The Ballad of Abu Ghraib
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The Ballad of Abu Ghraib

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  290 ratings  ·  58 reviews
The first full reckoning of what actually happened at Abu Ghraib prison-"one of the most devastating of the many books on Iraq" (The New York Times Book Review)

A relentlesly surprising and perceptive account of the front lines of the war on terror, Standard Operating Procedure is a war story that takes its place among the classics. Acclaimed author Philip Gourevitch prese...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 28th 2009 by Penguin Books (first published April 1st 2008)
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Matthew
A quote from the final chapter that argues that Abu Ghraib was but a microcosm of the ineptitude of the war itself :

"But above all, it was the posing soldiers, mugging for their buddies' cameras while dominating the prisoners in trophy stances, that gave the photographs the sense of unruly and unmediated reality. The staging was part of the reality they documented. And the grins, the thumbs-up, the arms crossed over puffed-out chests-all this unseemly swagger and self-regard was the height of a...more
Grady
Nov 10, 2008 Grady rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone!
STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE
By Philip Gourevitch and Errol Morris

While the general public in this country is somewhat knowledgeable of the prolonged agonies of the ongoing Iraq War, few of us are as acutely aware of the dark cloud of atrocities accompanying that war. Information about the 'progress' and purpose of that war are parceled out by the somewhat restricted media, the more serious and sad aspects of what is actually happening are scrutinized before the media releases that information, l...more
Jim
If this book doesn't infuriate the reader, then I don't know what will. There are many angles one can find outrage in, from the simple mistreatment of people to bad leadership and poor decisionmaking all down the line (who allows cameras in a corrections facility?) to the gross brutality and dereliction of duty, but the book tries to show that pictures flashed in the media only tell part of a story and have to be investigated and seen in context. Were the MPs guilty of many injustices? They sure...more
Jeanmarie
Saw the documentary, then read the book, and the book provided context that Errol Morris' film did not. Morris is mainly critical of the low-ranking soldiers who performed these tortures, and Gourevitch places most of the blame on higher-ups, military intelligence. If you think you're going to gain some insight into why this torture happened, you're not, really.

I am struck by how little the players involved seem to understand why they did what they did. And how at the end of the day, there was...more
Catherine
Abu Ghraib was a disgusting shameful act that demeaned the US, the military, the spy agencies, the coalition of the willing, and the west. It did as much harm to democracy and peace as terrorist acts. But that is just my opinion - and as I was tens of thousands of miles away with no situational awareness of events - I may be mistaken.

So what happened, how did it occur and why was it internationally portrayed as an aberration - the failing of a few low-ranked military personnel?

This important boo...more
Adam
Mar 04, 2013 Adam rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Adam by: Jason Brozek
Gourevitch makes a really well-done narrative from dozens of interviews with Abu Ghraib prison guards, as well as some of the officials involved in its planning. I was consistently impressed with the skill he had in distilling the interviews into plot, character, tone, and a fascinating exploration of the psychology and causation of the prisoner abuse there.

The only issue I had was that Gourevitch never attempts to analyze the cause of the atrocities. He thoroughly undermines the "one bad apple...more
Jason
this book was a gift from a relative and fellow vet, COL (Ret.) Lane McCotter. If you have read the book, he is mentioned on page one and "follows" him as he set up Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

I was in Iraq during this timeframe, athough in a different part of the country, and I emember hearing bits and seeing the news about the goings-on there, though I never really understood what happened there. This book explains it all, from the start and through all theevents that gave the prison such a bad...more
Stop
Read the STOP SMILING interview excerpt with filmmaker Errol Morris

THE ELEVEN-MINUTE PSYCHIATRIST
By James Hughes

(This interview originally appeared in STOP SMILING The Documentary Issue)

What follows is a brief excerpt from our extensive cover story interview with Errol Morris, the groundbreaking filmmaker behind such works as Gates of Heaven (1980), The Thin Blue Line (1988) and the Oscar-winner The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2004). The full interview with Mo...more
Dave
This is a seriously intense, and yet sympathetic view into the horrors of Abu Gharaib and the infamous photos that blew the lid on the US's disgusting treatment of the prisoners under their care.



What stands out in the book is the humanity of the guards. People like Lindie England, so demonised in the press, who were simply way out of their depth in a system that demanded their normalisation of atrocity.



And atrocity is the word. By the end of the book you the reader will also be stunned at how ac...more
SPL120
Co-written with Errol Morris as a companion to his film, this is a standout effort.

I read this a few months ago, and only afterward did I watch the film for the first time. I purposely approached it in this way intuiting that I might better understand the gravity of the circumstances and the people portrayed, and in this regard I believe the experience—the knowingness—was, in fact, more sharply defined.

