During Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker’s 2005 documentary Gunner Palace, soldiers from the 2/3 Field Artillery conduct a midnight raid on an Iraqi home where a group of brothers are rumored to be manufacturing weapons. One of the brothers, Yunis Khatayer Abbas, is a journalist who is fluent in English. He denies that he is manufacturing weapons, mouthing off to the soldiers for repeatedly telling him to “shut up,” but the soldiers detain him anyway, and Tucker reports in voice-over that Abbas was sent to Abu Ghraib prison. We learn little else about Abbas at that point, and because the film was released soon after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal broke, I was left wanting to learn more about his story. This lost thread also points to one of the weaknesses of Gunner Palace, its “myopic” focus only on the experiences of the soldiers preventing us from seeing the horrors of the war from an Iraqi point of view (see Manohla Dargis on this point).
Tucker and Epperlein have answered those questions (and raised a few others) with their intriguing new documentary, The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair (IMDB). For the most part, The Prisoner is a straight first-person documentary, focusing on Abbas’s story–his career as a journalist during Saddam Hussein, his experiences covering the war in Iraq, and finally, his experiences as a prisoner in Abu Ghraib, where he learned that he was suspected of plotting to kill British prime minister Tony Blair. Abbas also describes the torture he experienced under Saddam Hussein’s regime as well as the torture he experienced at Abu Ghraib (an American soldier confirms that Abbas was mistreated and clearly remembers him fondly). Abbas’s story is carried along in part with Petra Epperlein’s bold, pop art illustrations and by footage recorded by Abbas of the war that damaged his country. Abbas himself is an engaging storyteller, his impulses as a journalist clearly coming through as he narrates his experiences.
As Dargis also notes, the story is depressing and frightening, in part because Abbas is only one of many Iraqis to endure similar treatment during the course of the war. Because the war in Iraq has now lasted well over four years, I’m not terribly confident that it will receive nearly the audience or attention that Gunner Palace did, but I think it deserves a wider audience, if only because it’s telling a somewhat more difficult story about the war and its effects on Iraqi civilians.