'Ghosts of Abu Ghraib'

Rory Kennedy
Documentary Filmmaker
Thursday, February 22, 2007; 12:00 PM

In the new documentary " Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," interviews with both prisoners and guards from the notorious Iraq prison offer insight into how torture came to be an accepted policy. The film begins airing Thursday on HBO at 9:30 p.m.

Filmmaker Rory Kennedy was online Thursday, Feb. 22 at noon ET to take your questions and comments about the project.

The transcript follows.


Arlington, Va.: Given that the "genesis is psychology," what currently is being done from a psychological perspectives for both the prisoners and the soldiers, and/or what do you, or they, think needs to be done or what would they like to have offered? Thank you for taking my question.

Rory Kennedy: Many of the soldiers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and have not been supported by the government when they've requested psychological help. Of course, the prisoners continue to suffer physically and psychologically. Much needs to be done -- torture has a negative impact on everyone it touches, including us as a nation.


New Hampshire: Hi Rory -- I want to thank you very much for your work and for not allowing this tragic and shameful episode in our country's history to be forgotten. I believe that this has damaged our reputation and our souls for a long time to come. Any indication that this abuse and torture is ongoing in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo or in those other secret spots?

Rory Kennedy: Unfortunately, many of the policies regarding treatment of prisoners that were put into place after 9/11 are still in place today. The Military Commissions Act, for example, does not specifically ban certain controversial techniques, and the CIA continues to work under a different "set" of standards that have not been fully explained or released. There needs to be much more transparency here.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Ms. Kennedy: Why not a documentary on the greater atrocities of dictators like Robert Mugabe or the late Saddam Hussein? Why are Democrats so much more condemnatory about (generally lesser) U.S. offenses?

Rory Kennedy: The U.S. has represented throughout its history a commitment to human rights and the law -- shining a light on what happened at Abu Ghraib exposes our departure from this long-term commitment. It does not, however, excuse the atrocities carried about by Hussein and others.


Bethesda, Md.: You describe the "Iraqi detainees" who cooperated with your project as the "heroes" of your film. Why does there need to be a hero? And would you continue to call an Abu Ghraib detainee a hero who was later determined to have perpetrated atrocities against American soldiers and/or innocent civilians?

Rory Kennedy: I do not condone in any way the actions of a detainee who later was determined to cause harm to any American soldier and/or innocent civilians. However, if you consider what the Red Cross and others, for example, reported about detainees at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere -- that upwards of 80 percent did not have any valuable information to share and were completely innocent -- it raises some critical points about torture policy. I believe the Iraqis I spoke with -- who all were released without charge -- were heroes for speaking out and, arguably, risking their lives for being in the documentary.


Bethesda, Md.: Looking forward to the documentary tonight. I can't remember her name, but were you able to talk to the black-haired woman [ed: Lynndie England]? The one involved in a relationship with another soldier?

Rory Kennedy: No, we weren't able to speak with Lynndie England and others who continue to serve time in military prisons -- we tried but were denied access. We were able to speak with four soldiers involved in the abuse, as well as former Iraqi detainees and many eye witnesses.


Arlington, Va.: What avenues are in place for those of us who could offer therapy to those suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Is there a contact place or person?

Rory Kennedy: Thank you for your offer. Please contact our office -- the e-mail is -- and we will forward your e-mail to the soldiers requesting help.


Alexandria, Va.: I am curious how private government contractors such as CACI International, who had hired interrogators at Abu Ghraib, escaped any kind of prosecution or punishment for their involvement. Does the documentary explain any of this? Thank you for your work.

Rory Kennedy: You raise an important issue -- another documentary by Robert Greenwald focused on this. We touch on independent contractors briefly in our film, but it's a critical point that deserves continued attention.

_______________________ Robert Greenwald's "Iraq for Sale"


Princeton, N.J.: There are at least three important aspects to your show. 1.The basic immorality. 2. The escape of those ultimately responsible. 3.The ineptitude of those on the ground.

The reviewer for the NY Times thought that the third was the most remarkable feature. Please comment.

