NEW YORK (Reuters) - Abu Ghraib prison is notorious for images that surfaced in 2003 showing horrific abuses of Iraqis by U.S. soldiers, but a new documentary aims to highlight the plight facing many innocent Iraqis by depicting the humdrum misery there.
U.S. filmmaker Michael Tucker won critical acclaim for his documentary “Gunner Palace,” about American soldiers taking up residence in Saddam Hussein’s former palace.
Now his film “The Prisoner, or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair,” made with his wife Petra Epperlein, tells the story of Yunis Khatayer Abbas, an Iraqi journalist captured by American soldiers in 2003.
In the film, Abbas recalls the humiliation of his interrogation, which led to him being told he was suspected of plotting to assassinate British Prime Minister Tony Blair, before being sent to Abu Ghraib.
But the film does not focus on any of the graphic images or depictions of abuses that made the prison an international scandal. And that is exactly the point, Tucker told Reuters in an interview.
“People are so jaded with basic human suffering that unless it is sensational, they don’t respond to it,” he said.
The interrogations innocent Iraqis like Abbas suffer every day deserve as much attention as the now infamous photographs of abuse at Abu Ghraib, Tucker said .
“We can’t forget these are civilian people being treated like animals,” he said.
Benjamin Thompson, a former Army specialist also featured in the film after he befriended Abbas while stationed at Abu Ghraib, told Reuters that “the scandal basically diverted everyone’s attention away from anything that wasn’t in those photographs.”
“It was like no matter what happened there as long as we didn’t stack people and make pyramids (of them) we were doing a great job,” said Thompson, who returned from Iraq to Ohio two years ago and went back to civilian life.
“In reality what was taking place was a dehumanizing policy of lack of care, medical attention, food and basic operational security,” he said.
Tucker says his film aims to put human faces on Iraqis like Abbas, who he believes were misunderstood by Americans.
“I don’t think that we have really ever had someone in film that the average person can connect with and really see the war in human terms,” said Tucker, noting Abbas’s sense of humor.
In one scene, the Iraqi recalled laughing when eventually being told by American interrogators he was being held captive over suspicions he plotted to attack Blair.
“What he was charged with was so absurd,” said Tucker, who uses footage of Abbas being captured by soldiers after he accompanied them on the raid. “It just shows how poorly the intelligence system works.”
Tucker said he hoped politicians will come up with better solutions and security for Iraq and take a simple message from his film: “They need to start caring about the human consequences of this war.”