Why were the Prisoners Abused

  1. many of us are asking why did this happen - why did the guards abuse the prisoners?? the following article discusses the psychological pressures but as they point out "psychology is not excusology"


    tuesday, may 11, 2004 .

    feature: prisoners of war

    descent into hell

    the iraqi man is naked, upright but knock-kneed, his back to the wall and his hands clutching at his head.

    fear is in his eyes - fear of the us soldiers guarding him, and fear of their dogs, barking and pulling at their leashes.

    the images from iraq's abu ghraib prison have shocked the world but they have not surprised an eminent professor of psychology in the united states.

    he has seen something very like them before.

    adapted from a report for abc radio's pm

    in 1971, professor philip zimbardo carried out a landmark experiment at stanford university, using 24 student volunteers as guards and prisoners.

    the experiment was supposed to last a fortnight but it had to be called off after just six days.

    during that time the prisoners were stripped naked, had bags placed on their heads and were made to simulate sex in strikingly similar imagery to photos now coming out of iraq.

    professor zimbardo, who has become a specialist in the prison environment, says his 1971 experiment does not excuse those reservists who are implicated in the iraqi prison abuses.

    he says superiors all the way up the chain of command should also be held responsible.


    professor zimbardo says there are direct parallels between what is happening in iraq and what happened during his shortened study.

    "i ended it after six days because it was getting out of control because it was seeing similar things as to what happened in iraq," he said.

    "by similar things i mean the guards stripping the prisoners naked at any excuse, humiliating them, degrading them, putting bags over their heads, chaining them together, then finally, and this is after just four or five days, the guards are doing homophobic things to the prisoners.

    "i mean the guards are telling them, 'bend over, you're female camels' to one group.

    "second group of prisoners, they're saying, 'you're male camels, hump them', and they're laughing because it's a play on words, hump, you know."

    professor zimbardo's psychological experiment was conducted with american college students.

    the students were chosen after a battery of psychological tests and clinical interviews.

    they had no history of crime or drug addiction, and had no history of disturbances.

    "[they were] the most ordinary but intelligent young men, randomly assigned as prisoners and guards," professor zimbardo said.

    "we ended the study not only because the guards were doing those terrible things but four of the prisoners who we chose because they were normal and healthy were having emotional breakdowns, had to be sent to student health."

    vivid images

    professor zimbardo says his sense is that the images from abu ghraib are only dramatic because there are vivid images.

    "what i saw was a microcosm of what happens in all prisons," he said.

    he is sure there is, as us secretary of defence donald rumsfeld warns, worse vision to come.

    "there's going to be much worse tapes if they are later in the sequence," he said.

    "there is a gradual descent into hell. and the descent into hell, you have to acclimatise to a new reality so that on day one, as in my study, the guards didn't do anything on day one, they were awkward in their role.

    "you step a little bit across that line between good and evil, you put your toe in the water and then what happens is, you get away with, or it feels good.

    "it feels good to dominate people, it feels good to have total power over somebody, especially if you're a no-nothing reserve in a horrible war, in an ugly place.

    "and then you go a little further, you escalate a little more, you escalate a little more."

    fraternity atmosphere

    professor zimbardo speculates that the pictures coming out of iraq now were taken after weeks or months of degradation.

    there is, he suggests, a fraternity-like atmosphere amongst the soldiers.

    "the important thing is this macho masculine camaraderie that the women got sucked up into, 'cause they had to show, 'hey, we're real soldiers'."

    and it is the women's involvement, he says, that makes the iraq pictures stand out.

    "what's shocking is really this is the first time we have ever seen women in that position...it's like the ultimate negativity of women's lib, that is we can do whatever guys can do, except how horrible it is," professor zimbardo said.

    "but what is the next step after the pictures we've seen?

    "the pictures we've seen are simulating sodomy, are you know, humiliating, the next step has to be an escalation of, of horror."

    'psychology not excusiology'

    professor zimbardo says the responsibility for that escalating horror can not be solely placed with the reservists in the pictures.

    but he says his experiment does not offer the soldiers an excuse either.

    "psychology is not excusiology," he said.

    "what i'm saying is, we can understand what the social psychological processes of transformation were operative in that situation. it does not excuse the behaviour."

    he says there is a distinction between guilt and blame.

    "i'm saying they were guilty," he said.

    "the model is a public health model.

    "these guys were caught in an epidemic of war, okay, and so they are not the source of the epidemic.

    "the source of the epidemic is whoever put them in harm's way... whoever created the war in the first place.

    "secondly, who did not give them supervision, who created a prison which was veiled in secrecy, not open to lawyers, not open to human rights groups, not open to amnesty international, not open to family."

    carrying out orders

    professor zimbardo says the soldiers in the pictures were simply carrying out orders.

