- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

Yunis Khatayer Abbas is one of the countless victims of Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical regime.

The Iraqi journalist was tortured in a jail run by Uday Hussein, one of Saddam’s sons, after writing of the U.S. embargo. He recalls Uday telling him, “If you do it again, maybe I kill you.”

Things didn’t get much better for Mr. Abbas under the American occupation.

“The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair” details how Mr. Abbas was arrested and thrown in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in the fall of 2003. The evidence points to his innocence.

“Prisoner” boasts slick production values — the talking heads here are interspersed with comic book imagery, representing the prison to which the filmmakers were denied access. For all its clever tricks, though, the most compelling part of the film is the most starkly simple: the interplay between two men on opposite sides of the world, neither of whom understands the absurd system in which they found themselves.

Filmmakers Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker witnessed — and recorded — Mr. Abbas’ arrest in Baghdad while they were filming their 2004 documentary “Gunner Palace,” in which they followed a single artillery unit rounding up suspected insurgents.

The filmmakers caught up with Mr. Abbas after his release from Abu Ghraib. “Prisoner” mostly features Mr. Abbas telling his own story. He’s quite photogenic, a mixture of the impish (“This is my best donkey”) and the intelligent.

Mr. Abbas says he was accused of plotting to assassinate British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The charge, he says, was so ludicrous that he laughed. Not for long, though: He spent nine long months in Abu Ghraib, enduring conditions to which we wouldn’t subject serial killers in this country. Denied paper, he recorded his experiences by writing on the inside of his underwear.

Those conditions are revealed not just by Mr. Abbas but also a recently discharged solider. Mr. Abbas calls Army Spc. Benjamin Thompson “the Good Solider.” He was one of the crew sent in to replace those accused of torturing prisoners after photographic evidence made the front pages.

Mr. Thompson recalls seeing rat feces in the rice, smelling food that was clearly spoiled and watching prisoners take ill simply from eating.

Prisoner and guard forged something like a friendship. “It seemed to me like he worked very hard to keep peace in the camps,” Mr. Thompson says of Mr. Abbas, who as a rare English speaker served as a translator. It’s clear the soldier never saw him as a terrorist. Mr. Thompson notes that this supposed assassin of a world leader was kept in the lowest level of the prison, reserved for those of no counterintelligence interest.

Mr. Abbas, surprisingly, doesn’t seem too bitter. And neither does this film, which is why it’s so compelling — and credible. Rather than a rant, no matter how righteous, it’s a well-told tale of one small man caught up in the absurdities of war.

***

TITLE: “The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair”

RATING: PG-13 (some strong language and mature thematic elements)

CREDITS: Directed by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein.

RUNNING TIME: 72 minutes

WEB SITE: www.theprisoner.us

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS.

He spent nine long months in Abu Ghraib, enduring conditions to which we wouldn’t subject serial killers in this country.

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