Blu-ray Review: Standard Operating Procedure


How’s your life going? Having a good day? If so, good. If not, I am sorry. However, whether you are up or down I have a movie that is sure to take you either off your happy pedestal or even further down in the trenches. Standing Operating Procedure is certainly a well made film, I know this because it was consistently depressing. Depressing for five minutes shy of two hours. This film depicts the detestable acts that occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison involving torture, humiliation and abuse on every level told using pictures of the events and verbal accounts from those involved. It led to an apology from President Bush to the world and is one more black mark on the United States of America and as the war in Iraq continues I expect it won’t be the last.

For those that don’t know what I am talking about, Abu Ghraib was one of several US occupied Iraqi prisons and in 2004 photos taken at the prison depicting torture, death and abuse were made public and caused a worldwide shit storm. This film is the story of Abu Ghraib and the folks that took those pictures.

The back of the Blu-ray disc refers to the abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib as a “debacle”. This is to say it was a failure. I am not sure if that is an accurate description. That seems as if to say it was properly established in the first place. The goal was to reestablish the entire prison system of Iraq. However, Brigadier General Military Police, Janis Karpinski, tells us that Abu Ghraib was hardly ready to accommodate the 200 people they had already let alone the 1,500+ that were expected. No one was to be released, and therein lies the tragedy. This includes the innocent and the assumed guilty. Children kidnapped and used as hostages, bakers, welders, etc. were incarcerated and held for no reason.

If this film is trying to tell me that people are bad. I got it.

If this film is trying to tell me that a picture can tell a thousand words. I got it.

If this film is trying to depress the hell out of me. Mission accomplished.

Standard Operating Procedure is as honest and unbiased as possible, almost to a fault. The film allows for some people to make excuses for their actions. I was in love. I was told to do it. We needed to get the information. Do any of those reasons condone torture? Is torture ever an option?

If you are a level headed individual the answer here is most obviously, No.

Whose fault is it? No one above the rank of Staff Sergeant has served time in prison for the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Why weren’t their superiors held responsible? Should they be?

During the commentary track with Errol Morris he asks a question that basically questions whether or not the people at Abu Ghraib should be blamed for the incarceration of the children and innocent?

If I was to assume what Morris’ true intentions are in making this documentary I would have to say he has a longing desire to hold the folks ultimately responsible for what happened responsible. He wants action taken on the folks that drove the individuals working at Abu Ghraib to do what they did. Personally I think he is far too lenient on his interviewees, but I do agree it is not wholly their fault. Will that change things? Unfortunately it probably won’t but I do believe it is better films like these get made and are talked about. If they didn’t, and no one was ever held accountable then we really would have a problem. But it’s like one of the interviewees says, “If those pictures weren’t taken this would have all been swept under the rug.”

As far as this Blu-ray is concerned, I can’t say that seeing pictures depicting torture in high definition really bring that much more to the story. This is a film that hits you over the head on a repeated basis with instances of torture and humiliation that I would rather not see. Does it make me anymore aware of the situation by seeing repeated instances? No. There is really no reason to watch this film if you ask me unless you want to name names in your next cocktail party discussion on how fucked up Abu Ghraib actually was. If that isn’t you, a quick trip to Wikipedia should be enough.

The disc comes packed with special features that I don’t even want to watch. Hell, after 55 minutes of the movie I realized I had an hour left I was ready to quit at that point. Why go any further? I listened to pieces of Morris’ commentary to aid in this review but I skipped over the deleted scenes, the nearly 2 hours of additional interview footage, the panel discussion, the press conference and the footage of the premiere. This is a good movie, but I get the point already. Enough is enough.

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