Rory Kennedy: In many ways it's a lot like the ingredients for a "perfect storm" -- you had a policy in place that encouraged abuse, orders coming down to soldiers to soften up prisoners, a chaotic environment and a group of untrained soldiers assigned a job that they were not qualified to do. In addition, you had a prison that constantly was under attack ... all of these factors played a role in what happened there.


Olney, Md.: I had hoped to see your film at Sundance in January but tickets were totally sold out. How did the audience receive your documentary at the festival?

Rory Kennedy: It was a thrilling experience -- we had finished the film in late December, so it was great to see it on the big screen with a very engaged audience.


Washington: Rory, I attended the screening you had in Washington recently. Very moving. I am sure Senator Graham won't forget it -- probably for different reasons. I always understood that torture generally is ineffective as a means to get information (McCain would agree). If this is true, why was torture so relied upon in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? Has there been evidence that American lives have been saved due to this torture?

Rory Kennedy: Based on extensive studies that have been done on the effectiveness of torture -- and interviews we conducted with interrogators and others -- all the evidence suggests that torture does not in fact work in getting useable, reliable information. The use of coercive tactics at Gitmo and elsewhere were the result of new policies put into place after Sept. 11. Not only is it ineffective but -- I think as the film documents -- it destroys the lives of those who are tortured, the people who commit torture, and the soul of our nation. It also has done untold damage to our reputation internationally and strategically has hurt us in the war on terror.


Arlington, Va.: I want to allow time and room for other questioners, but am also deeply interested in the questions of ethics, human rights, and the law -- the prevalent concepts addressed so far. In your view, what additional education -- or in what ways would the education need to be different -- could be provided by parents, schools, churches and programs to instill, enhance and emphasize inclusion of these concepts (ethics, human rights, legalities) for children and adults? Thank you.

Rory Kennedy: I think we need further education and training as a nation -- particularly for members of our military. There are many organizations that actively are working on anti-torture campaigns and I would encourage you to go to the HBO Web sites, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the ACLU for more information. It is our hope that the film reaches as many people as possible -- both through the broadcast and through outreach efforts -- and will contribute to a national dialogue about our torture policy and commitment to human rights today.


New Hampshire: I have to confess that I am truly bothered by those among us that constantly purport that there are others that are worse than we are. This rhetoric comes directly from the top of this administration, as do the "new rules". We must be better than this! What remediation do you see necessary in order to return our military and country to the rule of law, the restoration of habeas corpus, and much more? Thanks, Rory.

Rory Kennedy: We have a new leadership in Congress that has expressed a greater commitment to human rights, the Constitution, and torture policy. But in order to embolden them -- to change our present course -- it will take people like yourself to make sure your voices are heard. Again, I would encourage visiting the Web sites mentioned in an earlier post, writing your congressmen and women and continuing to be engaged actively in the discourse.


Anonymous: With all due respect, the fact that you'd make a movie about what Americans did at Abu Ghraib without making any mention of the tens of thousands raped and tortured to death by the Baathist regime shows that you care little to nothing about human rights, and are only interested in bashing America. And no, I don't expect you to post this.

Rory Kennedy: I hope if you watch the film tonight at 9:30 p.m. on HBO, you'll see that we care greatly about human rights -- bashing America is neither the goal nor the lesson learned from the documentary. We do think it's critical to address the underlying issues that allowed the abuses at Abu Ghraib to happen, so that they do not repeat themselves in the future.


Arlington, Va.: I appreciate all your most thoughtful responses to our questions. Another: Has anyone in the CIA -- or even other government agencies -- contacted you about the documentary, either giving support or affirmation, or asking for your input as to how current parameters could change, what priorities you would offer, etc.? I am not privy to the screenings mentioned in previous questions and do not have HBO. I look forward to viewing your work and echo the thanks offered by others.

Rory Kennedy: Thank you. We have not had any direct response to date from any government officials about the film. We did approach a number of administration officials with the hope that they would participate, but were denied. The Department of Defense also denied us access early in the process of making the film.


Rory Kennedy: Thanks so much for all your questions. I hope you are able to see the film tonight on HBO at 9:30 p.m. EST.

Rory Kennedy and Jack Youngelson


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