Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Zimbardo on US Soldiers and Iraqi prisoners

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

My former colleague in the Psychology Department at Pace University in Pleasantville, NY forwarded this letter to me. It was distributed via the Social Psychology e-network. I think you will find it enlightening, and possibly disturbing, but I believe it is important information for us to be aware of.

Zimbardo was one of two professors at Stanford University who did an experiment with Stanford Students, now close to 30 years ago. They pre-tested students for normalcy of personality, so all the students who participated were "normal" college students at Stamford.

They divided the students into two groups -- "prisoners" and "guards" -- to study the effect of this kind of labeling on their behaviors. They had to terminate the study early, because the behavior of the "guards"(NORMAL college students) had become increasingly violent. This is actually the first time I read of the actual behaviors that the students engaged in that caused them to terminate the study.

Zimbardo wrote a lengthy article in the American Psychologist for the 25 year anniversary of the study, noting that he had hoped that the amazing results of their study would serve to awaken the American people to the dangers of the kinds of incarceration we have in our prison system.

He was, however, increasingly alarmed at how increasingly punitive our prison system has become, and more and more abuses are being tolerated in the name of "just" punishment -- including lenthy stays in isolation boxes, etc.

So it should come as little surprise to us that the kinds of abuses perpetrated in Iraq occurred. It is a function of the kind of dehumanization that occurs with the kinds of labelling of people as "enemy" "terrorist", and simply "prisoner" -- objectifying them.

We wonder how Hitler managed to convince a whole nation that Jews were exterminable. A similar labelling process occurred to make this possible.

I hope your reading of this article will help to inform your thinking on these matters, and our national war on "terrorists" and "terrorism."

[The Coalition of the Killing's Resource War's in the Middle East.]

Message From: Phil Zimbardo Position/Title: Professor of Psychology
School/Organization: Stanford University Subject: Abuse of Iraqi prisoners and the SPE parallels

May 1, 2004

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 videotaped 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 Baghdad. 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 also the recent New Yorker Magazine reports by Seymour Hersh (who also helped expose the My Lai massacre), for details of the etxent of the torture, abuse of all kinds, murder of inmates, [prisoners], 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 -- 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 psychology 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 wanton, repeated, dehumanized abuse of innocent Iraqi civilian detainees, [prisoners], 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.

[Err..The objectives of the war criminal Bush administration are Resource Wars and not US-style democracy.]

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, [militants], 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 November elections ... IF the current war-mongering administration is defeated. But the current national inertia is amazing to me, especially among our passive, unconcerned students.

By Frances Delahanty posted 18 May 04

Phil Zimbardo Sent courtesy of Social Psychology Network

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