Political Film Society - Newsletter #291 - November 25, 2007

November 25, 2007


RedactedOn July 7, 2006, two American soldiers raped Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi, a fourteen-year-old girl in Samarra, and killed the rest of her family in cold blood. An Army report of the incident is largely redacted to hide the identity of the soldiers, their victims, and other related information. Directed by Brian De Palma, Redacted recreates the incident, the statement, and provides background to understand the context. He does so by first disclosing, though a title at the beginning, that the incident actually happened but will be fictionalized. The rest of the film shortcuts what appears to be a video blog by an American soldier, Angel Salazar (played by Izzy Diaz), a short blog by a soldier’s spouse, a French “documentary,” and film footage from a supposed Arabic television network, though the actual filming is in Jordan. To further shed light, filmviewers may recall that De Palma directed a nearly identical plot, Political Film Society awardwinning Casualties of War (1989), though a court martial brought the perpetrators in Vietnam to justice, whereas in Iraq the incident has been covered up by a redacting of the written report as well as a death threat imposed by one rapist on his fellow nonrapist soldiers. Although the pseudodocumentary approach may trouble filmviewers who may expect a “normal” film, the clear aim is not only to provide some authenticity but also to point out that the unusual media operate in abundance, even though most Americans are unexposed to their existence as well as their truths. Indeed, the incident came to light from an actual blog. The background to the incident may be more troubling than the war crime of the rape by B. B. Rush (played by Daniel Stewart Sherman) and Reno Flake (played by Patrick Carroll) because the aim is to demonstrate how American soldiers are reacting to the absurdities of their battlefield assignment. Perhaps the most basic insight is that the soldiers have been trained to fight with macrofirepower, yet they are untrained to serve as police, who require microdecisions in sorting out the innocent from the criminal elements.

Soldiers wearing 120 pound of protection against possible snipers in 120º degree heat are in fact easy targets for snipers because their uniforms stand out. The socialization experience is also portrayed, in which recent recruits try to make friends with Iraqis, only to be warned by oldtimers that nobody can be trusted; even young girls are patted down en route through to school through checkpoints, whereas a title states that fewer than 10 percent of those fired upon are insurgents. The film also contrasts how Iraqis, including goatherders and youthful soccerplayers, try to live peaceful lives while the strange occupiers of their country are traumatized by the threat of violence at any moment from unseen enemies and unwilling to experience remorse for their war crimes lest they become weak. Chronologically, the narrative of the rape begins with the Barry Lyndon themed French “documentary” at an American military checkpoint where vehicle operators are supposed to follow hand signals and read signs in Arabic and English, whereas half the Iraqis are illiterate, and they are culturally conditioned to interpret “stop” hand signals as friendly “go ahead” gestures. Thus, on one occasion an Iraqi drives through a checkpoint toward the hospital with his wife, who is about to give birth, only to have American bullets fired into the car, killing both mother and unborn child. Subsequently, an American soldier is beheaded in revenge. The response to the revenge killing is the rape. The film ends with a montage of photos of dead Iraqis. Although many other lessons are to be learned, the most profound may emerge after leaving the cinema, when filmviewers may realize how obdurate many officials remain, refusing to learn past lessons while soldiers are, as before, treated as cannon fodder. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, whose remorselessness is evidenced by his belief that American troops who are risking their lives have been dishonored by Redacted, is silently endorsed by the rest of the media, which downplay the many war crimes committed in Iraq while blogs by soldiers document them. Nevertheless, polls reveal that the war has clearly lost the “hearts and minds” not only of Iraqis but also the American public. The Political Film Society has nominated Redacted for an award of best exposé film of 2007 as well as best film of the year in the categories of human rights and peace. MH