Having also since read Morris's "Believing Is Seeing," about the power of photographs to dist...more
Askwhy
Proviso: I haven’t seen Errol Morris’ film. I hear it’s great though.

I come to this book knowing little - too little - about the Abu Ghraib abuses. As far as information goes, it was a discrete, easy-to-process bit of piecemeal: please file under ‘hypocritical American policies’ and ‘ha-I-told-you-so’s. Another in a long, time-worn opprobrious national malfeasances. My Lai. Iran-Contra. Gitmo. Abu Ghraib. No one thought much about it - myself included - because it never seemed to demand understa...more
Anthony Eaton
Oh boy. This one's a must read for fans of Creative Non-Fiction.

I'll warn you now, though - it's not pleasant reading. It's a forensic account of the events which occurred in the high security blocks of Abu Gharib prison, culminating in the worldwide release of the now-notorious photographs and the outrage that followed.

But it's not a simple tell all tale. Rather it's a portrait of many things: of military culture, the pressures of the front line, of flawed chains of command, of the most basic...more
Natalie S.
I was tempted to set this book down quite a few times. This is not a vacation novel. This is not the book I wanted to be reading under the Eiffel Tower.

But once I got to Part II, "During," I couldn't not finish. The Ballad of Abu Ghraib is not a page-turner. I didn't really want to know what happened next. Watching an utter catastrophe unfold is hard, and for the first time in a while, closing this book didn't feel in some way cathartic or redemptive. I know that I will understand the situation...more
Michael
A devastating book, both in its depiction of genuinely rancid individual behavior in an awful time and place and the ways in which those in charge promoted said behavior in a myriad of ways (from the tone created by George W. Bush's Iraqi War rhetoric, which filtered its way to every level of the military, to ghost-like military interrogators who freely moved in and out of Abu Ghraib and who made it known they wanted the prisoners softened up to the seemingly endless run of mid-level soldiers wh...more
Erik Dryden
This is a book without heroes. It is not simply a rehash of the great Errol Morris documentary of the same name. Gourevitch used the documents and hours of interviews gathered by Morris to create something along the same lines as the movie but entirely unique. As in the film, he tells the story of Abu Ghraib from the viewpoint of the soldiers involved. Morris, in the movie, avoids editorializing. He instead allows the soldiers to speak for themselves while not hiding the horrors of what they did...more
Sam Woodward
Most people will recall the disturbing photographs seen on the news of American soldiers abusing inmates of Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. Standard Operating Procedure is an account of how such treatment of prisoners came about, as the US army found itself torturing mostly innocent civilians picked up on general sweeps of problem areas, who they still believed they were 'liberating' from such treatment - without perceiving the bitter irony of the situation.

The authors do not editorialise overly, alth...more
Eric
i read this and bugliosi's 'prosecution of george w. bush for murder' at the same time. they made fine companion pieces. whereas bugliosi's provides a macro-level view of the clusterfuck that is the war in iraq, gourevitch's and morris' mining of the abu ghraib clusterfuck illustrates how this administration's lack of foresight and leadership, as well as the many failures and inadequacies of the military industrial complex led to an utter breakdown in moral authority and accountability.

this is...more
Michael Griswold
Phillip Gourevitch earned my trust when he wrote "We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with our Families on the Rwandan Genocide. In Standard Operating Procedure Gourevitch collaborates with Errol Morris to write a story about the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq where numerous prisoner abuses occurred complete with pictures that flooded the media several years ago. My opinion of this book is very much like what Gourevitch says towards the end about "a picture telling a story." Gourevi...more
Karen
I originally picked up this book because Gourevitch's book on the Rwandan genocide was a transformative book for me.

Though like isn't really the word you would use to describe a book about prison torture, this book was pretty fascinating. It's astounding to read about how people can justify treating other people in such horrific ways, without questioning how wrong it is. A really interesting read.
Angelo Vassallo
This book gives you the opportunity to discover brutal aspects of the Abu Ghraib prison, used during the Iraq war. You will understand how sometimes men can totally loose his brain and make actions really deplorable und brutal. At the same time the book bring you to think that as always the people who paid are not the only responsible but there is always somebody (most of the times, staying in higher position) who is able to escape to his punishment. Without doubt the history of Abu Ghraib and i...more
Shannon
A good but mentally hard read - at least for me it was. I don't like to think that humans are capable of such acts but the reality is that we are. However, this book presents the situation from a perspective that the public was almost entirely not able to see. We saw horror. We saw pictures but the reality behind it was that the people that were doing these things are people, too. There was so much going wrong at the time. Attacks, death, and leaders that had gone awry. Even our own president th...more
Byron Wright
If you are interested in seeing just how messed up operations were in Iraq, this provides a detailed overview of a few months in Abu Ghraib Prison. This book shows how an absence of leadership allowed torture to happen not only to the bad guys, but innocent ones as well. Did you know that Iraqi civilans were imprisioned for being in the vicinity of an attack whether they were linked or not? Did you know that prisoners were tortured regularly, when their guilt or innocence was unclear?



