STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE
Standard Operating Propaganda
Release Date: April 25, 2008
Audience: Older teenagers and adults
Runtime: 117 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Errol Morris
Executive Producer: Robert Fernandez
Producer: Errol Morris and Julie Bilson
Address Comments To:Michael Barker, Tom Bernard and Marcia Bloom
Sony Pictures Classics
(Sony Pictures Entertainment)
550 Madison Avenue, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10022
Phone: (212) 833-8833
Fax: (212) 833-8844
Web Page: www.sonyclassics.com
As the film’s title suggests, the filmmaker says it’s standard operating procedure. Yet even in the movie’s own interviews, this is contradicted. One soldier says that the fact that pictures were taken at all proves that the soldiers didn’t think that what they were doing was wrong. Then, later, another soldier says that when generals and high-ranking officers came to visit, they would “clean up” and not be involved in the humiliation of prisoners until the visitors left. So, which is it? If it’s standard operating procedure that comes from the highest levels of the military and administration, why hide it? Further, when the soldiers are interviewed on camera and describe the events of which they were a part, their “testimony” should be at least accepted on face value. However, the soldiers begin to speak about things beyond their experience, such as what motivates the Pentagon and other government agencies. The soldiers aren’t experts in these areas yet the comments are part of the “plot points” that drive the movie’s narrative.
The actions of the soldiers are unthinkable and irreprehensible. The soldiers seem to delight in taking the photos since they snapped over a thousand while they pose, smile and give a “thumbs up.” The soldiers, many who have served prison sentences for their actions, try to justify themselves by saying they were angry or that everyone was doing it. One of the “stars” of the photos and videos, Lynndie England, says she was young and in love with one of the other soldiers and that’s why she did it.
Content and political issues aside, the documentary is well made. Errol Morris is one of the premier documentary filmmakers working today. However, the movie’s integrity comes into question when actual photos are mixed seamlessly with re-enactments to the point where it’s hard to know which of the images are actually representative of what happened or were staged based on the filmmaker’s direction. Re-enactments are common and acceptable. However, the movie’s premise is that the photos don’t lie and tell the story of Abu Ghraib. It would have been better had the audience been told, even visually on the screen, which photos and videos are real and which are fake.
This movie is difficult to watch because the soldiers captured their appalling actions on film, and the graphics are absolutely horrific. The prisoners appear on camera naked and are forced into humiliating, often sexual, actions. Though not the intention of the movie, this documentary serves to show the depravity of our souls without God and the twisted and inhumane actions we can commit. It’s only because Jesus became a person and died for our dark hearts that we can have right standing with God. And, only because of the new heart that God gives by his grace that when we see the unmentionable actions of these soldiers that we say, “there but by the grace of God go I.” Sadly, Erroll Morris instead uses these events to further his anti-American agenda and paint all American soldiers with a broad brush. Yet, noble, honorable men and women work day in and day out in the military to protect our country. Our hope is that American soldiers will avoid the insult and avoid this movie.
This movie’s integrity comes into question when actual photos are mixed seamlessly with re-enactments to the point where its hard to know which of the images are actually representative of what happened or were staged based on the filmmakers direction. Re-enactments are common and acceptable. However, the premise is that the photos accurately tell the story of Abu Ghraib. It would have been better had the audience been told, even visually, which photos and videos are real and which are fake. There are horrific images of prisoners being humiliated, full frontal male nudity, sexual images, and much foul language.