Phil Zimbardo, 5/5/2004
[Phil Zimbardo is the person who conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment back in the 1960s. This is his statement forwarded from Div. 8 of the American Psychological Association listserve. —Chris Hansvick, Prof. of Psychology, PLU]
Subject: Abuse of Iraqi prisoners and the SPE parallels Posted By: Phil Zimbardo Institution: Stanford U. Date: May 1 2004, 12:46 p.m.
5 1 04 Dear Colleagues Just a quick note before heading off to a meeting of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents (CSSP) where Psych is the only social science among 62 societies represented, and I am its chair elect.
Recent horrors being displayed of sexual degradation of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. military army reservists elicit direct and sad parallels between similar behavior of the "guards" in the Stanford Prison Experiment against their "prisoners." As the guards on the night shift became ever more bored with their long 8-hour shift, they began to use the prisoners as play things for their amusement, believing that their actions were not under surviellance during the night (they were secretly video taped for subsequent viewing). I then discovered they would get them to simulate sodomy and other homophobic behaviors. They also stripped prisoners naked for various offenses, took away their sheets and mattresses, put them in solitary for excessive periods — all of which are mirrored in the behavior of military police in the Abu Ghraib prison outside of Bagdad. It is one reason we ended the study a week early because the guards were abusing the power in their roles, and were becoming uncontrollable by our staff. (see http://www.prisonexp.org)
See the report by Seymour Hersh, who helped expose the My Lai massacre, for details of the exent of the torture, abuse of all kinds, murder of inmates, coverups by senior officers and details.
In the current situation, we must not allow the politicians and pentagon to dismiss the seriousness of what happened with the usual dispositional analysis of a few bad apples in a good barrel. Bush said it should not reflect on the good nature of all Americans or our military.
Wrong. The situational analysis says the barrel of war is filled with vinegar that will transform good cucumbers into sour pickles and will always do it to make the majority of good people, men and women, into perpetrators of evil, where there is: anonymity-deindividuation, dehumanization, secrecy, diffusion of responsibility, social modeling, big power differentials, frustration, feelings of revenge,obedience to authority, lack of supervision that conveys a sense of permissiveness.
Remember the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, other good boy-soldiers murdered, raped, scalped and burned to death hundreds of innocent Vietnamese civilians, and only one was tried and Lt. Calley was soon released to become a hero of the right wing.
I studied torturers and death squad executioners in Brazil and there civil and military police committed the most atrocious horrors against fellow citizens once they were labelled the "enemy" — socialists and communists — and the ideology of "National Security" made them a threat to the fascist military junta running the country — with the support of our government.
Again we show in our recent book that basic social psych principles were operating to morph ordinary Brazilian police into brutal torturers and heartless mass murderers (see Violence Workers, UC Berkeley press, 2003, Huggins, Haritos-Fatouros, Zimbardo).
The ubiquitous causal force in all this is the Evil of War, and the cover story of "National Security," and now the exaggerated fears of terrorism that have been induced by ten "credible" terror alarms is transforming our nation into a culture of victims and our soldiers into brutal abusers of other human beings.
This one incident of waton, repeated, dehumanized abuse of innocent Iraqi civilian detainees will haunt the objectives of the Bush administration of bringing any semblance of US-style democracy to the Middle East — it will now not happen. It is not Americans at our worst, it is human nature succumbing to the power of evil situational forces. The horror is that our soldiers should never have been put in harm's way to be killed, maimed, and now to have to function in situations that enabled them to behave in ways that are a perversion of the perfection of our humanity. The rush to this pre-emptive war was based on lies, false assumptions and political and economic objectives that had nothing to do with WMD, terrorism, or enhancing our national security.
WAR IS INDEED HELL, AND THIS AGGRESSIVE, NEEDLESS WAR IS HELL ON EARTH THAT WILL HAVE LONG-LASTING NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES AT HOME AND ABROAD. ONE SLIM HOPE IS SOME IMPROVEMENT AFTER THE NOV. ELECTIONS IF THE CURRENT WAR-MONGERING ADMINISTRATION IS DEFEATED. BUT THE CURRENT NATIONAL INERTIA IS AMAZING TO ME, ESPECIALLY AMONG OUR PASSIVE UNCONCERNED STUDENTS.