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Production Journal

Laura Poitras takes viewers behind the scenes to learn more about the circumstances that led her to capture some of the pivotal scenes in My Country, My Country, including her first meeting with Dr. Riyadh at Abu Ghraib, her access in the Green Zone, what it was like to travel around Baghdad alone and her recent experiences traveling in the United States after showing the film abroad.

Meeting Dr. Riyadh


A U.S. military guard stationed inside of Abu Ghraib.

A U.S. military guard stationed inside of Abu Ghraib.

I met Dr. Riyadh at Abu Ghraib prison. I had been in Iraq for four weeks and I was worried about the film. I had traveled to Iraq thinking the film would be about the U.S. and its occupation, but after a month of filming I realized that this would only replicate the sequestered siege mentality I was witnessing among many Americans in Iraq. Then a lieutenant colonel said to me: "Baghdad city council is doing an inspection of Abu Ghraib Prison. You might want to try and get on that trip. It won't be easy, but if you write a request, I will forward it."

This was three months after the Abu Ghraib photographs had been made public.

Dr. Riyadh arrived at Abu Ghraib with the other members of the city council. He was leading the inspection. I introduced myself as an American filmmaker and asked if I could follow him during the inspection. He said, "Yes, we want transparency. We want the world to know the situation of Iraqis."

The inspection lasted two hours. There were 4,000 detainees being held at Abu Ghraib at the time. The prison was organized into different camps divided by chain-link fences and razor wire. Dr. Riyadh kept pushing the U.S. military to go deeper and deeper inside the prison. Eventually he discovered the group of juveniles being held, including a nine-year-old boy, and a man on a hunger strike inside a cage. As I filmed Dr. Riyadh explaining to the U.S. officials and military that this kind of treatment will only create more anti-American sentiment, I knew I'd found my film.

Dr. Riyadh at Abu Ghraib prison

Dr. Riyadh at Abu Ghraib prison

At the end of the inspection, Dr. Riyadh invited me to come and film at his medical clinic in a Sunni district in Baghdad known for being against the U.S. occupation.

I asked the same lieutenant colonel what he knew about Dr. Riyadh. He said, "Dr. Riyadh is very outspoken. He will be good for you to film." Then, after a pause: "Of course, the CIA think he is a bad guy." "A bad guy?" I wondered. What I witnessed was the opposite -- a compassionate man standing up for the rights of others.

That night I showed the footage to a friend. He was born in Baghdad and had fled Saddam's Iraq at 18. Now a U.S. citizen in his early 40s, he had returned to Iraq to help rebuild his country's computer network. I trusted him and needed advice about going to Dr. Riyadh's clinic. The first thing he said when looking at the footage confirmed my instincts: "This is a good man." I told him the CIA had him on a "bad guy" list. My friend said: "Let me make a call. I know someone."

The next day I was with my friend when his cellphone rang. I could hear the caller's voice: "He is a bad guy. Tell her he is a bad guy." My friend asked his CIA contact what he was accused of. "He is anti-American." My friend pushed for details. The CIA agent said, "He is against the U.S. occupation." My friend asked what was in the file. The agent said the CIA had an arrest order for Dr. Riyadh for being "anti-American," but that it had not been carried out because someone from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad had attached a letter to his file stating that disagreement was not a crime and not grounds for arrest.

I had been in Baghdad long enough to witness how many Americans running the occupation distrusted Iraqis who expressed disagreement or criticism. I had also been in Baghdad long enough to recognize that Dr. Riyadh was a legitimate leader who Iraqis considered "one of them." Convinced that Dr. Riyadh was a "good guy," I made plans to go to his medical clinic.

Next: Getting There »





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