The point of this British documentary is to show how the U.S. military abuses at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison were able to occur: it was because America has a culture of torturing its prison population. The argument there is fallacious, of course, since the military personnel running Abu Ghraib had little (if any) correctional facility management experience. Furthermore, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that America’s prison systems exist solely to torture prisoners.
Using isolated and unrelated examples from jails in four states (including cases at least 10 years old), the film insists that prison guards routinely go overboard by inflicting physical violence against defenseless inmates. There are plenty of examples here, all shown in blurry videos: prisoners being blasted with chemical sprays, bitten by guard dogs, kicked and pummeled, fastened into immobilizing chairs, dragged by their ankles and shocked with tasers. In many of these cases, prisoners were killed as a result of such abuse. Narrator Deborah Davies (sounding too much like Geraldine Chaplin’s clueless BBC reporter from “Nashville”) breathlessly details every blow and bruise suffered by the prisoners.
But where the film errs is in its half-reporting. The inherent danger of correctional work is never alluded to, nor is any depth given to the training requirements that correctional officers receive. In fact, the film makes an effort to claim the officers will kill any of their own who break the so-called “green wall of silence” (or in this case, the fat wall of silence – all of the officers featured in this documentary are considerably oversized).
Points are earned when the prison authorities idiotically defend their actions, most egregiously the grandstanding Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio and his bland insistence that an inmate who died from multiple severe injuries was actually the victim of self-inflicted wounds. It is a richly stupid moment, one that almost makes this slanted piece of hysteria work. Almost, but not quite.