An article in the latest issue of Vanity Fair goes behind-the-scenes to give a deeper look at the story behind the film The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair. When the soldiers guarding Abu Ghraib were suddenly changed out in the wake of the scandal surrounding the prison and the treatment of Iraqi detainess there, one of the new soldiers who came on board was Benjamin Thompson, a real estate appraiser-turned prison guard by the war.

During his turn as a prison guard, Thompson befriended an imprisoned Iraqi journalist named Yunis Abbas. Abbas' arrest, along with his brothers, had been documented in a film called Gunner Palace, co-directed by Michael Tucker. Abbas and his brothers were arrested, supposedly, for attempting to plan the assassination of Tony Blair, then were subsequently detained for no apparent reason in the lowest-level security camp at Abu Ghraib before being released months later.

Thompson had been trying to track Yunis down since he returned to the States; after he saw Gunner Palace and recognized Yunis, he contacted Michael Tucker. The story of the unlikely friendship between Thompson and Yunis Abbas ended up the focal point of Tucker's follow-up film, The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair. Tucker has a great piece up on Vanity Fair that gives a lot of background information about Yunis and his brothers, the conditions in the prison camp, and the situation from Thompson's perspective, as an average guy put in the position of being a guard at the infamous prison. Thompson, a practicing Buddhist, has this to say in the piece:

"I believe that there is always an opportunity to connect with other people, to look another person in the eye and to see them for who they really are. I think we should never allow a situation, no matter how complicated it is, to mask our ability to sympathize or to prevent us from feeling the suffering of other people. It's very difficult for me to know that I am here safe with my life-going to school-and to know that there is still a conflict, to know that Yunis is still there. It's still happening. What we went through really happened. It wasn't a dream."


Read the full article for an illuminating look at the Iraqi war from a different perspective. Tucker's writing puts you in the heart of matters as Yunis experienced things: a journalist, in his homeland, liberated from an oppressive dictator, finds himself under the equally oppressive boot of the Americans, who arrest him and his brothers in the middle of the night, even though they find no evidence at their home of anything more sinister than designer shampoo and party supplies. They are held for months with no charges, their family not even knowing where they were and if they were still alive, only to be just as inexplicably released months later.

The value of all these films about the Iraq War -- the oscar-nommed Iraq in Fragments, No End in Sight, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, The Prisoner -- is in the stories they tell, in the real faces they put on the "enemy," in the justice they can help bring about by telling the truth about what's really gone on over in Iraq. The scariest thing about war is what war does to people -- the way it dehumanizes, the human rights concessions we make for the sake of the greater wartime good. Films like The Prisoner are an accounting of sorts; they keep the tally of the costs of war in human terms against the day when someone sits down and actually sorts the mess out and figures out just what price was paid in Iraq. Until then, stories like that of Benjamin Thompson and Yunis Abbas make sure we keep seeing the real faces behind the news stories and military reports.

[ via Movie City News ]