Standard Operating Procedure Reviews
Whilst 'Taxi to the Dark Side' focusses on the victims, 'Standard Operating Procedure' focuses firmly on the perpetrators, who are given the chance to tell their own stories and sides to the horrible images that made front-page news upon their release.
There's a lot to take away from this one, and all of it is great food for thought, but the importance of the easy availability of digital photography is a particularly interesting angle that fits perfectly into the events surrounding this film.
Another home-run from Error Morris.
men or their families would appreciate such a film showing the pictures and immortalizing their suffering for everyone to see.
It definitely slows down in it's second half, but there's enough creative storytelling to keep things interesting. One thing I found interesting in the film is how reserved the interviewees were with their stories. It felt like everyone had an agenda, and only told what kept the blame on someone else.
A lot of the photos displayed were very harrowing and graphic, not shielding the audience from what has occurred, as well as several of the videos showing the actual soldiers interacting with the prisoners. The interviewees were all singing very similar stories and opinions apart from 2 or 3, which made it seemed very one-sided, but it allowed us to get a look and understanding of these people who committed what they did. For me, the dramatic re-enactments worked, I felt it was slightly heavy handed but also worked well as it immersed the audiences‚(TM) into these scenes, one scene for example having water from a shower land on the camera, symbolising the view of one of the prisoners. However, some people I know were annoyed by this.
Overall, I though the documentary was fascinating and an eye opener, in no way would it be an enjoyable documentary due to the subject matter, but it would have an impact, and is definitely worth a watch.
Was there inappropriate behavior on the part of American soldiers working at Abu Ghraib? Absolulely! And yet, I found it difficult to sit in judgment of the soldiers interviewed and discussed who were involved, not because I lack a moral compass, but because I firmly believe that it is easy for us civilians to sit in judgment of their actions when, in fact, we have no idea what that was like. The quote from the film that haunted me throughout the second half of the documentary and beyond came when one soldier was asked if he didn't know that what they were doing was wrong. Of course it was wrong, he responded, "but in war, the rules change." Only us civilians can sit in judgment on that.
Another key quote for me came towards the end, when another interviewee mentioned that the photographs were "of humilation, not torture" and explained that there was torture, but that the torture happened off-camera. This interview can be linked to a key visual moment in the film when a higher-ranking officer goes through a series of photographs and distinguises between them as to which ones were punishable offences as and which were "standard operating procedure." I think the audience was meant to be enraged by how many of the moments depicted in the pictures were technically "legal," but my mind stayed focus on the nature of war.
Again, I'm not saying I condone all of what took place. And, as a matter of fact, a few of the interviewees come off as unremorseful -- it is hard to feel sympathetic for them. But I keep coming back to the concept that we have no idea what that was like. Congratulations to you if you think it's wrong for our military to humiliate a prisoner by making him strip naked and put women's panties on his head as a means of getting him to talk. If we were doing that to someone as a means of getting critical information necessary for our safety, it seems justifiable to me.
What I liked best about this film was the part that was not political, and that was the philosophical debate over photography itself. I found the most amazing thing about all of this not to be the notorious lapes in moral judgment on the part of the soldiers towards the prisoners, but instead, the empty, reality-TV-inspired lack of consciousness in documenting all of these moments on camera. And not just one camera. Three cameras. WHY? Why would you take these pictures? Why would you want them? Why do people film themselves having sex? Why do people document their bowel movements on their blogs and expose their every privacy online to complete strangers. "Standard Operating Procedures" doesn't answer that, but it sure makes you think about it.
The biggest criticism I've read about the film is that it's too glossy...there are too many visual effects and cool graphics and stagings that some say take away from the horrors. I actually LIKED many of these moments because, for me, they kept the focus on the concept of photography itself. And for someone who like his documentaries to be a little less politically biased than the typical Hollywood far, this allowed me to enjoy the film more than I might have otherwise. A compelling documentary from an award-winning master of the form.
I would perhaps have preferred a straightforward documentary approach and as is typical with almost everything to do with the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, only Americans appear - if Britain was not present at Abu Ghraib, then it's hard to imagine her soldiers' whiter than white image rings true. And as for Donald Rumsfeld? He's still a free man you know.
Morris investigates what led up to the infamous photographs from Abu Ghraib and the events surrounding those depicted in those pictures. During this Morris discusses the larger nature of photography and our perception of a photograph as truth, despite the ease with which images can be manipulated either in their creation or afterward.