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Abu Ghraib Prison Turned Soldiers Evil by Design: Researcher

Abu Ghraib prison turned soldiers evil by design: researcher
Glenn Chapman | Yahoo!

MONTEREY, California (AFP) - The very design of Abu Ghraib in Iraq turned good soldiers into evil tormentors that humiliated and brutalized prisoners, a famed social psychologist said Thursday.

Stanford University professor Philip Zimbardo described a "Lucifer effect" as he flashed shocking images of Abu Ghraib horrors for those at an elite Technology, Entertainment and Design conference in California.

"If you give people power without oversight it is a formula for abuse," Zimbardo said to a stunned audience the included famous actors, entrepreneurs and politicians.

"Abu Ghraib abuses went on for three months ... Who was watching the store? Nobody, and it was on purpose."

Zimbardo, 75, is renowned for the 1971 Stanford prison experiment in which students on summer break play roles as guards or prisoners in a mock prison in the basement of a building on the university's campus in Northern California.

The pretend guards grew so sadistic and the prisoners so cowed that the experiment was halted prematurely out of concern for the students.

Zimbardo detailed stark parallels to abuses of suspected terrorists by US soldiers at Abu Graib prison in Iraq, and how environment can turn people into heroes or demons.

"I was shocked when I saw those pictures but I wasn't surprised," Zimbardo said of the images he was privy to while a member of a legal defense team for a sergeant charged in connection with prison abuses.

"Because I had seen those cells before at Stanford. The power is in the system. It's not bad apples, but bad barrel makers."

Zimbardo, wearing a black T-shirt with a picture of a devil flanked by two angels, paced the stage as images of horrors flashed on large screens. He lays out his conclusions in a recently released book titled "The Lucifer Effect."

"There is an infinite capacity to make us behave kind or cruel, or make some of us heroes," Zimbardo said, convinced that environment dictates the outcome far more than people's characters or personalities.

"The Stanford prison experiment shows the power of institutions to change behavior. We took good apples and put them in a bad situation."

As a witness for a US military police reservist that was a guard at the Abu Ghraib interrogation center when abuses occurred, Zimbardo got access to records and pictures gathered in the case.

The guards were told to "soften" prisoners to make them more cooperative with military intelligence interrogators, according to Zimbardo.

Photos showed naked and hooded prisoners beaten bloody and being made to commit humiliating acts such as human pyramids or simulating homosexual sex. Soldiers posed proudly with battered corpses and nude, injured prisoners.

A picture shows a soldier firing a bullet into a camel's head at point blank range.

"They took pictures of everything," Zimbardo said.

A "hero" at Abu Ghraib turned out to be a lowly private that called for abuses there to be stopped, according to the professor.

"Heroism is the antidote to evil," Zimbardo said. "Let's focus on justice and peace, which sadly our administration has not been doing."

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It is not just Abu Ghraib, there is Bagram and those still hidden and unknown secretive prisons that were used in the infamous rendition flights. What took place there? What may still be taking place there? The rot is at the top; the corruption is at the top; the evil is at the top; the greed is at the top; the inhuman and debased conduct is at the top, and it spirals down through the chain of command. What a stinking whore house of human corruption the White House has become. It needs to be renamed, “The Black House of Human Despair”. “The Halls of Despotism”. “The Chamber of Horrors”. “The Centre of Insanity”. “Home of the Criminally Insane”. “The Butchers Palace”. “Institute of the Offensive”. “Centre of all Depravity”. And Congress has done nothing to bring it to heel.

Nancy Pelosi and John Conyers have some of the shame to bear, they could have taken steps, Impeachment steps, to hold this vile unelected president to account for his actions. Instead they delayed, made up excuses, deferred matters, and all the while the war raged on, the killings continued and the torture proceeded unabated. What a stinking testimony of Congress.

One thing and one thing alone has come out of the non elected Bush presidency, it has woken up many Americans to the real truth of their countries leadership, past and present. The American dream is over,in truth it never existed. It was a hyped up veneer that covered a multitude of global sins which allowed corporations to ravage countries, suppress its people, and exploit whatever was seen as in America's [corporate] interest.

“I cannot be awake for nothing looks to me as it did before, Or else I am awake for the first time, and all before has been a mean sleep.”
Walt Whitman

Disclaimer:not a trained psychologist. much as I can agree that the system in which these "apples" were working is atrocious, I find it hard to reconcile that with their actions. Particularly due to the fact that this went on for 3 months. Is it fair that this corrupt system found a scapegoat in these soldiers? Yes. Is it possible that some of these soldiers were prone to this kind of behavior and it was allowed to happen in such an environment? I would hope not but I don't think that this should be ruled out solely because of the system.

I think Philip Zimbardo is absolutely correct in his belief that the "barrel" at Abu Ghraib (and at who-knows how many other secret prisons not yet revealed) was designed to produce rotten apples and atrocious behavior. But there is another issue not mentioned in the article that makes the whole thing even more evil. There is a concept in social psychology called the "fundamental attribution error." Attributions are the explanations we offer for behavior, both our own and that of others. The fundamental attribution error is the mistaken tendency we have to explain the behavior of others in terms of personality characteristics while downplaying the influence of the environment. This is because, first, an individualistic culture tends to think in terms of free choice and personal accountability, and second, because we are often unaware of the environmental factors at work in a situation. I think it fairly certain that the higher-ups in the Bush regime and in the military and intelligence services were well acquainted with Zimbardo's work and with attribution theory as well. As a result, I believe they not only knew how to design a prison system that would produce the abuses they wanted without actually having to order them to be committed, but they also knew they could get away with all of it if it ever came to light by taking advantage of the public's tendency to make the fundamental attribution error. Most people would be all too willing to accept a "few bad apples" excuse and not dig any deeper. Here, finally, is a case of intelligent design you can take to the bank.

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