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photographer who took many of the scandal’s most famous photosHooded Man, Leashed Man, the Naked Human Pyramidincluding the most damning evidence of all: the photo of a dead Iraqi, killed by the C.I.A. during interrogation at the prison. Harman appears in one notorious photo posing over the dead man, beaming a smile and offering a ridiculous “thumbs up” sign. \(This photo was taken by reservist Charles Graner, the Svengali of the group and the man responsible for posing many of the photos, who fathered a child with Lynndie England and later married another MP from the group, Megan Ambuhl. Graner is notably absent from the film; he’s still serving Harman tries to explain why she looks so pleased in the picture: “I kind of picked up the thumbs-up from the kids in Al Hilla, and so whenever I would get into a photo, I never know what to do with my hands. … So any kind of photo, I probably have a thumbs-up because it’s justI just picked it up from the kids. It’s just something that automatically happens. Like when you get into a photo, you want to smile. Its just, I guess, something I did.” This sounds like a self-serving justification for a gesture that’s callous at best, evil at worst. As a viewer and reader, do we believe that she’s telling her truth, or is she just concocting an excuse? Morris uses a camera device called the Interrotron to conduct his interviews. The person being interviewed looks directly into the lens and so appears to be making eye contact with the viewer in what looks like a direct, human connection. Reading Harman’s words on the page is one thing, but watching her say them in the film makes us want to believe her, to forgive her even. But can we? “Every narrator is unreliable:’ Morris told the Observer this year. “I’m a big fan of Vladimir Nabokov; he’s the king of the unreliable narrator. My favorite book by him is Pale Fire and the character of [Charles] Kinbote. And just like Kinbote, we’re all self-deceived. When someone recounts the past, whether it’s Kinbote or Lynndie England or Sabrina Harman, they are re-enacting their past in words, they are trying to recover the various pieces from the bric-a-brac of memory. To think for a moment that it’s an absolute description is a mistake.” The very existence of two different pieces of worka film and a bookwith the same name and deriving from the same sources suggests competing versions of the truth. The book is not a movie tie-in version of the film, nor vice versa. While both are drawn from the same interviews, their tones differ significantly, not least in the fact that Morris’ film, unlike the book, offers dramatic “re-enactments” of the events at Abu Ghraib. For his part, Gourevitch suggests that some events are so complex and inherently confusing that they might ultimately be unfathomable. “There is a constant temptation:’ he writes in Standard Operating Procedure, “when rendering an account of history, to distort reality by making too much sense of it:’ It’s tempting to think he’s referring to Morris. At the very least, he’s acknowledging the dangers of placing too much faith in any single interpretation of history. If Hornfischer’s four-phase hierarchy presumes truthor at least understand ingis ultimately attainable, Standard Operating Procedure’s phase-five bifurcation shows significantly different narratives unspooling from the same recent past. And why shouldn’t there be doubt, of our leaders, our generals, even our soldiers? The Bush administration has sown these seeds with its own language, in which a “mission accomplished” is the start of America’s longest war, and a weapon of mass destruction is nothing but an aluminum tube. Documents like I Am a Soldier Too, Monstering, and Standard Operating Procedure, imperfect as they are, might be the closest we can come to the disorienting confusion of this war, which is itself so vaguely defined, yet so incontrovertibly real, and which has already claimed so many victimsnot the least of which is the very idea of truth itself. Edward Nawotka writes about books and culture from his home in Houston. An archive of his work is online at www. edwardn. corn. Philip Gourevitch will speak at the Texas Book Festival, Saturday November 1, on “Reporting from Rwanda to Abu Ghraib.” See www.texasbookfestival. org for more information. OCTOBER 17, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29