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.

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