'That place turned me into a monster," says Juval Davis, a military policeman turned prison guard, who was sentenced to six months in jail for torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

"You've got to block it out," says Sabrina Harman, another MP who got the same sentence. "You've got to do something to make your day go by without going crazy."

They are two of more than a score of interviewees, including many Iraqi prisoners, in Rory Kennedy's scathing HBO documentary, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, tonight at 9:30.

The film suggests that the torture wasn't just late-night sadism by a rogue crew of untrained soldiers, but rather the result of an overall plan instituted by military intelligence operatives. It took root in an environment established by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, using methods outlined by then-Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was promoted to deputy commander general for detainee operations in Iraq for his efforts.

"There is zero chance [the guards] acted alone," says Scott Horton, chairman of the Committee on International Law of the New York City Bar Association. "Very precisely described techniques that were developed for use on Arab men in the global war on terror were implemented at Guantanamo and were then brought to and used at Abu Ghraib."

Ghosts, which outlines many twists and turns, including one operation designed by the military to obtain and destroy any incriminating pictures other than the ones that got out, is the kind of thorough investigation the news operations of the major networks used to do back in the dark ages.

And, as it unrolls three years of comments made by Rumsfeld, President Bush and others in authority, that have been proven false by time or investigation, it is sickening.

But the high-level soft-shoe is nothing compared to unretouched images, shot by the soldiers, of the torture itself. HBO has no requirements to appease genteel sensibilities, and Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, much more than the network's fictional shows or the titillating hanky-panky of such series as Taxicab Confessions, demonstrates the power that freedom of communication can bring.

Must-watch and can't-watch viewing at the same time, it demands attention.

The documentary repeats several times over the coming weeks: Tuesday at 12:15 a.m., March 6 at 10 p.m., March 13 at 12:05 a.m., and March 22 at 4:35 a.m.

On HBO2, it will be shown Wednesday at 10:15 p.m., March 4 at 1 a.m., and March 16 at 2:40 a.m.

Jonathan Storm |

TV

Ghosts of Abu Ghraib

Premieres on HBO tonight at 9:30

To comment on this article, go to: http://go.philly.com/askstorm. Contact television critic Jonathan Storm privately at 215-854-5618 or jstorm@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/jonathanstorm.