    "they will be tried and be guilty," he said.

    "who should be tried is george bush. who should be tried is rumsfeld. who should be tried is his assistant, wolfowitz."

    professor zimbardo says it is the barrel, not just a few corrupt apples, that must take the blame.

    "the barrel corrupts most of the people in it and for me that's the barrel of war."
  2. 13 Comments

  3. by   laughingfairy
    I worked in a prison for a short time...this kind of thing is exactly why there are such strict rules inside the US, in US prisons about what is and is not allowed. What is illegal and is not illegal...the line blurs...prison gaurds are given full control of these people's lives, prisoners are dependent on guards for the very basics of their survival. This was taught as part of our training and to be on the alert for signs of it in ourselves and others.

    Do I think the guards are guilty and responsible for their own actions? Most emphatically "yes". However, I believe as the psychologist said. Everyone who goes up this chain of command should be held responsible...They had to have very good ideas that this would occur. This is not ground breaking research...we have known this for over 30 years.
  4. by   Jaaaman
    Posted: May 11, 2004
    1:00 a.m. Eastern

    2004 WorldNetDaily.com

    Every decent person I know has reacted in horror to the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners in Al Ghraib prison near Baghdad. When the lewd photos emerged of American soldiers forcing prisoners to engage in sexual acts, and leading them around on leashes with hoods over their heads, and threatening them with electrocution, people were speechless and horrified.

    We should be enraged and demand that those involved be severely punished. We must also remember that the vast majority of our brave soldiers are decent human beings who have been willing to sacrifice their very lives to secure freedom for others.

    But should we be shocked that some Americans are capable of such barbaric behavior as depicted in the infamous photos?


    Pornography is the No. 1 Internet industry - No. 1. There are well over 300,000 Internet porn sites.

    American consumers spent an estimated $220 million at such fee-based "adult" sites in 2001, according to Jupiter Media Metrix, a New York Internet research firm. That was up from $148 million in 1999. Jupiter is projecting $320 million by 2005.

    A comprehensive 2-year study by Alexa Research, a leading Web intelligence and traffic-measurement service, has revealed "sex" was the most popular term for which people searched. According to their online searching habits, people want "sex" more than they want "games," "music," "travel," "jokes," "cars," "jobs," "weather" and "health" combined.

    A nationwide survey of 1,031 adults conducted by Zogby International and Focus on the Family on March 8-10, 2000, found that "20 percent of respondents - which extrapolates to 40 million adults - admitted visiting a sexually-oriented website. According to the Nielsen Net ratings, 17.5 million surfers visited porn sites from their homes in January of 2000 - a 40 percent increase compared with September of 1999."

    Pornography websites earned $1.5 billion in 1999 and more than $2 billion in 2000.

    According to a 2001 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Public Education, "by the time adolescents graduate from high school, they will have spent 15,000 hours watching television, compared with 12,000 hours spent in the classroom ... American media are thought to be the most sexually suggestive in the Western hemisphere. The average American adolescent will view nearly 14,000 sexual references per year, yet only 165 of these references deal with birth-control, self-control, abstinence or the risk of pregnancy or STDs."

    The 2001 pediatric report also said that "56 percent of all programs on American television were found to contain sexual content. The so-called "family hour" of prime-time television (8:00 to 9:00 p.m.) contains on average more than eight sexual incidents, which is more than 4 times what it contained in 1976. Nearly one third of family-hour shows contain sexual references ..."

    And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

    The military experts are right when they say we need to discuss how we administer prisons, how we handle foreign detainees and how complaints travel up and down the chain of command. The average soldier receives three hours of training a year on the Geneva Conventions regarding the proper treatment of prisoners of war. Is it possible to deprogram and reprogram soldiers - who come from a culture living the above statistics - in three hours a year?

    A recent poll says Americans aren't even overly ashamed of what has gone on. Why? "People out in the hinterlands can keep the perspective of the big picture," the pollster told U.S. News magazine. Oh yeah? What is the big picture? That "everyone does it"? That this was mistreatment, not torture? That these were mere "fraternity pranks"? That the Iraqis are doing far worse to each other and to our soldiers?

    Forget defending it. It's indefensible. Since the photos were seen 'round the world, very few folks 'round the world now view America as the country that liberated the Iraqis from Saddam, that rebuilt roads, schools and power stations. They see America as the country that engaged in the exact reprehensible behavior we said we were going to Iraq to stop.

