Notes on Standard Operating Procedure (2008)

These are notes that I took while watching Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure. They are exactly that. I make no excuses.


The Rumsfeld trip is told through photographs–it lends a truth to the story.

The soldiers who showed up to Abu Ghraib had to live in prison cells. Once again, told through photographs.

Military intelligence already had detainees in the prison when military proper showed up. “What is that? That’s military intelligence.”

Authenticity in the photographs themselves.

“Not many people know this shit goes on. The only reason I want to be there is to get the pictures to show the US is not what they think.”

The photograph becomes absolute proof–there’s no deniability when a photograph is attached.

The reenactments are partial visions, nothing whole. Not the entirety of the image that we are given in the photograph itself. The camera itself shows these things. It creates a pose; “it wouldn’t happen unless the camera was there.”

The narrative of the crime itself becomes about time. It becomes about a spacial and temporal relationship between the pictures, between the physical actors that we can then talk about in temporal time.

The relationship between Graner and England is the same as the relationship that we have with the photographs–appearances, a lack of an entire story, but a belief because of what we see and experience.

The language about photography being pride–trying to hide means that you know what you are doing is wrong. Krol’s speech about “taking photographs of this was stupid” is the biggest admission of guilt. Admitting that the photograph is the truth, the reality, is terrifying.

“It would have been meaner if there really was electricity. It was just words.” But what we are told is the truth. What is attested to, what happens when “nature speaks” is the absolute truth.

The story about the dead man is the literal being-object of the Abu Ghraib prisoner. A live or dead human exist equally under the system of torture. Pure standard operating procedure.

“The pictures only show you a fraction of a second. You don’t see forward and you don’t see backward and you don’t see outside the frame.”

W.’s picture is in the background, out of focus, when the fingerprints are being taken. What is being-present? What does it mean to be there?

The determination between SOP and a criminal act is literally the interpretation of a moment in time–is it possible to make this distinction in real time? Continous time is slippery in the way a moment isn’t.

The digitality of images, the slipperiness of code, allows them to escape total destruction during the “amnesty period.”

Cropped photos are just as real as uncropped ones.

This entry was posted in Theory and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.