner abuse that those very soldiers helped to perpetuate. Morris and his documentary crew “set out to examine the context of these photographs,” attempting to uncover what had happened within the accepted narrative about the torture. For him the photographs functioned as both an exposé and a cover-up because while they revealed the horror, they also “convinced journalists and readers they had seen everything.”
Morris wasn’t convinced that he had seen everything. He made this movie, which at its finest and most focussed, tries to investigate how seeing both does and does not evolve into understanding. To that end, Morris employed two familiar documentary strategies: direct-address interviews and re-enactments in which actors re-enact actual historical events. As a tactic, the interviews with some of the soldiers who actually carried out the torture and abuse at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison could have enabled the documentary’s subjects to speak for themselves, to raise their own voices.
Unfortunately, as the film progresses, it becomes clear that even when those subjects are able to speak from the vantage point of looking back in retrospect, they are only capable of providing, or willing to provide, anything more than defensive testimonies on their own behalves.
It is testimony to a government’s pervasive moral vacuum.
Standard Operating Procedure: The People Behind the Abuse
Abu Ghraib Iraq Prison Abuses, 2003
Technorati: 9/11, Abu Ghraib, Abu Ghraib Prison Abuse, Abu Ghraib Torture, Iraq Abu Ghraib prison abuse, art, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, photographs, photography, culture, cultural issues, cultural, documentary, film, movie, Errol Morris, Iraq, Iraq war, legal, legal issues, multimedia, politics, psychology, CIA, CIA interrogation techniques, social, social issues, social life, society, Standard Operating Procedure, torture, abuse, video, world
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