Standard Operating Procedure Review
It came to light in 2004 that the detainees at Abu Ghraib prison were subjected to forms of humiliation, abuse and torture and whilst some forms of these are allowed under the Geneva Convention some are most definitely not. In 2008 Errol Morris, previous director of The Fog of War and A Brief History of Time decided to try and detail not only the events which went on behind the closed prison doors of Abu Ghraib but also try and get to the bottom of why only certain people were prosecuted.
The telling is a standard enough Talking Heads affair with most of the main players in this debacle interviewed. This consists of Janis Karpinski Brigadier General, Ken Davis, Javal Davis and Tony Diaz all Sergeants, Megan Graner Specialist and wife of still incarcerated Charles A Graner, Sabrina Harman Specialist and whose letters can be seen in this documentary and of course Lynddie England Private First Class and along with Charles Graner probably the most publicly recognised face in this affair. These army participants are joined by some of the investigating team, Brent Pack Special Agent responsible for analysing the multitude of photographs to come out of Ghraib and Tim Duggan a contract interrogator brought in by the US army to 'interview' the Iraqi detainees.
The brief, quickly cut interviews are interspersed by so called flashbacks or re-enactments of certain scenes which are being discussed, but in the main it's the simple enough affair of having one person on screen at any one point in time tell their story, as they saw it at the time and now after having years to reconcile events.
The Abu Ghraib affair is an interesting case; no matter your views on any interventionist war, and particularly the war in Iraq surely the conduct of one's officers and men should hold up some standards. If they do not then any conquering people only see one tyrant being replaced with another of a different nationality. No-one is being naïve, obviously knowing that certain detaining techniques are used in the pursuit of information which will allow our own troops an extra level of safety but there must be some limits surely. These limits, in my own opinion, went beyond what I would call humane, and the perpetrators were ultimately convicted by their own hand having taken a multitude of shots of their escapades. It would be these photographs, examined here in this film with the help of Brent Pack that would ultimately convict these people.
This is only a part of the documentary process involved in this film though, Morris does try to find out why other people, commanding officers, were not also tried for allowing the men under their command to behave in this fashion. In this though he fails, there is just not enough material or in fact conviction behind the interviewees voices which strongly indicate those of any higher rank should have been made accountable. In fact Tim Duggan does have the most to say in this matter and for that I commend him for his frankness, it is he and seemingly he alone who feels that the people convicted (even though they were responsible for some horrendous scenarios) were simply being made scapegoats for a policy which is more or less allowed by the US army and its government.
Morris adequately details the events during the 2004 - 2005 period at Ghraib quite well but doesn't investigate any further, this may have been due to limitations in access to information or the people he should have been interviewing regarding these events but in the end this documentary comes across as rather shallow and at times a purely voyeuristic piece. It serves well to those people who might not know of the events but it really adds little to the mix for those people wanting to find out more about the circumstances behind them and those ultimately responsible. The film is left wanting somewhat and I still felt that plenty of questions remain over the operating procedures in not only the Iraq war but any other conflict which is perpetrated in my name. There is some brief insight into the procedures used investigating the actual photographs but again it doesn't go as deep as it really needs to; anyone with a rudimentary understanding of meta data within digital photographs would understand what's already been said.
I feel there's not that much more I can say about this documentary piece from a reviewing standpoint and admit that this has been the most difficult piece for me to review dispassionately as all of us here on the review team must do. With a subject matter like this too many personal opinions can creep in, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes not. Ultimately though I felt that Morris and Sony Pictures Classic can be commended for bringing this piece to our screens but Morris himself should have gone further; the question is “How could he have done without access to people or information that is obviously being withheld”. That in itself is the subject matter of other countless documentaries in their own right.
I found this to be a weak affair, not insightful enough and raised more questions than it ultimately answered, not bad but not one of the better film documentaries of recent years.