America’s unending descent into Naziism and barbarism are somewhat investigated in this Errol Morris documentary. I say somewhat, because the investigation falls flat and is highly limited, constrained primarily to the collection of characters who were prosecuted for taking the pictures of themselves abusing Iraqis.
Notably, not one Iraqi voice is permitted. No human rights lawyer is included. The only people included who are opposed to these atrocities are Army personnel and a private mercenary interrogator from CACI! There’s balance. One can get more “fair and balanced” discussion on Fox News occasionally.
Morris gets statements from General Janis Karpinsky, the figurehead of the US prison system in Iraq, who was quite out of the loop in regard to the torture and systematic “softening up” of prisoners nightly. The fact that it was her job to know what was going on in the facilities under her command never seems to enter the discussion. Her testimony helps establish the Army’s cover-up, however. She does name her superior officers and establish some complicity.
In previous investigations of Karpinsky, Rumsfeld’s torture memo came up (Rumsfeld’s Memo on Interrogation Techniques), but was not included here. The director, Errol Morris, repeatedly drops the ball and fails to connect the dots regarding the command responsibility. He spends so much time giving an open microphone to people like Lynndie England, that the expected hard-hitting investigation of the policies and the policy-makers never happens. Far from establishing the chain of evidence and prosecuting those people for establishing a torture gulag, the case is left mostly to insinuation and hearsay.
Morris ignores the John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales torture memos that expose the Bush White house approving their evasion of the Geneva Conventions. He ignores the use of the term “military necessity” as a condition for abusing prisoners, a clear red flag. He ignores the torture deaths of previous prisoners in Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, and the extensive investigations that had come before such as General Taguba’s report. Also, the statements of high officials like Dick Cheney in defense of drowning torture. Morris could have also included the widespread torture performed by US client regimes including SAVAK in Iran and the South Vietnamese government, which did much of America’s dirty work thorughout that conflict. Even today, the US insists on sending its victims to known torture states for interrogation, an unlawful program called “rendition” that Barack Obama has not discontinued. America’s close relationships with dictators who use torture is well-documented and irrefutable.
But Morris, in typical liberal apologetic style, opts for a Pollyanna attitude about the entire matter. His claim is that America somehow lost its way and its values, never considering that this way has been the way since anyone can remember; ask a native American. Morris treats Standard Opertaing Procedure as more of a pet art project about the Abu Ghraib photographs themselves, than as a criminal investigation of numerous war crimes.
A clue to the man behind the movie is found in Morris’ director’s commentary, when he asks a jaw-dropping rhetorical question of the audience: “Do the ends of bringing freedom to Iraq justify the means of abandoning America’s core values and principles?”
What universe does this man inhabit?