Errol Morris has been open about his politics at times, not least when he spoke out against the invasion of Iraq while accepting an Oscar for his documentary The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. But until now, his films have never been all that concerned with current events. Instead, they have tended to explore the nature of evidence and the psychological factors that affect how people interpret that evidence. Where some documentaries can come across as works of politically-minded journalism, Morris, a former private detective, tends to be more interested in forensic science, and in the philosophical ambiguities and absurdities that result from people's investigations of the cold hard facts.
So there is an interesting tension in his newest film, Standard Operating Procedure. It concerns the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib, and thus practically begs to be viewed through a political lens—it is easily his most topical film to date—but Morris often expresses interest in other, more cerebral aspects of this story, and the result is a film that isn't quite sure what it's about at the end.
The film is noteworthy for featuring interviews with five of the seven Military Police who were indicted for their abuse of the Abu Ghraib prisoners, and one of them, Sabrina Harman, gave the filmmakers access to the letters that she wrote home to her "wife." (Yes, she's gay.) The picture that emerges is of one of chaos and confusion, leading to sadism and manslaughter or worse, as the prison is shelled from outside, Iraqi guards on the inside turn traitor, and children are arrested and held hostage within the prison walls to induce suspects to turn themselves in.
The MPs themselves ...1
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Standard Operating Procedure
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