Standard Operating Procedure

Political Documentary

  • Directed by Errol Morris

We all know Lynndie England–or we think we do. She’s the young, seemingly carefree soldier photographed taunting prisoners in those infamous Abu Ghraib prison photos. In other words, she’s the very bad apple that ruined the worldwide image of the brave American soldier.

Errol Morris want you to see England and many of her former companions in a different light. He interviews them extensively in Standard Operating Procedure, shows us the letters they wrote home, and uses actors to re-enact some of the most gut-wrenching scenes they witnessed and were involved in. The result isn’t an easy film to watch. It has you squirming in your seat, trying not to turn away your eyes. It also forces you to ask yourself some very tough questions.

And the obvious question is: Do we really need another documentary on Iraq. After No End in Sight, Taxi to the Dark Side, and I’ve lost count of how many others, what more is there to say?

Plenty? Morris lets people we’ve turned into villains tell their side of that very sad story. We learn the mistakes England made as a 20-year-old girl in love with a 34-year-old man (nothing new there). We discover how the commanding officer warned her superiors of basic problems and was told that no prisoner, under any circumstances, must ever be released. And we discover how agents from the CIA, FBI, and other government acronyms would arrive, take a prisoner into the shower or another isolated room, and do the unspeakable.

Are the stories self-serving? Of course they are. Sabrina Harman tells us that she took all of those photos, and posed in others, to document the atrocities. But she must also explain why in so many photos, including one with an obviously-tortured corpse, she’s smiling and giving a thumbs-up. And it’s worth noting that while the film humanizes and comes close to exonerating England and other notorious interviewees, the uninterviewed Charles Graner (still in prison and thus unavailable) remains a monster in the eyes of the film.

Self-serving to its subjects or not, this is an important film. By placing us into Abu Ghraib from an American point of view, it brings up serious questions of who we are as a nation, what people are capable of, and who is ultimately responsible.