What I Discovered from The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib

A year ago I set out to explore how ordinary people, given certain circumstances, are capable of carrying out extraordinary acts of violence.

Historically, across cultures, there are many examples of this -- genocides where neighbor turned against neighbor, friend against friend. For me, the unanswered question linking all of them was, what were the factors, the precise circumstances that made such destruction and horror possible?

Starting with this broad inquiry, I soon narrowed the focus of the film. It became apparent that the story that needed to be told was the story of Abu Ghraib. Not only was this a story of violence and torture, but it was also a contemporary story, here and now -- a story about ourselves. My intention would be to look at the personal and psychological make ups of those most directly involved. How could our American soldiers be capable of such monstrous acts? What could possibly have motivated them?

The photographs that emerged from Abu Ghraib were so shocking that they instantly became the defining images of all that has gone wrong with the war in Iraq (and perhaps America, too). And yet, at the same time, we know very little about their genesis. They are images that each of us has been forced to fashion our own narratives around, to formulate our own explanations, because too many questions have remained unanswered. Who were the people in the pictures? Who were the victims? Who chose to participate in the abuse and why?

As I did more research and interviewed those directly involved with the abuses at Abu Ghraib, it became clear that policies had been put into place that allowed for this culture of torture to percolate. In other words, our young, strong and vital American soldiers were told to abuse prisoners by their superiors.

The story of what went on at Abu Ghraib is very complex and layered, far from black and white. I hope that this film sheds some light on what exactly took place at the prison and how those horrific acts and the photographs of them came to be. If the images are a mirror of America, a window into our potential to morally transgress, then we need to look at them more deeply, to face them, to try to understand them. If we are to exorcise the ghosts of Abu Ghraib, we can no longer turn away from what we might see. Otherwise, it may just happen again.

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