    But, with the non-judgmental, sex-crazed, anything-goes culture that we have become at home, it seems that America has set herself up for international humiliation. Our country permits Hollywood to put almost anything in a movie and still call it PG-13. We permit television and computers to bring all manner of filth into our homes. We permit school children to be taught that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle. We allow Christianity and the teaching of Judeo-Christian values to be scrubbed from the public square. We allow our children be taught how to use condoms in school, rather than why to avoid sex. We let these things happen. They don't happen on their own.

    While hearings take place to examine the horrific behavior that took place in a military prison overseas, it's time to take a cold, hard look at the degradation in our own country - and in our own homes.
    Last edit by Jaaaman on May 11, '04
  5. by   pickledpepperRN
    Here in LA people are concerned that "The porn industry" may relocate to another state if a law requiring condoms is passed. There is a 60 day moratorium due to HIV infection.

    I heard on the radio that "Guard and prisoner" is a common theme in these films.
  6. by   Spidey's mom
    I'm not completely convinced that the reason the guards reacted the way they did is due to pornography, even though I abhor it. I thought the article about the experiment in 1971 interesting in that the college kids in just 6 days degenerated into human beings who would degrade and mistreat one another. I'm not sure of the psychology of it.

    I do wonder about the fact that they were dealing with the same type of men that beheaded the American contractor. The description of the video is horrible and his mother has said that his body had signs of torture. The same type of people beheaded Daniel Pearl also. The same type of men who degrade and mistreat their women (who by the way have no real rights in the world of radical Islam - something we would not put up with on this little BB if it were our husbands). We aren't talking about college kids who volunteered for an experiment. We are talking about men whose hatred has made them do awful things.

    We have talked on this BB before about what we would do to child molesters and we have had very little sympathy for them, well, except for nursehardee. Maybe taking into account the fact that radical Islam has done some horrendous things might make is easier to understand how our soldiers had so little regard for them.

    This does not mean I think our soldiers had a reason or right to do what they did and I believe they should be punished.

    I think there is a difference between a beheading of an American citizen that was videotaped, a car that was bombed and the charred bodies mistreated and photographed, snipers taking out our soldiers ..............and what we have seen so far that our soldiers did to the prisoners.

    Does anyone see that you can be appalled at our soldiers behavior but more appalled at a beheading or charred bodies mistreated?

    This doesn't have to be an either/or question ..........and please don't question my intelligence when I say that I don't equate the two.

    And please don't think I'm not sick to my stomach over our soldier's behavior.

    Last edit by Spidey's mom on May 11, '04
  7. by   pickledpepperRN
    I' m not saying it was porn, music videos, violent movies, TV, or video games. I just don't know.

    I doubt they were ALL the the same type of men.
  8. by   SmilingBluEyes
    I am equally appalled and my morale takes a beating with each and every senseless act and death and the images that assault my senses in this whole war, steph. I am not "more" appalled by one than the other nor do I try to make comparisons. The whole mess, as it gets worse, just plain sickens me. I feel for families and sufferers on both "sides" of this conflict.
  9. by   Alnamvet
    Problem I have with all this "outrage" of is the lack of concern for our tortured and mutilated brethren hanging from a bridge like crisppy critters, or the beheading of a young man only because he has a Jewish sounding name...where is the shock...the horror? Why is it that no one can see that they (Iraqi's and foreign terrorists) don't care about humanity, but use the stupidity of a few to justify outrageous acts against mankind...the kinds of acts they have been guilty of by history. These people are not innocents....war is dirty and nasty...mistakes will be made, regardless of "training", so get over it, and support the prosecution of this war until there are no more threats to mankind by less than human barbarians.
  10. by   jnette
    Excellent article, Gwen, and I concur.

    I don't think it's the "porn issue" at all. I truly believe it has far more to do with the new sensation that comes with "power and control" over another human being. Free reign. The ugly nature of all humanity seeps out in this type of environment.

    I also agree and would DEMAND that those higher up in the chain of command be held every bit as responsible, if not more so. Unfortunately, I'm hearing only too much about the 6 or 7, and not nearly enough about those in command. :stone
  11. by   SmilingBluEyes
    ..............to include OUR commander-in-chief, yes jnette.
  12. by   gwenith
    I knew of the Stanford University experiment - it is required reading for a lot of psychology courses. The experiment has never been repeated and maybe it should have under very very tightly controlled circumstances - just to see if there is a way we can STOP this from happening again.
  13. by   nurseunderwater
    Quote from SmilingBluEyes
    ..............to include OUR commander-in-chief, yes jnette.
    i agree....yet there is that old saying....s*#+ rolls down hill........
  14. by   jnette
    Quote from nurseunderwater
    i agree....yet there is that old saying....s*#+ rolls down hill........

    Unless there are a couple tumblebugs named Dick and Donnie rolling it it UP the hill...