Friday, October 17, 2008

Because Gilligan Won't Go Away

It was Halloween night 2004, not too long after the most haunting photos of the new millennium had been released. Halfway through my smoke trout salad at the Atlas Cafe at 21st and Alabama, I looked up to see two adult trick or treaters. A young woman in fatigues with a cigarette dangling from her lips was followed by a barefoot man in the familiar black cape and hood that would later be attributed to "Gilligan". He pulled out a small wood box, stood in crucifix position while the young woman winked and pointed at him, and -- in unison -- the two sneered "trick or treat".

A third of my fellow diners laughed, another third sneered or muttered "tasteless" and another third, like me, stared bewildered. When one woman finally shouted out "You should be ashamed of yourself", the guy in the black hood pulled it off and cackled "Lighten up lady, it's not as if we have blood on our hands."

Nearly four years later, that image is as potent as ever and one to summon up in the midst of the far less important issues of Joe the Plumber, Levi and Bristol, Bill Ayers, the crazy "He's an Arab" lady in Minnesota or even the stock market.

While much hoopla has been trumpeting today's release of W., I am glad that instead I spent last night watching this week's DVD release of Erroll Morris' Standard Operating Procedure. I've been so burned out on so many doom and gloom documentaries over the past nightmarish years that I wondered if I had the energy for it. I gave up on self-righteous blow-hard Michael Moore about five years ago, but I've always admired much of Morris' approach. Though he almost goes too far the opposite direction of Moore of distancing himself from his subjects who sometimes drone on senselessly without him taking the reins or giving the context we need.

The crimes of the past eight years committed in the name of the United States are so endless that it's easy to erase or ignore them. But taking such an intense look at just Abu Ghraib was a sobering reminder of just how great they are how crucial changing course is to the future of humanity.

There are very few facts or images in SOP that I had not already seen or read over the past four years, but not in such a dense and intense two hour viewing. While Oliver Stone seems to be intent to give the full tragic arch of the Bush administration and larger family dynasty, this film does a far better job without ever really mentioning the administration and with only one flash second image of W. and Rumsfeld.

There is not a single, completely positive character on camera among the various, mainly low ranking members of the military who took the brunt of the blame. It's excruciating to watch Lynndie England who was the poster child of the events. She is as dull witted and unenlightened as ever as she mumbles "....we didn't kill anybody..." and at 25 is puffy and could pass for a woman twice that age. Yet as I read her biography elsewhere and noted that she went into the military in order to get out of a low wage night job, there is a certain tragedy to her fate. Not that it excuses what she did but gives it a weird poignancy and tragedy that is hard to reconcile with her seeming absence or remorse or understanding.

Even harder to reconcile is Sabrina Harman -- the "thumbs up" photographer who would later claim she posed with corpses to expose wrong-doing -- who still has a muted sparkle about her. She owns up to what was wrong, but it's hard to tell how much of her is real and how much is her own invention. Just as the documentary, which relies heavily on suspicious "re-enactments", sometimes seems suspect, it also points out that photographs don't exactly lie but also don't reveal the entire truth.

After two hours, it was clear that this is not even the tip of the iceberg but the misty air above the iceberg of cold-hearted crimes committed in the name of democracy.

In the end, the Iraqi prisoners remained nameless and just the photographs of naked, hooded, frightened men we have seen over and over. Likely some have committed crimes of some sort, but most are probably just as they are described -- cab drivers, shepherds, news stand operators -- hauled up, tortured, raped, humiliated and fodder for the economic and moral bankruptcy of the U.S.

I came away feeling worse about the country where I live but also feeling less blinded and numb to all that has taken place and hoping it's not too late to change course.

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At 7:06 AM, Blogger Salty Miss Jill said...

Tasteless, insensitive humor or political commentary dressed up for Halloweeen? That lies in the eyes of the beholder.
A freind of mine dressed up as Jackie Kennedy after the asassination once. In the 70's. In Oklahoma City. AND won all the costume contests.

At 10:04 AM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Jill - I guess it's just a reflection of the times. Halloween costumes are probably both a commentary and emotional release.

At 2:44 PM, Blogger Steve said...

The part of this that hits home for me is your description of Lynndie England as another sort of tragic participant. That is absolutely true, just as it's true of all our soldiers who were shipped off needlessly to some foreign hellhole and are trying to keep themselves sane and honorable while working under vague directives and an uncertain sense of purpose. Lynndie England's story IS tragic. Though she and the others involved in Abu Ghraib certainly transgressed, and their behavior and all those photos are chilling, there's a lot of "man's inhumanity to man" here to go around.

At 2:59 PM, Blogger Ladrón de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

Steve - I agree that Ms. England deserved to be punished, but clearly the higher ups were not even given a slap on their bloody hands. Just as Pinochet was finally brought to justice, I hope that some day Cheney or Rumsfeld are arrested while on holiday and then brought to trial.


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