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Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (2007)

Rory Kennedy  |  NR |  DVD
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Directors: Rory Kennedy
  • Writers: Jack Youngelson
  • Producers: Rory Kennedy, Liz Garbus, Jack Youngelson
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: Unknown
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: HBO Studios
  • DVD Release Date: June 5, 2007
  • Run Time: 78 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000NY0YK4
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #145,118 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" on IMDb

Special Features

  • Over 30 minutes of previously unseen footage

Editorial Reviews

What was perhaps the most disgraceful episode in U.S. military history is examined in director Rory Kennedy's Ghosts of Abu Ghraib. By now there can't be many folks who aren't at least somewhat familiar with what went on at that notorious Baghdad prison in 2003, when U.S soldiers abused and mistreated--some would say tortured--Iraqi detainees (every one of whom was eventually released without charges). Yet while those acts were atrocious and unforgivable, perhaps even more troubling is the philosophy behind them. As Kennedy lays it out, the United States began committing violations of the Geneva Conventions, particularly the ones that prohibit torture, well before the invasion of Iraq and the incarceration of literally thousands of people at the dilapidated Abu Ghraib facility. Employing the kind of linguistic tap-dancing often used by the Bush administration to justify its actions, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others defined their captives not as prisoners of war but as "unlawful combatants," opening the door for the use of such "extreme techniques" as nudity and sexual humiliation, "stress positions" (such as standing on a rickety box wearing a sensory-deprivation hood), and intimidation by vicious dogs; while some photos of these activities have been widely circulated before, many of the shots we see here are much more explicit and, since they're in color, considerably more lurid. As for how and why these afffonts to basic human dignity were allowed, it's tough to find anyone actually willing to take responsibility. The guards who did the deeds, several of whom were interviewed for the documentary, say they were under-trained and far too few in number; their superiors say their pleas for additional support were ignored; and while the military brass and government bureaucrats were content to blame "a few bad soldiers" (like Pvt. Lynndie England and Sgt. Charles Graner, both of whom are now serving jail sentences), the suggestion here is that what went on at Abu Ghraib was less an aberration than a manifestation of defined government policy (the fact that no one appears on camera to refute these charges casts some doubt on Kennedy's objectivity). The director's audio commentary and extended interviews are the principal bonus features. --Sam Graham

Product Description

In this emotionally jarring piece from HBO Documentary Films, award-winning filmmaker Rory Kennedy explores the dark events that occurred in 2003 at Abu Ghraib, the infamous Iraqi prison. Interweaving news and archival footage, unsettling still photos of the crimes, and eyewitness accounts from military personnel and victims, The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib offers new insights into these events. The result is a startling look at how extreme situations can give rise to abusive behavior among soldiers, as well as how the chain of command and even US policy set the stage for these abuses to occur.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
112 of 112 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Will Haunt Americans Forever July 8, 2008
"Continue!" commanded the experimenter. The volunteer did as he was told even though he thought he was providing extraordinarily painful levels of shock to the actor in the next room. All the volunteers did as they were told with the majority administering "lethal" levels at 450 volts. A psychologist named Dr. Stanley Milgram conducted this experiment at Yale in 1961. This is how Rory Kennedy's film begins.

Forty-two years later the United States is taking Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. But how should they be classified, as prisoners of war? John Yoo, counsel at the Department of Justice explains that these "detainees" do not fit the description of prisoners of war, and therefore, are not afforded the protections the Convention provides. Furthermore, it is believed that these detainees have information vital to the war on terror, and it must be gotten from them. But, once again, John Yoo is perplexed by the wording of the Geneva Convention which forbids "severe" treatment of prisoners. "What does that mean," Yoo asks the camera. He suggests that it should only describe loss of bodily functions, organ failure, or death. Yoo does not note for us that the last two are usually too late to reverse the technique. By this standard, Japanese officers executed after World War II for torturing allies did not commit torture at all--not even Saddam Hussein! The White House agrees with Yoo's assessment and decides that those in their custody will not be given protection under the Geneva Convention.

Now, it's a question of how to get information. Major General Geoffrey Miller (USA) is transferred from Guantanamo to Iraq. He believes that information must be obtained at all costs.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hang our American heads in shame. July 12, 2008
This would-that-it-were-incredible film starts and nearly ends with an early 1960s study entitled "Obedience" in which psychologists concluded that people will, if given adequate direction from perceived authority, perform in ways contrary to their ethics. (All right, it's a run on...Forgive me.)

After the Iraq debacle began, presidential counsel Alberto Gonzales redefined torture so as to UNdefine it, thereby justifying anything this country did. Then Iraqi prisoners were taken into Abu Ghraib.

