When former President Bush out promoting his new book “Decision Points”, I heard him once again condemning the soldiers-turned-prison guards in Iraq for the scandal at Iraq’s worst prison. Abu Ghraib has an awful history in Sadaam Hussein’s Iraq, and the documentary “Ghosts Of Abu Ghraib” is must-see viewing in a post-9/11 world. It opens and closes with the Milgram Experiments of 1961, designed to determine under what conditions one person would inflict torture on another. It’s a stunning doc from beginning to end, and includes interviews with the actual soldiers charged in the scandal. It is a searing account of an incident that hurt us as a country, and continues to provoke strong feelings.
The reason I recommend this film is that at the time of the scandal, Donald Rumsfeld had said it was ‘a few bad apples’ and ‘Animal House on night shift’ that caused the abuse of prisoners. In this doc, we get to hear the other side. It becomes apparent through the middle that the shame of Abu Ghraib is not about those at the bottom. I won’t ruin the great storytelling involved by giving too many details, but I will say this: this is one of the most gripping documentaries I’ve ever seen. And with all the discussion about human rights and terrorism taking place in the United States, this film is a historical resource. It’s not a cut-and-paste, Michael Moore-type slant, but a presentation of facts little-known by many Americans. Most people have seen the pictures of the ‘human pyramid’, ‘the man on the box’ and Lynndie England with the ‘man on leash’. The pictures became a rallying cry for al-Qaeda and terrorists around the world. But watching “Ghosts Of Abu Ghraib”, I found out this was a failure at the highest levels of government.
Throughout, there are also interviews with Iraqi prisoners held in the prison during the time of the scandal, and it is heartbreaking to hear these men talk about their circumstances. Trying to imagine something like this happening in America is unthinkable, and the film really drives home the problem with unlimited power by individuals in a free society. We simply cannot let people abuse power and ignore law, no matter what the justification. For those who support what happened, I challenge them to watch this movie. I’ve seen this documentary at least 8 times, and though the content is disturbing it continues to make an impact on me. Now that’s a good film.
Documentaries are a labor of love. They don’t make big money, and they usually don’t get wide release. But they serve an important purpose. They preserve truth when people try to revise history. And that’s a worthy cause.