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DVD Review

DVD cover

Standard Operating Procedure

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 12 January 2009

A critically-acclaimed documentary from Oscar®-winning director Errol Morris, Standard Operating Procedure examines the incidents of abuse and torture of suspected terrorists at the hands of U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib prison. A powerful and profoundly moving documentary, it presents an uncompromising view of the situation in Iraq and uses recreations and real photos to reveal the truth behind the pictures taken by US soldiers of the tortured and humiliated prisoners at Abu Ghraib...

Standard Operating Procedure could have been one of the most important documentaries to come out of the American occupation of Iraq. Sadly, due to a little bit of behind the scenes scandal and the fact that we only hear the point of view of those punished, it ends up being a shadow of what it could have been and ends up raising more questions than it answers.

Basically this is a right of reply piece for those that lost their jobs and, in some cases, were sent to prison for their acts. You can hear the bitterness in the interviews - not that they made mistakes, but that they were caught on camera and punished. Several times it is mentioned that if it had happened off camera then nothing would have happened to them. This to me shows that they've learnt nothing from the experience and that they still think that to torture (because despite the fact they claim that they were just softening up the suspects, they were in fact humiliating them and causing them pain), in most cases, innocent Iraqi civilians is acceptable. This, I'm afraid, is why America is despised by so many other nations.

What I want to know is where were the interview with any of the detainees (there were 30,000 at one time). Director Errol Morris tells us in the audio commentary that he did talk with one of the detainees, so why was he not interviewed for the movie? Or what about the suspect (who was later freed uncharged) who appeared in the most infamous picture of all - the inmate known as Gilligan who was forced to stand on a box with a cement bag covering his head and wires wrapped around his fingers. It would have been interesting to hear what he had to say - as we are told he wasn't hurt in any physical way.

I also found Javal Davis (the only black Military Police officer interviewed) to have the most screwed up logic for why he physically attacked inmates. His friends were dying out there and he was currently under attack in the prison so he thinks he's justified attacking inmates - keep in mind most of them had done nothing wrong. So, because they too were of the same ethnicity he felt it okay to punch and stamp on them. Davis is merely a racist bigot who is an embarrassment to both his country and his race.

There are a number of issues that are left unanswered and a lot of what the convicted interviewees say is taken at face value. For example, some of the events are linked with Sabrina's letters to her husband which detail what is going on. How do we know that these weren't written after the event and placed in the envelopes of her original letters home? She seems to spend a lot of time talking about the horrific events that are going on and saying how she's going to use the photos when she gets out... but did she really write that in letters? It seems a little unlikely. Why would she talk about things that eventually come to fruition and constantly make out that she isn't happy with the situation and wants to change things? This sounds like someone writing about things after the event in a bid to cast themselves in a better light. And, even if these letters were used in her court case, how difficult would it have been for her to write them all and post them home when the internal investigation looked likely (a fact she mentions in one of her letters) in a bid to cover her own arse?

Sadly, while trying to uncover the facts of the conspiracy, that Morris claims is still going on, he too keeps a dirty little secret hidden from the public. What's not so well known is that, according to The New York Times, Morris paid some of the interviewees to take part - because they would not have agreed to be interviewed otherwise. Now that says to me that those people are now profiteering from their misdeeds too - so they have sunk even lower. So, by purchasing this DVD it could be argued you are actually giving some of the money to these criminals - something I'm not overly happy about. Morris fails to mention this in his audio commentary, which is unforgivable.

At the end of the day this documentary can't be taken on face value as some of the interviewees profited from telling their stories, however it's still an interesting exploration of the events that were allowed to unfold at Abu Ghraib. My final mark doesn't reflect my respect for the director's integrity or a job well done, but for the fact that the majority of those who took part are interviewed and still none of them seem to have learned anything from the experience - they are still naive, immature children.

Extras include an interesting audio commentary with the director. Here he really puts across a strong argument for the fact that people higher up have been allowed to get away with murder and much worse and will probably never be held accountable. His darkest thoughts include the very real possibility that this whole thing may have been whipped up (and those responsible made publicly accountable) in order to help Bush win his second term.

We also get Additional Scenes (26 min, 04 sec worth of interviews - some of which should have been kept in); Original Theatrical Trailer and trailers for other movies.

The Additional Scenes features a few more disturbing revelations - like the fact that glass was put in inmates food and that there was a massacre when guards opened fire and killed a lot of detainees because they were protesting and throwing rocks. There's also an interesting account of Saddam Hussein's capture an incarceration and a story (designed to make you sympathise with the officers' plight) about one of the soldier's trailers being bombed and the unfortunate individual being burned alive. It is Davis that tells this story - breaking down in tears. Yet he doesn't seem to know the guy's name.

The other guilty interviewees all sound bitter, especially Lynndie England who seems more p*ssed that she was cheated on by her boyfriend (who is still in jail for his part) and that he cropped the other woman he was sleeping with out of the photo of England holding a leash attached to a detainee who is laying on the floor. England claims she never wanted to be in the photos, but anyone with eyes can see that she appears to be having a great time as she poses for the camera.

While it sounds like I hated this movie, the opposite is the case. But I probably didn't get out of it what the director intended. My main problem though, and sorry to keep coming back to it, is that some of those interviewed (we never know which) were paid for their time. While, sadly, this isn't an unheard of practice, I wasn't aware that that it was standard operating procedure for a documentary filmmaker.


Darren Rea

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