By Sai’da Green
By Sai’da Green
Recently I saw the new documentary by Errol Morris, “Standard Operating Procedure.” The film was sponsored by Meaningful Media and shown at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.
Throughout the film, Morris examines incidents of abuse and torture of suspected terrorists at the hands of U.S. military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Seven soldiers, Javal Davis, Charles Graner, Megan Ambuhl Graner, Sabrina Harman, Roman Krel, Jeremy Sivits and Lynndie England, were charged with dereliction of duty, battery, aggravated assault and maltreatment. They were all sentenced to some amount of federal prison time.
Janis Karpinski was Brigader General in command of the 800th Military Police (MP) Brigade in Iraq. v
After the investigation of Abu Ghraib she was relieved of her command, which included overseeing Abu Ghraib, and demoted in rank to colonel.
Instead of just talking about the prison scandal and how inhumane it was, Morris takes a different approach.
The film features on-camera interviews of five of the seven soldiers convicted: Javal Davis, Megan Ambuhl Graner, Sabrina Harman, Jeremy Sivits and Lynndie England.
During their individual interviews they tell the audience the stories behind the infamous photographs, what their job was at the prison, and why they behaved the way they did and why no one spoke out against the abuse.
The images they showed were pictures, fragments of video, and even some reenactments of a few instances of abuse. The images were very disturbing, and many times throughout the film, I felt like either crying, throwing up or screaming out in anger.
They showed the most publicized incidents and humiliations, the nude prisoners cuffed in stress positions, or forced to masturbate, or pile on top of each other in a pyramid with bags or women’s underwear over their faces; the vicious dogs barking and snapping at prisoners as they lay on the ground in terror, and even biting a chunk out of the leg of a prisoner.
They even showed a picture of the corpse of a man who had been beaten to death, lying in body bag full of ice.
They showed a man the soldiers named “Gilligan,” dressed only in an old blanket, and a hat reminiscent of a Ku Klux Klan hood over his head and face, standing on a tall, narrow box with what the soldiers said was fake electrical wiring tied to his hands. There seemed to be hundreds of photos.
The ones that took the pictures were Sabrina Harman and Lynndie England. Both are seen in a couple pictures grinning and giving the camera man thumbs up.
Lynndie England was a private first class with the 372nd MP Company and worked as a clerk at the prison. She was sentenced to three years in prison, was reduced to the rank of private, and dishonorably discharged. She is currently on parole.
Sabrina Harman was a specialist with the 372nd MP Company. She worked as a guard during the night shift at Abu Ghraib.
She was sentenced to six months in prison, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and a bad conduct discharge.
When asked why they took the pictures they said they knew they weren’t supposed to take pictures, but they wanted proof of what was actually happening in there.
But they showed little to no remorse to what happened to the prisoners as they stood idly by.
Both Sabrina and Lynndie, along with the other three soldiers, Megan Ambuhl, Javal Davis, and Jeremy Sivits all said that they had nothing to do with the abuse, they saw themselves as “softening up” detainees for the real questioning that would take place later behind closed doors, with representatives from the CIA or the other government agencies.
Javal Davis was a sergeant with the 372nd MP Company. He worked as a guard on the night shift at Abu Ghraib. He was sentenced to six months in prison, a reduction in rank to private and a bad-conduct discharge.
Jeremy Sivits was a specialist with the 372nd MP Company and worked as a mechanic at Abu Ghraib. He was sentenced to one year in prison.
During the interviews the suvjects seem to be staring straight into the eyes of the interviewer and the audience as they try to explain and justify what they did to the prisoners – the humiliation, sleep deprivation, and sexual abuse that stopped just short of molestation – as payback, patriotism, or just another day on the job.
All of those interviewed said that if given the chance to do it all over again, they would have never joined the military in the first place.
As Lynndie England said “it was a lose-lose situation. If we just left we’d be in trouble for deserting, and if we stayed we were automatically a part of it.”
Another disturbing part of the movie was when Brent Pack, a special agent for the Criminal Investigations Division, was interviewed on camera. It was his job to analyze the photographs from Abu Ghraib.
Surprisingly, at the end of the movie he stated that, of the hundreds of graphic photographs of humiliation, torture, and abuse, the majority of them were just standard operating procedure.
Only certain photos depicting physical injury, like the detainee that was bitten in the leg by a dog, could be classified as documenting crimes.
But since when did torture become standard operating procedure? Torturing prisoners goes against international humanitarian laws.
The primary source of international humanitarian laws is the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which the United States ratified in 1955.
These laws prohibit torture and other ill-treatment of any person in custody in all circumstances.
The law still stands whether we are in times of peace, armed conflict, or a state of emergency. Anyone, whether a U.S. national or a non-citizen, is protected.
It is irrelevant whether the detainee is determined to be a prisoner of war, a protected person, or a so-called “security detainee” or “unlawful combatant.”
These laws are in effect within the territory of the United States or any place anywhere U.S. authorities have control over a person. Bottom line, these laws against torture and ill-treatment are absolute.
Besides being illegal, torture is also an ineffective way of obtaining reliable information.
In their interview with Tim Dugan, an experienced interrogator, it was argued that torturing a prisoner for information isn’t effective, because the prisoner is just going to say whatever he or she needs to say to stop the torture.
Whatever information that is obtained will be unreliable.
Tim Dugan worked as a contract interrogator at Abu Ghraib for Consolidated Analysis Centers, Inc. He returned from Iraq in 2004.
But what made me feel a little sympathy for the MP’s is when they describe what lies outside the scope of the photos.
It’s easy to be angered by the picture of Sabrina Harman’s holding a thumb’s up next to the corpse of a beaten detainee in a body bag.
But the back story, that the body is that of a man who was beaten to death by a team of interrogators from other government agencies, then smuggled out of the prison secretly, makes Harman seem almost innocent in comparison.
And that’s how most of the situations happened. Except for Charles Graner who appeared to be an instigator of some of the incidents, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
According to Javal Davis, no one above the rank of staff sergeant, except Janis Karpinski, was punished for the abuses in Abu Ghraib.
And Janis made it clear in her interviews that she was still very upset that she, along with those few soldiers, had been made the scapegoat, when none of her superiors had been touched. She is perfectly justified in feeling this way.
Janis and the seven soldiers were the scapegoats so that the incident wouldn’t be looked into
It was made to look like the abuse was the result of a few bad apples, not deep rooter problems with the U.S. military as a whole and how they treat detainees.
The movie in it’s entirety was pretty disturbing.
I just couldn’t believe how relaxed the soldiers were during their interviews. They showed little or no remorse for how the prisoners were treated.
The only thing they were all upset about was how no one else got in trouble.
They felt like they were the scapegoats. I would like to think that American soldiers are the good guys, but as this film showed, the average American solider will sit back and remain silent if the majority of the people around them are engaging in unlawful activity.