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Critics' Corner
23 March, 2005  
"I was asked to smile so I did," said Lynndie England

Big Storm: The Lynndie England Story
A one-hour Cutting Edge documentary to be screened on SBS, Tuesday April 5, 8.30pm
Directed by Twan Huys (In English)
Reviewed by I. Box


imageI. Box’s regard for the talents of the Dutch has been rather unfairly limited, ranging as it does from dykes to dope.

However, this sad little documentary made by Dutch TV changes that. From its opening words and images we understand this is no simple-minded view of an Abu Ghraib abuser.

As the camera creeps past desolate trailer-homes and yelping dogs on chains, we sense a very American degradation. This is from where Lynndie England, who faces 16 and half years in prison for abusing Iraqi detainees, hails.

“When I first got back, my Mom got a letter in the mail stating that the person wished that my Mom would go down to North Carolina and if I decided to blow my head off, she would help me. That just really scared me because people were coming out and [trying] to kill me, just because of a few pictures.”

Those few pictures include a smiling England dragging a naked Iraqi prisoner on a dog leash. The banality of evil, alive and well.

Director Twan Huys has managed to interview most of the people that matter in this gruesome tale: Lynndie, her mother, her psychologist, General Janis Karpinski who was in charge of Abu Ghraib at the time of the abuses, and Seymour Hersh the journalist who broke the story in The New Yorker.

No one further up the food chain appears, for obvious reasons.

The documentary makes it clear the abuses perpetrated on prisoners and captured in living colour by Lynndie, her then lover Sergeant Charles Graner and other army reservists were sanctioned by military intelligence, with the buck stopping right at Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s feet.

imageHersh suggests that people spookily referred to as “privately contracted interrogators” instructed the reservist foot-soldiers in how to sexually humiliate Arab males.

Karpinski says the systematic abuse was a conspiracy, and that unbeknown to her at the time, the reservists were acting on orders from the allied commander in Iraq, General Sanchez.

England says of the prisoner abuse, “It wasn’t right, but it wasn’t uncommon enough to stop it.” Asked why she is smiling in the pictures, Lynndie answers, “I was asked to smile, so I did.”

Huys brings into play a much larger context too; how lawyer Alberto Gonzales (now the Bush administration’s Attorney General) blithely contended that the Geneva Convention didn’t apply to suspect terrorists detained by the US.

And how the administration knew of the prisoner abuses at least four months before they became public and did virtually nothing, until the media blew the whistle.

What emerges is a depressing picture of a poor, intellectually bereft girl – she was 17 when she signed up as a reservist – who did exactly what her superiors asked her to. And a political/military system that is used to getting away with murder.

Don’t miss it.

P.S. Lynndie England is currently awaiting a date for a fresh Article 32 hearing, which will determine whether there are grounds for a court martial.