Abu Ghraib: ‘pretty scary’
January 17, 2007
We were just following orders has been the notorious explanation for people who committed wartime atrocities in the past.
A filmmaker says she heard the same sort of explanation as she delved into the Abu Ghraib episode, trying to figure out how ordinary American soldiers could abuse prisoners in Iraq.
Rory Kennedy, who directed the Sundance Film Festival documentary "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," says military police officers who served at Abu Ghraib told the moviemakers that they were following orders from above.
"We were told to do this. This was coming from people up the chain of command," says Kennedy, the 38-year-old daughter of the slain Robert F. Kennedy.
She claims that the photos that emerged from the prison show methods that were authorized by top military officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The secretary declined an interview request from the filmmakers, Kennedy says.
"Ninety-five percent of what you see in the photographs was authorized by people up the command," Kennedy says.
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Kennedy says she was determined to make the film after the photographs of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib were publicized. When she saw them, Kennedy says her feeling was "one of great sadness for our country and for us and the people we did this to."
"What happened at Abu Ghraib is pretty scary, unsettling stuff," she says.
In the documentary, the filmmakers interview former detainees at Abu Ghraib and people involved in shaping the policy, including the general who commanded Abu Ghraib. The interviews of the ex-detainees took place in Turkey and Kennedy says she did not enter Iraq to make the film.
They told Kennedy "very disturbing, upsetting stories," she says, and they described their experience in "very graphic terms."
The detainees told her that they were "shocked and horrified" by the Americans. They said they had different ideas of Americans before their incarceration, she says.
"We always thought America was the human-rights advocate, the moral center of the world," the detainees said, according to Kennedy.
The documentary, which was shot in 2006, will be Kennedy’s third entry into Sundance.
Kennedy says people interviewed in the film urge the government to conduct an independent investigation into Abu Ghraib. With the Democrats in power in Congress, Kennedy says there is a "good chance" such a probe will occur.
"It has to happen. We can’t go forward," she says about an investigation.
She says the film covers information not reported by the mainstream media and says it contains images that have not been published widely.
Kennedy says she explores the idea that soldiers follow the orders of their superiors regardless of what they are told to do. The soldiers, she says, are young, frequently teen-agers, who go through basic training and learn to listen to their leaders.
"Don’t question it, just do it," she says about the theory.
She says soldiers through history have done the same but claims that Abu Ghraib is unusual for Americans because, Kennedy says, the higher-ups were supportive.
"What was different about Abu Ghraib was that it was a policy approved by people up the command," Kennedy says.
"Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" is scheduled to show five times during Sundance. Screenings are: Jan. 19 at 2:30 p.m. at the Prospector Square Theatre, Jan. 20 at 10 a.m. at Holiday Village Cinema, Jan. 20 at 9 p.m. at Broadway Centre Cinemas in Salt Lake City, Jan. 24 at 3:15 p.m. at Holiday Village Cinema and Jan. 26 at 11:30 a.m. at Holiday Village Cinema.