By Don Simpson | April 5, 2007
Directors: Michael Tucker, Petra Epperlein
Shut up, you’re guilty!
Filmmakers Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker found themselves in the right place at the right time as they stumbled across the arrest of a poor soul, Yunis Khatayer Abbas, helplessly caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Tucker was shooting their 2004 documentary, Gunner Palace, when he filmed a Coalition convoy’s raid (tactfully titled “Grab-Ass”) of a terrorist cell thought to be building bombs destined to be used in a plot to assassinate Tony Blair. No bombs, bomb-making materials or any evidence of terrorist activity whatsoever were found but the suspected terrorists, Yunis and his three brothers (Yaas, Abbas and Khalid), were taken as prisoners nonetheless. His brother Yaas was released almost immediately (the reason is unknown, but he probably didn’t stick around to ask) as Yunis, Abbas and Khalid were shipped off on the happy bus to a lovely summer camp called Abu Ghraib.
The Prisoner reveals most of the Coalition personnel as macho imbeciles clouded in a belief that their actions are impeccable. The Coalition’s two greatest faux-pas were allowing Tucker behind the lens to film their raids and arresting Yunis, an innocent man determined to be a famous journalist in his own right. Tucker was given access not only to film the raids but also to interview Coalition personnel who were more than willing to arrogantly ruminate about such topics as their presumably faultless military intelligence. Yunis was the inside man able to give an extremely rare account of life inside Abu Ghraib with unknown details far beyond the media headlines of pornographic torture. Yunis also had plenty of his own photographs and video footage shot before his capture that fuel the documentary.
Clever ironies are derived by quotes and sound bites. For instance, Bush’s radio broadcast to the Iraqi people on April 10, 2003: “In the new era that is coming to Iraq, you will be free… You deserve better than tyranny and corruption and torture chambers, you deserve to live as free people. And I assure every citizen of Iraq, your nation will soon be free.” Ask Yunis about tyranny, freedom and torture; he’ll tell you that the U.S. occupation has not made things any better in Iraq. Yunis experienced imprisonment and torture by both Hussein and the U.S. It sounds like his experience in Hussein’s Al-Radwaniya was a dreamy vacation when compared to the Coalition-operated Abu Ghraib.
Despite the heavy-handed slap in the Coalition’s face for their occupation of Iraq, there are some positive roles played by Coalition soldiers in this plot. When the Coalition finally decided to clean up some of the Geneva Convention violations at Abu Ghraib (thanks predominately to the media hoopla over Pvt. Lynndie England’s indecent photographs of detainees), a new team of soldiers were sent in to guard the prison. Yunis has a lot of good things to say about some of these new guards, including one especially good soldier named Thompson who is the savior of the story. Thompson is proof that not all Coalition soldiers are arrogant assholes who only know how to yell “shut up.” belittle and beat the shit out of their prisoners. Thompson listened to Yunis and realized the beneficial roles Yunis could play during his remaining time in Abu Ghraib, as an interpreter and morale leader for the other detainees.
The 1960s spy theme soundtrack, still photos and comic book headings and sketches attempt to give “The Prisoner” a comedic (and cinematic) tone; but it is not enough to compensate for the over-dependence on boring talking head interview footage. Despite editing and directorial decisions the story is still quite intriguing, as are the images of the Coalition’s raids and arrests.
And how do we know Yunis is innocent? Oh, just shut up! If you’re asking that question, you’re reading the wrong writer’s review.