The sensational title and jaunty presentation aside, this troubling documentary from GUNNER PALACE (2005) filmmakers Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein offers an important perspective on the uses and abuses of arrest and interrogation by U.S. forces in Iraq, especially the way current detention policy may actually hurt efforts to return Iraq to some semblance of stability.
The titular prisoner is Iraqi journalist Yunis Khatayer Abbas, who dreamt of becoming a well-known correspondent for the BBC or CNN but became famous for a very different reason. Late one night in September, 2003, after he and his brothers returned from a wedding party, Yunis's family home was raided by U.S. troops who, acting on a scrap of dubious intelligence suggesting Yunis and his brothers were part of a bomb-making operation targeting British PM Tony Blair, who was scheduled to visit Iraq. The accusation struck Yunis as absurd, but to him arrest was no joke: In 1998, he was arrested by Saddam Hussein for publishing a poem critical of the Baathist regime and brutally tortured for three months by Uday Hussein and his secret police in Al Radwaniya prison. Yunis assured his brothers that this ridiculous mistake would be cleared up soon, but while his oldest brother, a doctor, was soon released, Yunis and his two younger brothers were transported first to a detention area near the Baghdad airport, then to the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. They were held under appalling conditions for eight months in the prison's Camp Ganci, reserved for detainees determined to be of "no intelligence value." Eight months after their arrest, Yunis and his two brothers were finally let go, shattered and embittered.
Such an important story deserves to be heard by the widest possible audience: Current methods of intelligence gathering are clearly not working, and such incarcerations are a grievous abuse of human rights. But like Tucker and Epperlein's GUNNER PALACE, which amped up documentary footage with distractingly over-produced video stylings and non-source music to the point where reality became indistinguishable with something more mediated — say, an Xbox game — presentation is again an issue. Tucker and Epperlein probably intended the interstitial comic-book graphics and jazzy, Lalo Schifrin-style spy score to add a layer of irony to the absurd plight of Yunis and his brothers, but it only moves this tragic and all-too typical story further into the realm of the absurd. It may all look laughably Kafka-esque to an outsider, but the facts of Yunis's ordeal tell the very real story of Abu Ghraib, where thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians have been detained and brutally interrogated, and their ordeals demand a more straightforward and sober treatment.
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- Released: 2007
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: The sensational title and jaunty presentation aside, this troubling documentary from GUNNER PALACE (2005) filmmakers Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein offers an important perspective on the uses and abuses of arrest and interrogation by U.S. forces in Ira… (more)