Monday, June 29, 2009

Standard Operating Procedure

This American Life was about "Fall Guys" this week, and one of the stories was about Lynndie England, the woman who was in the most publicized of the photos that came out of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. The interview of Lynndie England was taken from material gathered for the movie "Standard Operating Procedure", a documentary that came out last year.

I always tried to avoid thinking about Abu Ghraib too much. The photos repulsed and enraged me, and made me ashamed to be an American. After hearing the interview with Ms. England, I decided to watch the film, get a little more perspective and understanding. I suppose I got both, but I also ended up with a lot more questions.

The filmmakers interviewed most of the people who appear in the photos, as well as a civilian contractor who was in the prison at times and a few other people.

It's gut-wrenching to hear these people, some of whom it's easy to have sympathy for, describing what happened in each photo. They can all justify what happened, especially as they were "just following orders". They saw the detainees as criminals and terrorists at best, and sub-human at worst. They saw themselves as defending our freedoms as Americans, as watching the backs of their "battle buddies", as protecting their own lives in a war zone.

I wish I could just write them off as psychotic villians or hapless victims, but they're neither. If I put myself in their shoes, can I reasonably say I would have protested? I can say with confidence that I would not have participated, but to hear them explain "I was just taking the picture" or "they just told me to jump in the photo" or "I didn't really know what they were doing, so I didn't say anything"...can I really say that I would be stronger or braver than that?

When I see injustice around me on a less dramatic scale, am I strong and brave enough? Or, as Derek Webb sings, "I don't know the sufferings of people outside my front door, and I join the oppressors of those I choose to ignore. I'm trading comfort for human life, and that's not just murder, it's suicide, and this too shall be made right."


karyn said...

I learned the hard way to stop viewing the world from an "I'd never do that" perspective. It's astounding what we're capable of when left to our own devices, and I've learned that I simply can't predict how I'll react with my back to the wall. Sometimes I think the best we can do is hope that in those moments, the darkest ones in which we are most likely to fail, the Holy Spirit kicks in stronger than our fear.

You and I are so much the same, but you are a few steps ahead of me, I think. You're like the me I'd like to be when I grow up. Thanks for the blog, beautiful girl.

thatoneguy said...

Thankfully, we have a powerful God.

karyn said...