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The Ballad of Abu Ghraib

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  369 Ratings  ·  66 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
ebook, 304 pages
Published April 28th 2009 by Penguin Books (first published April 1st 2008)
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Mar 07, 2012 Matthew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 10, 2008 Grady rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone!
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
Jun 03, 2008 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Oct 23, 2014 Becca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing. Gourevitch wrote the book based on Errol Morris' movie. Just like in Fog of War, I found myself sympathizing with perpetrators of war crimes. I remember being upset with the people in the Abu Ghraib photos for doing that. This book shed light on the systemic issues that led to those pictures, and reports from the photographers about why they were doing it. And does so without making excuses for anyone.
Jun 12, 2008 Jeanmarie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Roman Clodia
Jun 09, 2016 Roman Clodia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison, once the `torture prison' of Saddam Hussein, then the scene of notorious US abuse, violation and unlawful killing is a tough subject for a book. But Gourevitch does a fine job of navigating his - and our - way through the tortuous maze of inhumanity, inefficiency, and a frightening kind of empathy with victims and victors alike.

After a brief background this is told from the point of view, with extensive quotes, from the soldiers themselves, some of whom are now in p
Jun 07, 2014 Catherine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
This book make me cried. From line to line when they described the torture and how the prisoner response to it, I couldn't wait to flip next page and be done with it. I read this book with the purpose of trying to listen two sides of horrible story that occurs in Abu Ghraib. I was wrong. I found 2 sides of it but whether the American soldier side make a convincing argument why they did those things, it troubled me. You can't blame the weather, lack of bureaucracy,unclear chain of command and get ...more
Spencer Willardson
This book does a good job of portraying the chaos of Abu Ghraib, but the author was obviously siding with the claims made by the MPs who were charged. A lack of a critical eye toward their illegal and unethical behavior prior to the events, and their self-serving claims after the fact made the book a bit hard for me to stomach.

A.G. was a tragedy. It was compounded by a severe lack of professionalism by the MPs, by non-military intelligence contractors, and a lack of leadership at many levels.
Mar 04, 2013 Adam rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Jun 13, 2011 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Read the STOP SMILING interview excerpt with filmmaker Errol Morris

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
Jul 27, 2011 Dave rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Apr 20, 2012 Askwhy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Anthony Eaton
Nov 18, 2010 Anthony Eaton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Natalie S.
Jul 08, 2012 Natalie S. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 14, 2013 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 29, 2009 Erik Dryden rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 30, 2013 Sam Woodward rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 28, 2008 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Apr 14, 2014 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 10, 2011 Angelo Vassallo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: current-affairs
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
Alexi Lawless
I SO wanted to like this book. I'm a big fan of Gourevitch and his book We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families was hands down one of the most moving works I've ever read. However, S.O.P. was a meandering, difficult, and scattered read that I picked up and put down a dozen times over the course of two months in an effort to finish it.

Truth is, it's a nearly impossible task to put to light all the horrifying acts that happened in the history of Abu Ghraib. And it
Juan Espinoza
Mar 11, 2016 Juan Espinoza rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cronica
Perfecto complemento del documental de Morris, con algunas historias interesantes que quedaron fuera de aquel, y con una profundidad un poco mejor desarrollada acerca de las personalidades de los soldados estadounidenses que torturaron iraquíes en Abu Ghraib. También reflexiona un poco más sobre la relevencia del testimonio fotográfico en los tiempos que corren.
Sep 23, 2012 Shannon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 27, 2016 Nez rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars
Everyone saw the photos, but this book explains very well how photos in fact tell you very little what actually happened. What was going in in Iraq and particularly Abu Ghraib was crazy and poorly run & managed. Those higher up in the food chain let this situation evolve and were never held accountable.
Byron Wright
Aug 01, 2011 Byron Wright rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 06, 2011 Marci rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
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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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