Friday, April 25, 2008


You may be aware that there's an internet "comic" called Married To The Sea. It's created by the husband-and-wife tag team who independently author Toothpaste for Dinner and NatalieDee, respectively. It's hilarious, so you should read it. Here's a recent piece:


A couple days ago, a show I like on NPR interviewed Errol Morris about his new documentary, Standard Operating Procedure, opening today in New York City and around the country over the next few weeks. It's about an 8 minute interview, and you can listen to it here. You can also listen to David Edelstein's short review of the film here.

Morris' film is about the Abu Ghraib prison torture incident and scandal from 2003, specifically the many photographs that document the events. The film is an attempt to look behind the pictures, to present their context and background, to delve into the standard operating procedures already in place before the photos were taken. Morris wants to point out that the pictures by themselves can leave us with the impression that only a few people committed a few unusual acts, but that in truth the photographs depict soldiers at the bottom of an entire chain of command, enacting abuses that were part of the standard operating procedure. You can view an official trailer for the film here.

There are a few things in the radio interview that troubled me. First, hearing Lynndie England speak in defense of her actions was surprising. Second, I was sickened by the all-too-familiar attempt to excuse torture by characterizing it as the use of mere "stress positions." Third, the information about Sabrina Harman (the army reservist who took many of the photos at Abu Ghraib) and Manadel al-Jamadi (one of the people who was murdered in the prison) was startling.

I'll quote the director, Errol Morris:

"But let me give you one example - I would prefer that the audience thinks about it themselves rather than allow me to tell them what to think. There's one photograph, [where] Sabrina Harman is smiling with her thumb up over the corpse of a man named al-Jamadi. People saw the photograph and were appauled, and I might add, myself included. Well guess what? She had nothing whatsoever to do with this man's death. The top eschelons of the chain of command were involved in trying to cover up the murder. The commanding office had told her, "This is a heart attack victim." Without Sabrina Harman's photographs, we would never know about this crime. A crime which she herself was in no way, in no way involved with. Under another set of circumstances she would get a Pulitzer Prize in photography. And yet this is how it went down: the people involved with the crime and the people involved with the cover-up have never ever been punished. The only person threatened with punishment over al-Jamadi's death was Sabrina Harman for taking a picture. And you have to ask yourself, what is the crime? Is the crime photography? Is the crime embarassing the administration, embarassing the military, embarassing America? Or is the crime murder?"

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