Standard Operating Procedure: A War Story by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris
January 31, 2009   By:    Book Review, Detainee Abuse   Comments are off   //   340 Views

The Sunday Times paperback review by Nick Rennison

A frightened man, leashed like a dog, is taken for a ‘walk’ by a smiling young woman. Another man stands, hooded, on a box. His arms are outstretched, like Christ on the cross, and he has what appears to be electric wires attached to them. Half a dozen naked, anonymous figures, stacked on top of one another to form a human pyramid, are watched over by a man and a woman who are grinning at the camera and giving the thumbs-up.

When photos were made public of what Gourevitch and Morris call the ‘unhinged variety show’ that some American soldiers staged at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, worldwide outrage turned them into defining icons of the American occupation of the country. How could such inhumanity become so commonplace that the guards couldn’t see anything amiss in what they were doing? Official inquiries blamed only the individuals involved directly in the events at the prison.

This book, brilliantly constructed from the words and testimony of those present at Abu Ghraib, reveals just how culpability lay with the makers of wider American policy in Iraq. The potential for cruelty was written into the system from the beginning. ‘At that time, in that place,’ one of the guards is here reported as saying, ‘it was the norm.’ Standard Operating Procedure is a disturbing indictment of those higher up the chain of command who allowed, and often encouraged, it to become so.

Standard Operating Procedure by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris
Picador £8.99

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