Standard Operating Procedure (R)

Documentary 118 April 25, 2008
By J.hoberman
Errol Morris’s latest documentary addresses Iraq—specifically the infamous photographs of abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the so-called bad apples who took them. The images are hardly unfamiliar; Morris’s mission is to interrogate them. How did these pictures come into existence? And what, if anything, do they reveal? The snapshots and videos are mainly annotated by interviews with four of the bad apples, all former MPs, as well as letters home written by the most diligent of the amateur photographers, Sabrina Harmon. What emerges from this testimony, which also goes a bit up the chain of command to include the former brigadier general in charge of the prison, is the suggestion that the MPs—bored, ignorant, and afraid—were just entertaining themselves. The prisoner photographed naked with a dog collar around his neck wasn’t actually dragged by the leash. The hooded guy standing on a box, wires attached to his outstretched hands, was never really in any danger. These pictures were posed! For Morris, who seems skeptical that photographs can ever disclose anything, the issue is legalistic. Focusing only on the photographic evidence, he asks if these images prove the commission of criminal acts or if they simply illustrate what one MP calls “standard operating procedure.” If there’s a moral distinction, I must be too dense to grasp its significance.
Errol Morris Joshua Feinman, Merry Grissom, Christopher Bradley, Combiz Shams, Zhubin Rahbar, Sarah Denning, Cyrus King, Shaun Russell, Daniel Novy, Jeff L. Green Julie Ahlberg Sony Pictures Classics

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