out of Five
Running time: 118
Engaging, well-made documentary that will provoke outrage, shock and horror in equal measure.
What's it all about?
Acclaimed documentarian Errol Morris (The Fog of War) tackles the 2004 scandal surrounding the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The majority of the story is told in the words of the soldiers themselves, including the infamous Lynndie England, who featured in some of the most shocking photographs.
Other interviewees include: General Janis Karpinski (scapegoated, despite voicing concerns); Private Javal Davis (who first discovered he was being scapegoated when he saw himself on the news); Sabrina Harman (the pretty, smiling woman from the photographs, who, despite her apparent complicity, voiced her own concerns in her letters home and took many photos herself as evidence); and Civilian Interrogator Tim Dugan, who expresses his profound disillusionment with the War on Terror as a result of his findings.
The film makes it abundantly clear that the soldiers were scapegoated as "rotten apples" and received unjust sentences as a result - England remarks that "The example was already set when we got there" and Davis remembers his first question: "Why is everyone naked?" Shockingly, no one higher than a staff sergeant was ever prosecuted.
Morris illustrates his compelling interviews with dramatic reconstructions and specially filmed inserts. The effects of this are mixed - for example, a climactic scene where dozens of photos of clear human rights violations all stamped Standard Operating Procedure is devastating, while an obviously staged shot of hands protruding through prison bars borders is almost embarrassingly cheesy.
Aside from the main scandal, the film also offers up several less well-known snippets of information that are equally shocking, such as the fact that the army routinely round up prisoners just because they're of fighting age and the fact that they often kidnap children to use as bargaining tools for information.
Standard Operating Procedure is a powerful, superbly made documentary that demands to be seen, ideally in a double bill with Alex Gibney's recent Oscar-winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side. Great Danny Elfman score too. Recommended.
Standard Operating Procedure (18)