Interesting, but the troops interviewed for the film reflected on how badly prisoners there at Abu Ghraib were treated by Saddam's regime, how many, for example, had been brutally executed there. Interesting, huh?

The MPs were eventually taken from the Abu Ghraib and military intelligence was given a more active role. Unfortunately, the interrogators weren't getting any information. God forbid, did it occur to them that the prisoners didn't have any information to give? Apparently not.

So the army felt it would make more sense to get a very Rumsfeld kinda guy, Gen. Geoffrey Miller, from Gitmo which was/is notorious for their getting information despite "techniques" used. (Note that just yesterday the Red Cross's report was released which indicated that what the US is doing in Gitmo IS torture, and it IS a war crime.)

This is apparently when "mistreatment" of prisoners occurred. They were sexually humiliated, electrocuted, all sorts of techniques of torture you have to see the film to believe that those purporting to represent "democracy" would practice.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The *real* ghosts of Abu Ghraib July 31, 2007
This is a potentially good movie that could have greatly furthered the worldwide debate on policies of torture by the United States government. In the end, though, the film falls victim to its own sort of narrow, self-limiting vision of America.

One appropriate subtitle for this movie might well have been: "What happens to good people who are caught up in bad situations". Filmmaker Rory Kennedy makes the point, in the movie and her audio commentary, that the low-level U.S. military guards at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq who were caught in those embarrassing torture photos seen round the world were basically "sweet" and "likable" young people who were scapegoated by the Pentagon and the Bush administration.

But what is most disturbing with that story line is that not one of those former American guards, neither men nor women -- and Kennedy admittedly scores a filmmaking coup in getting them to talk on camera about their experiences at Abu Ghraib -- ever shows anything resembling remorse about participating in torture against innocent Iraqi people. The closest they get to that in this film is when one male U.S. soldier cries over the death of an Iraqi man in his custody, though that death was only marginally related to Abu Ghraib. It is left up to one Iraqi torture victim at Abu Ghraib, who openly weeps at the memory of the torture-induced death of his elderly father at Abu Ghraib, to give this movie any real emotional depth.

Or if that subtitle doesn't grab you, another suitable subtitle for this film might well be: "Made of the American people, by the American people, for the American people". The former Iraqi detainees of Abu Ghraib are the only "non-Americans" featured in interviewees throughout this film. It's all "us, we, our" among the U.S.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly Structured Examination of an American Atrocity
Beginning with an overview of Milgram's 1961 "Obedience" experiment, this film documents the way in which military policies set by Rumsfeld and General Miller percolated downwards... Read more
Published 13 months ago by R. Borneman
4.0 out of 5 stars The reality...
There is no excuse for the actions of the troops during the Abu Ghraib incidents. However, before people feel the need to judge others understand that these men and women were... Read more
Published on December 2, 2009 by Rachel E. Shilakes
5.0 out of 5 stars The experiment requires that You continue
Every one should watch this, talk about it, and realize that the evil in human nature is about 2 steps away at all times. The only ones of us that are any "good" at all... Read more
Published on March 9, 2008 by Joseph M. Guerrieri
4.0 out of 5 stars An important, provocative film
Another film I saw at Sundance in 2007 before its release on HBO. Provocative and hard hitting film with more access than you'd think possible. Read more
Published on January 10, 2008 by I. C. Turner
4.0 out of 5 stars Wake up people!
Should be an eye opener to anyone who has a heart and half a brain.While the film does not concentrate enough on the government cover-up it shows enough that should alarm any... Read more
Published on October 18, 2007 by conspiracy 'NUT'
1.0 out of 5 stars A Disgrace
I am not sure what is more disgraceful: the soldier's behavior at Abu Ghraib or Rory Kennedy's attempts to rationalize and frame their actions. Read more
Published on July 8, 2007 by 13 Fox
4.0 out of 5 stars "There's no such thing as a little bit of torture"
Just looking at video footage of Abu Ghraib prison is enough to set you on edge due to its eerie environment and knowing the sinister past it played under Saddam Hussein's regime. Read more
Published on June 12, 2007 by Kyle Tolle
5.0 out of 5 stars Scarier than ghosts...
In a political science class of mine the other day, my professor popped in this film and gave no intro, except to say the title. Read more
Published on April 29, 2007 by M. Miller
4.0 out of 5 stars Abu Ghraib: A Very Public Scandal Revisited In A New Documentary
I'm fearful of treading into politics, but I will attempt to be as nonpartisan as possible. Having just viewed the new documentary "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" by Rory Kennedy, I do... Read more
Published on March 14, 2007 by K. Harris
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