Saturday, October 25, 2008

Standard Operating Procedure/Taxi to the Dark Side

Standard Operating Procedure (Errol Morris, 2008) [5]/Taxi to the Dark Side (Alex Gibney, 2007) [6]

Both of these documentaries deal with the issue of interrogation and torture in regards to the War on Terror with varying degrees of effectiveness. Morris's film leaves some serious questions left hanging in the wind and Gibney's film needs to focus.

Standard Operating Procedure deals exclusively with the scandal that erupted out of Abu Gharaib and the now famous pictures that leaked out. Morris employs his trademark style and questions those directly involved in the situations involved in the pictures. The problem is that Morris doesn't get any deeper than where the situation already is. Everyone involved says they were just following orders but the film never manages to pinpoint the culprits beyond the low ranking MPs in the pictures. What did we learn from this? That Lyndie England is a country bumpkin? That her rationale was she was in love with a man who appears to be a borderline sadist seems like the perfect explanation. The real problem hinges on Sabrina Harman, who is meant to be the voice of reason in Morris's construction. That Harman had private misgiving about the prisoner abuse but never raised her voice and was the main photographer/documenter of the instances of abuse don't add up to what Morris wants us to believe. Sure, what happened at Abu Gharaib was beyond just a bunch of "schmuck MPs" acting foolishly but by never being an attack dog, Morris slips off the high ground and ultimately, SOP holds no one sufficiently accountable.

While Taxi to the Dark Side definitely has more partisan bite in it, it suffers from a lack of focus that definitely lessens the blow it should have had. Gibney uses the instance of a Afghani taxi driver imprisoned and ultimately murdered in U.S. military custody as a springboard to venture in the Abu Gharaib mess and the overall issue of "enhanced interrigation techniques." If Gibney would just stick to the story of Dilawar, the cab driver and how the military's own death certificate listed his death as murder, and stuck to it, it would be much more effective. Instead, he uses that one scenario to make a case against the entire system the U.S. has set up in this war on terror when this specific case make all his points for him. But at least unlike Morris, he lets his partisan outrage show, something that SOP tries all too hard to supress. While not perfect, at least these films push the issue of the Bush Administration's gross overstepping of the law and morality in general in their conduct of these wars.

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