Sandard Operating Procedure Mark 2

Standard Operating Procedure

William Crawley wrote a very comprehensive analysis of Standard Operating Procedure on his blog Will and Testament, and many of these themes were discussed on last Sunday’s Sunday Sequence. But I will add my thoughts here.

Watching the film was extremely draining and at points infuriating. We had only ever seen a few of the many hundreds of images which were taken at Abu Ghraib, and to be exposed to such graphic examples of abuse on a cinema screen was harrowing and upsetting.

The narrative style chosen by Errol Morris, to allow the perpetrators  to tell their story with little editorial intervention, worked because while these Military Police Officers (MPs)  obviously felt that this was their opportunity to tell their story and “set the record straight”, their continued refusal to take responsibility for their own actions for the most part , suggested that their greatest crime wasn’t that they carried out the actions but that they had captured them on film and were subsequently caught. or to paraphrase one of one of the guards. “ their crime was to embarrass the US government”. This continued defiance in the face of the evidence was chilling viewing.  They clearly had never been taught about Nuremberg or the Geneva Conventions. That an individual can be found responsible for war crimes and the excuse of just following orders is no excuse at all.

There were a lot of factors involved in the moulding of these young people into tormentors. Fear, boredom, cabin fever, lack of experience, the highly sexualised atmosphere, ( we later find out that Lyndie England’s lover, the sadistic and psychopathic “Grainer”, is now the husband of another of the MPs who was present, although interestingly not in the pictures.) However, the one question the film touches on but steps away from asking was: to what extent was this abuse part of a  systemic culture and “Standard Operating Procedure.?” So does responsibility go all the way to the top and if so why has no-one above the rank of staff sergeant been prosecuted? As repelling and unsympathetic as most of the protagonists are, they do seem to be have been used as the fall guys.

At the end the pictures are sorted into two categories those where abuse is actually taking place and those which are just representations of abuse. As was mentioned on Sunday Sequence, even if the pictures were staged there was very real abuse going on off camera. Other Government Agencies (OGAs) were engaged in waterboarding detainees, beating them with plastic hoses, and in at least  one case that we know of  beating a detainee to death. The MPs also knew that the OGAs were detaining people and the not registering them. “Ghost Detainees”. They knew that the vast majority of the detainees were civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that they were innocent of the crimes they had been accused of. But no one did anything, noone blew the whistle and if those pictures hadn’t been inadvertently found they would have got away with it.

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