Standard Operating Procedure (US, 2008)

Obscene postcards from Abu Ghraib

Obscene postcards from Abu Ghraib

Watching this disturbing and necessary film, which interviews many of those involved in the infamous Abu Ghraib abuse, I thought I could now understand how the Holocaust happened. Most of the Americans involved could not be described as evil, although their acts might be described that way, but they lacked the understanding to realise what they were doing and the maturity to challenge authority. Of course, no one in real authority went down for the crimes. Normal ‘right’ and ‘wrongs’ disappear in wartime; enough reason for war not to happen.

The film mixes reconstructions with talking head interviews and – most tellingly – those photographs. As is usual in Errol Morris’ films, there’s no voice over anchoring what we’re seeing but, unusually, on a number of occasions we hear the questioner (presumably Morris) ask for clarification. Many of the interviewees, who explain what was happening in a range of ways (dissembling to believeable), look into the camera giving the film, an entirely suitable,  raw directness.

Of course the real sickness came from the top: Donald Rumsfeld, who’s no doubt enjoying a comfortable retirement believeing that he was right all along, will never be held to account for his leadership. American credibility, as a world leader, has been lost (to whatever extent it ever had it) after Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo; let’s hope Obama can redefine the country’s reputation.

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