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The Psychology of Abu Grahib April 4, 2007

Posted by tkcollier in Life, News, Science & Technology.

Philip G. Zimbardo – Finding Hope in Knowing the Universal Capacity for Evil – New York Times
 You had the C.I.A., civilian interrogators, military intelligence saying to the Army reservists, “Soften these detainees up for interrogation.”

Those kinds of vague orders were the equivalent of my saying to the S.P.E. guards, “It’s your prison.” At Abu Ghraib, you didn’t have higher-ups saying, “You must do these terrible things.” The authorities, I believe, created an environment that gave guards permission to become abusive — plus one that gave them plausible deniability.

Chip worked 40 days without a single break, 12-hour shifts. The place was overcrowded, filthy, dangerous, under constant bombardment. All of that will distort judgment, moral reasoning. The bottom line: If you’re going to have a secret interrogation center in the middle of a war zone, this is going to happen.

Q. You keep using this phrase “the situation” to describe the underlying cause of wrongdoing. What do you mean?

A. That human behavior is more influenced by things outside of us than inside. The “situation” is the external environment. The inner environment is genes, moral history, religious training. There are times when external circumstances can overwhelm us, and we do things we never thought. If you’re not aware that this can happen, you can be seduced by evil. We need inoculations against our own potential for evil. We have to acknowledge it. Then we can change it.

Q. So you disagree with Anne Frank, who wrote in her diary, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart?”

A. That’s not true. Some people can be made into monsters. And the people who abused, and killed her, were.


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