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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Errol Morris unveils Abu Gharib documentary at Brandeis

Published: April 13, 2007
Section: News

Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris premiered segments of his upcoming documentary SOP: Standard Operating Procedure. The film showed the ordeals of tortured prisoners in Abu Ghraib by telling the stories behind thousands of brutal photographs taken by members of United States military.

I have been laboring for this movie for a long timetoo long of a time, said Morris, who has previously directed films such as The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War. Id like to get it out of my office its become somewhat of a burden.

Of the shocking photographs used in his film, Morris added I cant say for certain what will happen 50 years from now, but I have the feeling that these photographs from Abu Ghraib will be the iconic photographs of the Iraq war.

Morris explained that while the project was initially an attempt to display iconic war photographs, the Abu Ghraib photographs sort of took over the film. He said that while the photographs attracted enormous attention not only in this country but around the world [,] they had never been contextualized. No one asked the people in the photos why they took them or what they meant. Thats the underlying premise of this film.

The film began with the images of the feet and hands of Satar Jabar, a prisoner forced to stand on a box with a hood around his head and wires tied around his fingers: He was told that if he fell, he would be electrocuted that was part of the sleep plan, said Sabrina Harman, one of the reservists later court-martialed for the torture charges. It was just words, so it really didnt bother me.

Another story regarding some of the other photographs was sparked by the rape of a 15-year-old prisoner, leading to another round of bizarre torture. They started handcuffing [the prisoners], then stretched them wide, then they handcuffed them together the whole time theyre yelling confess, confess, confess, said one of the interviewees, who was not named in the film. Then, according to the interviewee, some of the soldiers handcuffed the prisoners in order to make them engage in simulated sexual acts: I asked him, is this how you interrogate people? And he said, theres lots of ways to interrogate people.

Other images included snapshots of human pyramids of nude prisoners, video clips of prisoners being forced to masturbate, as well as close-up photographs of Manadel al-Jamadi, who, after being killed in the prison shower room, was placed in a body-bag on ice elsewhere in the prison. The images, many of which were enclosed within white borders, were like fetish objects that are part of this entire story, said Morris.

Morris added that the most shocking aspect of the film for him was that a man was murdered and no one has ever been punished for the murder. The only perceived crime was the photographing of a dead man. The murderer of al-Jamadi walked away and the people in the photographs were prosecuted. The perceived crime was not torture, it was not humiliation. It was exposing the American military and the American government and for this they were roundly punished.

Students were as impressed by Morris film as they were shocked by the graphic brutality shown therein. Ive seen Fog of War and I was really interested in seeing the film, said Nora Epstein 10. It was really beautifully done. The cinematography was fabulous but also daunting. I cant wait to see it in its entirety.

Eve Neiger 08 said that I think it was incredibly powerful. Its honesty knocks the wind out of you…especially through the visuals. His choice of that wide sparse aspect ratio was perfect. The reenactment photography was really beautiful…he tells the story really well without forcing a specific idea on you.

Its nuts, concluded Morris. Not nuts because its so brutal. Nuts in a senseless kind of empty way that is even more disturbing.