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Standard Operating Procedure Hardcover – May 15, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Here, author and journalist Gourevitch and documentary filmmaker Morris have compiled the complete story of Abu Ghraib, from Iraqi prison to prison of occupying American forces, and the crimes its walls concealed-only some of which were revealed in photographs that hit the global media in 2003. Drawing from Morris's lengthy interviews with the soldiers who photographed and participated in prisoner abuse, the authors render in clear detail the horror and inhumanity of Abu Ghraib, for prisoner and guard alike: "Inexperienced, untrained, under attack, and under orders to do wrong, the low-ranking reservist MPs who implemented the nefarious policy... knew that what they were doing was immoral, and they knew that if it wasn't illegal, it ought to be." From the squalid conditions to the lack of regulations to the appalling acts that jolted the world, this chronicle of unconscionable behavior, and the political maneuvering that took place in its aftermath, is as much a page-turner as any fictional thriller. Companion to Morris's documentary film of the same name, this deft piece of reportage will stir readers' anger, at both the actions and the consequences; not only was the torture purposeless ("Nobody has even bothered to pretend otherwise"), but "no soldier above the rank of sergeant ever served jail time... and Nobody was ever charged with torture, or war crimes, or any violation of the Geneva Conventions." A thorough, terrifying account of an American-made "bedlam," the latest from Gourevitch is as troubling, and arguably as important, as his 1998 Rwanda investigation We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will be Killed with Our Families.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


" A compelling story . . . [Standard Operating Procedure] shows how lawlessness became the law."
-Los Angeles Times

"This book has to be read."
-Newsweek --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; 1 edition (April 3, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594201323
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594201325
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,526,836 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
For an American, this is an extremely upsetting book. Actually, for a human being, it is very upsetting, but we Americans have prided ourselves (or at least I was so raised) on being especially civilized, especially humane, and especially respectful of human rights and dignity. Once again, however, we are confronted with our baseness, our inhumanity, our hubris, and our hypocrisy.

I had not followed closely the news as it broke of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, indelibly and graphically documented via photographs. So STANDARD OPERATING PROCUEDURE is essentially my introduction to yet another disgrace, yet another blot on America's honor. (To cite just one example, which does not figure prominently in the book: how on earth can a decent society condone, much less actually practice on a regular basis, incarcerating ten-year-old children in a vile prison, based not on any suspicion that they were criminals or terrorists, but simply as pawns in the military's effort to capture or break their fathers?)

STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE is reasonably well-written and, from everything I can tell from internal evidence, the product of a scrupulous effort to be objective. And it certainly is sensitive to all aspects -- whether good, bad, or indifferent -- of the personality and character of the central actors.

What the book does not tell us -- something that may well be impossible to ascertain -- is who really is to blame for these atrocities. I am not referring to the everyday political "blame game"; whether or not the war in Iraq was ill-advised and launched with faulty or fictitious intelligence or with unworthy motives, Abu Ghraib cannot be placed solely at the feet of George W. Bush and the rest of his administration.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By teacher on July 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
It is a credit to the prose that a subject so upsetting could become a compelling work of literature, which is what this is. A harrowing descent into hell, a meditation on moral complexity, and a sad indictment of what's become of us. The book manages the genuine trick of compassion, to be astutely objective and subjective simultaneously. This is not only a story of Abu Ghraib, of American hubris, but also of human aspiration and folly. Truly a great war book. Stunning read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is about what happened at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, not when Saddam Hussein was in charge, but rather after Iraq was "liberated" by the Americans, with token assistance from some other countries. The infamous photos taken there do not appear in this book, and the decision to exclude them was made prior to writing the book, as Philip Gourevitch says in the section entitled "Notes and Acknowledgments." Those photographs have been burned into the brain of most of the world's sentient beings. This book is the story behind those photographs, capturing the circumstances involved in their taking; that may not be conveyed, or possibly are even distorted by the image itself. This book is not for the "fun read" crowd, and it is certainly not inspirational nor uplifting. Of course no one is more aware of this than the author, who over half way through the book says: "Surely, if you have come this far in this sordid tale, you must crave some relief, some release, from the relentless, claustrophobic annihilation of the dungeon: a clear and cleansing note of sanity, an interlude of avenging justice or an eruption of decency, the entry of a hero. But surely you don't want to be deceived. There is no such solace or sanctuary in this story. Abu Ghraib was bedlam..." And that is the true horror of this tale; there is not even one "uplifting moment." The very heart of darkness, indeed.

And the heart of the story concerns the individuals who took, and appeared in those photos, much, I'm sure to their regret. Most of the aforementioned sentient beings can recall the name of one: Lynndie England. Yes, she is the one who was holding the leash which was connected to an Iraqi prisoner on all fours. Perhaps the iconic image of the war.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By B. J. Olson on May 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
In response to the 3-star review by "Little Teacher on the Prarie [sic]":

I would refer those who are curious or disappointed about the absence of photographs in this book to a NYT op-ed by co-author, Phillip Gourevitch ([...]), from which I have culled the pertinent excerpts that follow.

"... Who are we trying to fool, if not ourselves, if we pretend that we need more photos to know what has been going on?

Crime-scene photographs, for all their power to reveal, can also serve as a distraction, even a deterrent, from precise understanding of the events they depict. Photographs cannot show us a chain of command, or Washington decision making. Photographs cannot tell stories. They can only provide evidence of stories, and evidence is mute; it demands investigation and interpretation.

I spent more than a year living with the photographs from Abu Ghraib while writing a book about the soldiers who took them and appeared in them. I saw many more pictures than were ever published in the press, including, I believe, many -- if not most -- of the photos that the president would now prefer that you don't see.

Yet in order to tell the story of the pictures most effectively, I decided not to include any of them in the book. I had more than two million words of interviews to work with, and as many words again of government paperwork, and in this way I could show that most of the worst things that happened at Abu Ghraib were never photographed. What those soldier-photographers revealed to us with their cameras was just a hint of what they have to tell us if only we would listen.
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