Review: Kafkaesque 'Prisoner' raw, powerful 

After telling so effectively the story of the Army’s 2/3 Field Artillery unit in "Gunner Palace," documentarians Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker return to the front lines of America’s war on terror with "The Prisoner," recounting an Iraqi journalist’s eight-month incarceration in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

Through a series of interviews with Yunis Khatayer Abbas — a freelance cameraman wrongly suspected in a plot to assassinate British Prime Minister Tony Blair — and his captors, who assure us that the U.S. military’s handling of prisoners is mostly reasonable and fair-minded, they tell an agonizing story of one man’s struggle to survive endless interrogations and abuse.

How could an ordinary man be subjected to such a senseless ordeal? All too easily, it seems.

Abbas, mistakenly detained during an American raid on what was believed to be a terrorist cell, initially clings to a simple mantra — "I am a journalist" — but his protests fall on deaf ears. Soon, he is escorted from prison to prison, repeatedly ordered to divulge his role in a conspiracy he has never heard of, and tortured, physically and psychologically, when his answers are deemed insufficient.

After being forced to inhabit squalid cells for nearly nine months, Abbas was ultimately cleared of the charges when authorities failed to produce a shred of compelling evidence. He recalls the experience in basic, sometimes broken English, but there is no mistaking his rage at the injustice of it all.

And yet Abbas emerges from his ordeal with his humanity intact, sprinkling his commentary with wry humor and going out of his way to praise American soldiers such as Spc. Benjamin Thompson, who afforded him the respect and dignity he was denied by so many others.

Through it all, it becomes increasingly evident that America’s efforts to restore order in Iraq are sometimes dangerously ineffective — not to say counterproductive — and that the abuses committed at U.S. prison camps like Abu Ghraib will not soon be forgotten.

Abbas’ story has all the qualities of a Kafkaesque nightmare, and it is becoming depressingly familiar. It is also a painful reminder thatAmerica’s fight for freedom has all too frequently come at the expense of honest men whose own liberty was needlessly taken from them.

The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair


Starring Yunis Khatayer Abbas

Directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker

Rated PG-13

Running time: 1 hour , 12 minutes

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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