Standard Operating Procedure (15)

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The Independent Culture

Errol Morris's documentary addresses the scandal surrounding the photographs of prisoner abuse taken in 2003 by US military personnel at Abu Ghraib, near Baghdad.

Its chief point of interest is the interviews conducted with several low-ranking culprits, including Lynndie England, whose cavorting poses next to the naked pyramid of bodies and the prisoner on a dog leash became the most infamous images of the lot.

Morris's angle, reinforced by evidence from Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, is that culpability for the abuse ought to have gone much higher, and that scapegoats were made of beleaguered soldiers who required better moral leadership (Abu Ghraib was being shelled daily at the time). That's fine, but it hardly excuses their behaviour, and Morris never presses them on a vital and simple question: did they recognise that what they did was wrong? The only pity on view is self-pity, and none of the interviewees show any remorse for their actions. "We didn't kill 'em" is the best that Lynndie England can offer.

The film is good at ordering the evidence and conveying the military mindset, not so good at investigating the personal struggle with conscience and the avoidance of responsibility. The Danny Elfman score is grotesquely inappropriate for the material.

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