There's an infamous essay about David Cronenberg's first film, Shivers, which was financed in part by Canadian tax dollars: "You Should Know How Bad This Film Is; After All, You Helped Pay For It." A paraphrase of that title rang in my mind as I watched the Sundance documentary Ghosts of Abu Ghraib: We should know how bad this situation is; after all, we've all helped pay for it. Director Rory Kennedy combines interviews, photos and on-site footage from Iraq's infamous prison -- which went from being Saddam Hussein's execution factory to being the site of an American scandal -- to make a potent piece of documentary filmmaking that demonstrates a clear chain of lawless, inhuman cruelty and corruption that went from the gleaming conference tables of the Oval Office and Pentagon to the blood-spattered, shit-smeared halls of a prison in Iraq.
Kennedy's methodology is meticulous and human -- many of the ex-service people who served time for the documented prisoner abuses captured in the infamous photographs speak on-camera about what they did, and why; several Iraqis are interviewed as well. Soldiers talk about how superior officers gave them minimal or conflicting guidance on how much pressure was too much pressure to induce captives to talk; ex-captives of Abu Ghraib talk about how, for example, they watched as their father was beaten so severely it lead to respiratory illness, which led to death -- with medical attention denied every time it was begged for by a weeping son.