I always fi...more
Marci
I don't remember how this book came to be on my to-read list, or why this of all the books on the list was one I bought this summer to read, but somehow I ended up with it. I was expecting a fictional novel and the book is not that at all. It is an account of the happenings at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq based on interviews with soldiers who were a part of it all. At times the author's opinions, which were expressed over and over again, almost made me stop reading (since I disagreed with much of w...more
Niche
Nov 04, 2010 Niche rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Niche by: Nick Flynn
Shelves: non-fiction
Nick Flynn wrote The Ticking is the Bomb which is also about Abu Ghraib. He's not a big fan of The Ballad of Abu Ghraib so I'm going to read both and compare.

My initial impressions of The Ballad of Abu Ghraib was that it is a thoroughly researched expose on the incident. The whole situation is shocking and hard for me to digest. The book is basically collected interviews from the participants woven in with quotes from various procedural guides from Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. The interviewees unfortu...more
Samir Dhond
I found the book devastating, shocking and it saddened me. While the book presents an account of what happened at Abu Ghraib,I realized that it has not only changed the lives of the survivors but is has also affected the soldiers a great deal. I am sure all those soldiers who made those poeple suffer (many of them truly innocent) are facing lot of issues today in their lives. I found the book disturbing and to read about a moral catastrophe is so painful. The book is written sympathetically and...more
Travis Kendall
What would cause a group of average, mostly young, Americans to commit extreme acts of torture, degradation, and dehumanization? This is what Gourevitch tries to discover. He doesn't give really give any definitive answers. What he does do is try to put a human face to the tragedy of Abu Ghraib, but he does so without ever apologizing for or glamorizing the people involved. This book follows the participants through the fear, boredom, violence, and almost total lack of control they dealt with. T...more
Jim
Wow. Reading this book reminds me of watching the pictures, names, ranks, and ages of killed soldiers abroad on the television. You want to turn away from the destruction we have brought on the lives of people not at all different from yourself, but you owe their memory the debt of your attention and momentary mourning. This book is human and moral, but it lacks all but the slightest hint of judgment of the people committing the acts in question. This is a great telling of an essential story.
Josephus FromPlacitas
The focus of the book is on the ground-level abusers: Charles Graner, Sabrina Harman, Lynndie England and their cohorts. But this leaves the interrogators, the OGA (Other Government Agency) figures, who managed the torture in complete darkness. So the book seems to not give a "voice to the voiceless" twice over -- you don't hear from the tortured, and you don't hear from the nameless managers of their torture. Which are voices I'd really like to hear more about.
Kenny
This is an excellent portrayal of the events at Abu Ghraib and how mostly ordinary people are able to adapt to their environment even when they are repulsed by what they experience. We are all capable of committing atrocity, and I believe it is a mistake to put ourselves on a higher plain than the soldiers/prison guards of Abu Ghraib. We are all but a few steps from being the barbarians we despise.
Elizabeth
Another classic from Philip Gourevitch; a must-read! He gets inside the heads of the infamous Abu Ghraib photographers, and shows how the maltreatment of prisoners there was the result of institutional policy, not "a few bad apples." He humanizes the people who have been so often demonized by the press and the administration, but he doesn't excuse their behavior. Fascinating.
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Gourevitch was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to painter Jacqueline Gourevitch and philosophy professor Victor Gourevitch, a translator of Jean Jacques Rousseau. He and his brother Marc, a physician, spent most of their childhood in Middletown, Connecticut, where their father taught at Wesleyan University from 1967 to 1995. Gourevitch graduated from Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connec...more
More about Philip Gourevitch...
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“But no soldier above the rank of sergeant ever served jail time. No civilian interrogators ever faced legal proceedings. Nobody was ever charged with torture, or war crimes, or any violation of the Geneva Conventions. Nobody ever faced charges for keeping prisoners naked,or shackled. Nobody ever faced charges for holding prisoners as hostages. Nobody ever faced charges for incarcerating children who were accused of no crime and posed no known security threat. Nobody ever faced charges for holding thousands of prisoners in a combat zone in constant danger of their lives. Nobody ever faced charges for arresting thousands of civilians without direct cause and holding them indefinitely, incommunicado, in concentration camp conditions. Nobody ever faced charges for shooting and killing prisoners who were confined behind concertina wire. And nobody has ever been held to account for murdering al-Jamadi in the Tier 1B shower, although Sabrina Harman initially faced several charges for having photographed him there.” 2 likes
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