Widely vilified as a principal architect of the Vietnam War, McNamara spent hours on end being interviewed by Morris. What Morris, to this day an adamant opponent of Vietnam, found in McNamara was not an evildoer pulling the strings of history but a complicated man "sincerely anguished by his own history… a person who operated with good intentions [yet who] became mired in some truly, truly horrendous things."
Morris's other films — this is his eighth feature-length documentary — include "A Brief History of Time" with Stephen Hawking; "Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr." (the maker of execution devices); "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control" (four quirky characters, including a wild animal trainer and a topiary gardener); and "The Thin Blue Line," about a murder in Texas, a film Morris calls "an epistemological thriller."
"Fog of War," of course, has the most obvious connections with "Standard Operating Procedure." The first is about "someone who was at the very, very top of the chain of command," said Morris. In the second, "you're looking at the very bottom: privates, specialists, corporals, sergeants, close to exact opposites. People who are following orders, not making them. That is a really, really important and interesting difference."
Leaving aside the "Animal House," frat-house-run-amok quality to Abu Ghraib, "the important thing to remember is that when [night shift guards] Sabrina Harman and Javal Davis walked on the tier for the first time, this was a system that was already in place," said Morris. "They look at this stuff, and Harman said, 'I started taking pictures to expose what the military was doing.'"
And while the photographs may have been worth a thousand words, they weren't necessarily the right words, much less all the words. In one, Harman is posing, smiling, signaling thumbs-up, next to the corpse of a man named Manadel al-Jamadi, who had died during an interrogation at Abu Ghraib.
"What are we looking at here?" Morris asks, his voice rising and cracking with incredulity and horror. "We see a photograph of Sabrina looming over al-Jamadi's body, we assume she's connected, she's gloating. The reality of this picture is that he was killed by the CIA, who's never prosecuted for the murder. Sabrina was told he died of a heart attack.
"Sabrina, who has said she wanted to be a forensic photographer, manages to get into a locked shower room, and in addition to the thumbs-up picture, she takes pictures of the injuries that al-Jamadi received. Why don't people see the murder? It's like you're looking at a crime scene and you know nothing about the nature of the crime."
In another context, added Morris, "Sabrina might be given a Pulitzer Prize in photography."
This film, Morris thinks, was the "first opportunity any of them had to tell their story. I don't think anybody had ever approached them for anything but soundbites. Or to ask, 'Are you ashamed? Do you feel guilty?'"