4.02.2009

standard operating procedure

Have you seen this movie?

"Standard Operating Procedure" is filmmaker Errol Morris's look at what happened at Abu Ghraib, the former Saddam Hussein prison and torture chamber that the US turned into a US prison and torture chamber.

Allan is watching it downstairs right now.

I made it through one hour. A quarter-way through, I took a short break. Halfway through, I had to leave the room.

I knew I probably wouldn't be able to watch the whole movie, but I thought I should try, at least see what it was like. Torture is the one place I can't go. Even the suggestion of torture in a movie - even in a non-serious movie - can make me sick for days. I only push it out of my mind through force of will. And it doesn't really go away.

And this torture. This was ordered, organized and financed by the country of my birth, torture carried out by my former countrypeople.

My taxes used to pay for that torture.

Like all of Erroll Morris's films, the story is told by the people who participated. "Standard Operating Procedure" is first-hand testimony from US soldiers who were stationed at Abu Ghraib, some of whom become famous, like Lynndie England, Charles Graner and Sabrina Harman. They talk about what they saw, what they did.

Some are remorseful. Some are angry. Some try to explain it away.

Some say, "We just did what we were told to do."

These are the people who followed orders.

And I keep thinking, our guys - pardon my possessive - the war resisters, they are fugitives. They are fighting to stay free.

Robin Long didn't follow orders, and he's in a fucking prison cell.

Dale Landry, Chuck Wiley, Kimberly Rivera, Joshua Key, they stopped following orders, and they are called cowards, traitors, criminals.

It breaks my heart.

But at the same time, it gives me hope. Because if the world was only made of the people in this movie, there would be no hope. If this was all that could be said - "we were just doing what we were told" - there would be no point in living. That there are people in the world who are able to find their humanity and do the right thing, despite the enormous pressure, then there is hope.

All my life I have looked at the people I admire in the world, people of inner strength and moral courage, and I have wondered, What would I have done? Could I do what they did? I have always felt, even before I could articulate it, that being around people of moral courage would help me find my own. That by being around people who have demonstrated moral courage, perhaps I might increase my chances of doing the right thing, if the time ever came. I can only hope.

* * * *

"Standard Operating Procedure" seems like a very good movie, very well done (music by Danny Elfman), and important. This is just a place I can't go. I already feel such rage, and such grief. The only thing that will come of my watching this movie is nightmares and flashbacks.

Many of you have probably seen "Taxi to the Dark Side," also about the random torture of random prisoners. I also only saw half of that. In "Standard Operating Procedure," there are several mentions of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib being random people who were swept up merely for existing. Someone says, "They are taxi drivers, welders, bakers...". Taxi drivers.

There are lots of reviews and other good stuff at Errol Morris' website. Among his many films is one of the greatest arguments against capital punishment ever made: The Thin Blue Line.

14 comments:

L-girl said...

Special warning for Impudent Strumpet: one bad insect scene.

Cornelia said...

Don't worry, Laura, it's okay that you keep away from the movie and I'm sure you would never do as the offenders in the movie did. You hate abuse and violence and cruelty and you have decided to be around people of moral courage and you have found out you find your own.
I think we have had the problem, too that a lot of people had not learnt from the past and even after liberation, they were real abusive bullies and very much into authoritarian-conservative stuff and they still said "This and that guy was only following orders" and a lot of nasty things. And even some people who had been born after liberation were onto that. Of course, they had realized in the meantime that some things were just out of the question and they desisted from them. However, they did not desist from extreme bullying and verbal and emotional abuse. Like the sadist climate of the school I went to and some other bullies who picked on me.
This is what I mean by "forgotten at the denazification". Don't worry, you are not into that and it's extremely unlikely you would ever be. Bullying and abusiving is a choice - an extremely bad choice. And you choose otherwise.

Cornelia said...

Hope I could write something which was somehow of help to you.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Cornelia.

Cornelia said...

