Standard Operating Procedure

One of the best films that I saw at the EIFF this year was Errol Morris’ documentary Standard Operating Procedure about Abu Ghraib. It takes his usual approach: a series of interviews with those involved with limited narration. Here the most prominent interviewees are Lynndie England and Sabrina Harmann, together others who were either directly involved or around the camp at the time. The images are all very cinematic – blow ups of the photos, half-seen reenactments and very simple face on shots of the interviewees.

This is obviously a subject that has been gone over in the media but not in this form – as ever, Morris mostly just lets his subjects talk and leaves it up to the viewer to put their own intepretation on what is being said, foregrounded even more here by the presence of the person responsible for sifting through the images describing going through exactly this process with the images. The effect is much more chilling than the condemnation of the media – the body language and the words of the soldiers speak volumes but nothing gives you enough distance to simply switch off and say “I’m not like them.”

The people in the film who feel they can say that do not always appear as morally distinct as they might hope to. The title comes from one of the things that had to be done when examining the images during the investigation – the investigator had to decide which of the images showed things that were perfectly normal interrogation techniques (the standard operating procedure) and which were crimes. His verdicts aren’t always what you might expect.

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