When the shocking photographs of prisoners being humiliated and abused by guards at Abu Ghraib surfaced in 2004, America — used to thinking of itself as the good guy — and the world were appalled. In Standard Operating Procedure, the beautifully made, deeply unsettling, and surprisingly illuminating documentary by Errol Morris (in select theaters 4/25), the filmmaker attempts to explore the context outside the photographs. Was this just a few bruised-by-war bad apples? Or could it be that these images pointed to something even more sinister at work in the post-9/11 culture of the U.S. military and intelligence chains of command?
As in his previous films like The Fog of War and The Thin Blue Line, Morris’s investigative research and unflinching fair-mindedness are extraordinary — but the most compelling moments occur when the young soldiers featured in the photographs (the filmmakers enlisted almost all the principals, including the much-reviled Lynndie England) attempt to tell their side of the story. By the end of the movie, you’ll be left with (and haunted by) more questions than answers about what really happened at Abu Ghraib.
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