"Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" Uncovers Firsthand Stories of Abuse
It's been over two and a half years since the publication of the notorious photos depicting the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody at Abu Ghraib prison. While a small number of low-ranking soldiers have been prosecuted, the Bush administration has refused to hold high-level officials accountable for creating the policies and tolerating a permissive climate that resulted in these abuses.
In a powerful new documentary, acclaimed filmmaker Rory Kennedy investigates the abuse and torture of prisoners in the infamous Iraqi prison. "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" features interviews with prisoners, court-martialed abusers, witnesses of the abuse, military personnel and legal experts, among others.
Rory Kennedy talked about the film with Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Director of the ACLU's National Security Program, in an exclusive podcast interview. The ACLU has challenged the Bush administration's detention and torture practices to ensure that protecting our country does not come at the expense of our freedom or the values that most Americans hold dear.
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“Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” debuted in January at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, and made its television premiere in February on HBO. The ACLU hosted a screening and discussion of the film in NYC on March 14. For more information on "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," visit the official site at www.hbo.com.
A year ago I set out to explore how ordinary people, given certain circumstances, are capable of carrying out extraordinary acts of violence.
Historically, across cultures, there are many examples of this — genocides where neighbor turned against neighbor, friend against friend. For me, the unanswered question linking all of them was, what were the factors, the precise circumstances that made such destruction and horror possible?
Starting with this broad inquiry, I soon narrowed the focus of the film. It became apparent that the story that needed to be told was the story of Abu Ghraib. Not only was this a story of violence and torture and acts of real evil, but it was also a contemporary story, here and now — a story about ourselves. My intention would be to look at the personal and psychological make ups of those most directly involved. How could our American soldiers be capable of such monstrous acts? What could possibly have motivated them?
The photographs that emerged from Abu Ghraib were so shocking that they instantly became the defining images of all that has gone wrong with the war in Iraq (and perhaps America, too). And yet, at the same time, we know very little about their genesis. They are images that each of us has been forced to fashion our own narratives around, to formulate our own explanations, because too many questions have remained unanswered. Who were the people in the pictures? Who were the victims? Who chose to participate in the abuse and why?
As I did more research and interviewed those directly involved with the abuses at Abu Ghraib, it became impossible to avoid the fact that policies had been put into place that allowed for this culture of torture to percolate.
The story of what went on at Abu Ghraib is very complex and layered, far from black and white. I hope that this film sheds some light on what exactly took place at the prison and how those horrific acts and the photographs of them came to be. If the images are a mirror of America, a window into our potential to morally transgress, then we need to look at them more deeply, to face them, to try to understand them. If we are to exorcise the ghosts of Abu Ghraib, we can no longer turn away from what we might see. Otherwise, it may just happen again.
— Rory Kennedy, December 2006