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abu ghraib tortureJune 26, 2007

Filmmaker Laura Poitras follows the life of Iraqi activist, Dr. Riyadh, in war torn Baghdad for eight months, culminating in the military operation of the January 30, 2005 election. She films this against the backdrop of a town without water or electricity, of children being imprisoned at Abu Ghraib, of political kidnappings and ever-increasing violence. Thru her lens, we watch the indomitable human spirit resist occupation. 

Producer Laura Poitras; Zeitgeist Films, 2006. 90 mins.
Winner: Inspiration Award, Full Frame Film FestivalOfficial Selection: Berlin International Film Festival; New Directors New Films Festival; and SxSW Film Festival 
Nominated for Best Documentary Feature, Academy Awards 

Hope and his own moral compass guide the physician, despite the ongoing war. Some of what he deals with is shocking. An additional 15 minutes of footage covers the August 2004 inspection of Abu Ghraib, three months after the torture photos were released internationally. Dr. Riyadh led the inspection by Baghdad City Council, and it is during his interaction with Abu Ghraib prisoners that his patience falters. 

Some of the prisoners take out their frustration on him, prompting him to finally respond: “We are an occupied nation with a puppet government! What do you expect?” 

Winning the hearts and minds of these souls – thru sexual and physical abuse – must be a dream in the mind of a psychopath. The most shocking part is to see a 9-year-old boy imprisoned by the U.S. government – in its quest to “bring democracy” to Iraq. Entire camps within the compound were erected to hold juveniles which military personnel claim age from 14 to 17. 

Whether that boy was 9 or 14, he is too young for prison. These “dangerous people” are alleged to be “ID-makers.” The teens claim they are homeless, and were arrested for sleeping in the street. 

We watch Dr. Riyadh care for patients breaking under the pressure of ‘life during wartime.’ Through his eyes, and the eyes of his family, we glimpse the acceptance of violence as a part of life. But it is in this acceptance we glimmer the indomitable human spirit, of some who choose life, charity, and support of one another, in the face of a twisted, sadistic domination. 

Poitras shows how differently this brutal domination impacts Iraqi citizens. Some use guns or bombs to fight the occupation, which Dr. Riyadh sees as suicidal. Yet, his wife thinks his activism is suicidal. Thru her, we see others who accept whatever power is in power, however they arrived. 

While global elites can pretend the 2005 Iraqi elections were reflective of the will of the people (even with the Sunni boycott),My Country shows that many Iraqis do not accept the charade. When coalition forces attacked the city of Fallujah, days before the election, it became clear that the empire did not want any Sunnis elected. 

Democracy, like making love, is a consensual act between people. Neither occurs at the point of a gun, otherwise it’s called tyranny or rape. A “government of the people” means people decide when, if, and how elections are held; that is not something an occupying force can determine. 

Given the empire’s inability to control the violence that has only increased since then, filmmaker Laura Poitras emphasizes the need for withdrawal, as Iraqi people remind the world, it is “my country.” And whether the American filmmaker intended it, the title also speaks to the shame of my country – of those Americans who participate in torture and murder on behalf of corporate profits, and the two dominant parties who continue to fund this horror. 

My Country My Country is a must see for all advocates of democracy and peace, human rights, habeas corpus, speedy trial, and the rule of law.