You are welcome, Laura. I think if these offenders who committed the Iraq detainee abuse still say that they only followed orders, that shows they are not thinking independently for themselves and I guess it's also some sort of denial and minimalization.
Because Kayla Williams wrote her book in which she stated that she was told to trashtalk an arrested Iraqi. After that, she told her boss she would rather not participate any further in interrogations because they are so often abusive. That was granted. But when she asked her boss to do something against detainee abuse in general, she was told to shut up. She didn't go to Canada but she wasn't stop-lossed either. After her time in the army, she was sick and tired of it, however and wrote her book.

Cornelia said...

Some people were surprised that some of the offenders who committed the detainee abuse were female. However, I was not in the slightest because there had been several females among my bullies and past offenders, and all of them were collaborators of patriarchy. And I think in the past there were not only way more grievances in general and more nasty sexist men but also more female bullies who were complice to patriarchy and verbally abused and indoctrinated girls and other women - just because everything was extremely patriarchal in general.

Cornelia said...

All offenders, bullies and accomplices (regardless whether male or female and regardless whether they abuse their victims with patriarchal sexist indoctrination or something else) tend to use denial, minimalization and also blaming the victim. The latter is IMO the very worst.

L-girl said...

Some people were surprised that some of the offenders who committed the detainee abuse were female. However, I was not in the slightest

Me neither. Women are people. They are subject to all the pressures, all the concerns, all the failings, all the same everything, as men. In the military, they are also subject to proving themselves to be tough enough, which can lead to all sorts of things.

There is no "man = bad, woman = good" split. If there were, what would account for there being male deserters? And female child abusers?

Cornelia said...

Me neither. Women are people. They are subject to all the pressures, all the concerns, all the failings, all the same everything, as men. In the military, they are also subject to proving themselves to be tough enough, which can lead to all sorts of things.

There is no "man = bad, woman = good" split. If there were, what would account for there being male deserters? And female child abusers?

Exactly. I agree.

Cornelia said...

they abuse their victims with patriarchal sexist indoctrination or something else

Of course it could also be using both ways...

Kim_in_TO said...

Most people will commit these abuses under orders. This has been shown in a couple of psychological experiments. It is a mistake to think that only abusive personalities would do these things. (Laura - haven't we discussed this before? There's a great article called "If Hitler Asked You to Electrocute a Stranger, Would You? Probably.")

It takes an exceptional person to be able to stand up and say "I will not", not only in the face of abusive command officers, but also alongside a mass of people who are going along with it.

Luckily for us, we have met some of those exceptional people, and the fact that we are able to see past the BS in our mass media and question these crimes gives us hope that we actually would not go along with it either.

L-girl said...

Laura - haven't we discussed this before?

Probably - it's a theme here.

There's a great article called "If Hitler Asked You to Electrocute a Stranger, Would You? Probably."

Milgram experiment - Stanford experiment - and everything from Hannah Arendt's The Banality of Evil to Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners. People who commit torture and atrocities are ordinary people "just following orders".

It takes an exceptional person to be able to stand up and say "I will not", not only in the face of abusive command officers, but also alongside a mass of people who are going along with it.

Well said. I'm repeating this here for emphasis. :)

Cornelia said...

The teachers at our school were into that Milgram experiment (while running their own little dictatorship at school at the same time). Personally, I always thought even if they have no consideration for human rights or humanity, why on earth did those authoritarian-obedient idiots not even realize that they would go to jail if it was murder indeed and that those who were in charge of that experiment would have ended up under lock and key, too if it had been real???!!!

Cornelia said...

I often think the bigger challenge - at least for women who have been abused somehow and / or who have had to live in a very sexist, backward, patriarchal environment earlier on - is how not to become revictimized again and how to be self-nurturing and how to practice proper self-care and how to maintain boundaries. Sometimes I think that's more of an issue for many people, mostly women, than how to deal with aggressive feelings constructively and how not to be complice to the abuse at the hands of the henchpeople of Bush or some other idiot.