Antidote to dadaist politics

Standard Operating Procedure

Re-enacting the abuse.

Re-enacting the abuse.

One of the effects of the gangbanging, attention-spanless media swirl we live in is that recent events swiftly attain the distancing safety of “history,” to the point that a despicable recent event like Abu Ghraib already seems like a relic from some ancient, pre-Selena Gomez news cycle.

We all know the story (institutionalized torture and well-documented degradation of Iraqi detainees by American soldiers and interrogators), but it happened so long ago (less than five years), we’ve become fairly confident that whichever colossal systemic failures of democracy and humanity allowed it to happen have long since been repaired.

But in a year when the would-be Republican successor to the presidency saw his campaign veer toward dadaism (he’s the torture victim who supports torture: Clearly the McCain-Palin ticket is a scathing satire of our bourgeois, WWI-era colonialist values!), a smart, somber documentary on Abu Ghraib like Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure seems all the more significant.

Procedure features interviews with almost all of the convicted soldiers (no one above the rank of staff sergeant was tried), who make it clear that the effects of war, extreme prevalence of abuse and lawlessness of authority figures led to a situation where inhumanity and ritualized humiliation of prisoners became normalized (the very brazenness with which they photo-documented the abuse was proof that they didn’t fear reprisal).

At first, the soldiers seem somewhat contrite while remaining utterly delusional about their specific culpability in this horrific episode. In the final third, an even more chilling element to the story emerges: The unphotographed parts of the prison were homes to genuine torture and murder, committed by government agents who were never named and never punished, while low-ranking soldiers were publicly crucified.