Standard Operating Procedure: A War Story by Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris is on one level yet another book talking about the Iraq conflict, on another level it is a classic tale of realpolitik and the malaise of bureaucracy: a lack of resources, ignorance and revenge provided the ideal conditions to produce a barbaric regime for the interrogation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Standard Operating Procedure shows how the slow descent into barbarity relies as much on good people being prepared to do nothing as much as the actions of the main protagonists. If Gourevitch has any fault in this work, it is that he fails to find anyone guilty at all, since the blame is spread widely and thinly like peanut butter in a sandwich. The real issue is that most people involved are guilty and Gourevitch is has failed to give us his opinion and point out where he thinks that the buck should stop.
Is it the gung-ho general staff who want results? Is it the private contractor firms working with the intelligence services who are using staff with a wide variance in their range of expertise? Or is it the US Army for not giving the soldiers the skills and authority to run their jail like a jail? Maybe it’s a confluence of all of the above.
From a PR perspective it is interesting how photography which was taken to document the unusual as a kind of CYA (cover your ass) tactic by the soldiers involved. Instead the photography ended up being used as the stick to beat them with.
The power of the photographs was their weakness rather than their strength. The reason for this was that we the public, were not interested in the context around the apparent stories that the pictures told. More book reviews here.