That citizens of this country suffer from "war fatigue" is unconscionable. War documentary fatigue, however, is forgivable. The slimy trails left behind by films like Outfoxed, Control Room, and Bush's Brain (not to mention all the fictional bombs) have stuck our feet to the floor—outside the theater. After all, who wants shell out 10 bucks to be told, yet again, what an idiot Donald Rumsfeld is? Thankfully, Errol Morris' Standard Operating Procedure, which examines the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, avoids any partisan traps.
The story is simply told by the ones who were there, including the now infamous Lynndie England, the slight, short-haired woman caught literally holding the leash and posing with scores of nude, hooded Iraqi prisoners. Surprisingly, England's constantly smug tone indicates little or no remorse; she explains her actions as the result of "blinding love" for a fellow soldier. Besides England, there are other, more sympathetic players—many of whom seemed to be caught in the worst place at a very wrong time.
The star witnesses, however—and the most compelling and profound characters in the film—are the photographs of what went down at Abu Ghraib, most of which are far more gruesome and degrading than those appearing in the mainstream news. There are hundreds of them.
For visual spice, Morris adds fantastically shot, visceral re-creations of the many horrors of Abu Ghraib: the snarling dogs, the dripping interrogations, the scraping along raw cold cement, the rust and deep squalor that colors Saddam's former prison.
What Standard Operating Procedure unexpectedly illuminates is that a few, select members of the small, under-trained group of MPs assigned to Abu Ghraib are as much to blame as our government's poor oversight. Standard Operating Procedure jabs at the higher echelon's responsibility, but is ultimately unable to make tangible headway in implicating any top officials. What it can do, however, is tell us that indeed there were, as President Bush said, a few rotten apples at Abu Ghraib—severely sadistic, deeply perverted cranks who themselves deserve no better than the abuse they doled out.