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Understanding Abu Ghraib
January 14, 2005 8:00 PM   Subscribe

the stanford prison experiment,first posted in Feb 2001, can now be compared to the actions of soldiers who have served in Abu Ghraib. It's an illustration of how one can get carried away with a role and not act as one would normally. No, not an excuse. Thank you Plep!
posted by snsranch (32 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
God dammit. I was working on an FPP on this same issue, saved on my work computer, but I just gave in and shelled out my $5 paypal less than a week ago so I had to wait on it. :/

Anyway, the mastermind behind this experiment is one Phillip Zimbardo, professor emeritus at Stanford, and he has plenty to say about this issue.

original 2001 post. And another from 2002 with a dead link.

Phillip Zimbardo: brilliant researcher or sadistic fuck? You decide.
posted by salad spork at 8:13 PM on January 14, 2005


Might have wanted to link to some of the Abu Ghraib stories to tie them in. Or some of the other sites that discuss the experiments.
posted by fenriq at 8:37 PM on January 14, 2005


dazed_one; yea, I know, it's about drawing a parallel between the experiment and Abu Ghraib.

salad spork; Sorry I stepped on your toes. But do you think the Abu Ghraib soldier's behaviors can be justified based on the experience of the experiment?
posted by snsranch at 8:40 PM on January 14, 2005


fenriq, thank you.
posted by snsranch at 8:43 PM on January 14, 2005


The "prisoners" in this "experiment" were never told that they were participating in an experiment. Real-life Palo Alto cops "arrested" them from their homes and took them to Zimbardo's basement prison. Though they had signed up for an experiment before, they were never informed of the conditions they'd be kept in, and it is quite possible that many never made the connection between the document they'd signed a few weeks earlier and their mysterious arrest and detention.

Zimbardo's guards, on the other hand, for the most part did not exhibit sadistic behavior--approximately two thirds, in fact. The guards, who all knew that they were participating in an experiment, quite possibly let that fantasy affect their behavior. Guards in real life might not have behaved the same way.

So, experimental psychology has limits. It's much more informative to look at real-life prisons. Yeah, some American prisons suck, but you don't see the same level of abuse elsewhere (like Europe or Japan), and you don't see the same sort of torture that occurred in Abu Ghraib (or Zimbardo's basement prison). You also certainly don't see docile prisoners.
posted by profwhat at 8:52 PM on January 14, 2005


Profwhat:


you don't see the same sort of torture that occurred in Abu Ghraib (or Zimbardo's basement prison).


I'd say that some prisons are WORSE than the basement. Recall that the experiment was prior to the construction of the notorious supermax prisons, which deprive inmates of all human contact for extended periods of time, sometimes for the duration of their sentences. Amnesty International has expressed concern about treatment of inmates in some of these high-tech facilities.
posted by aberrant at 8:58 PM on January 14, 2005


If you thought the experiment was cool, wait'll you see the movie!
posted by jennanemone at 8:58 PM on January 14, 2005


Okay, maybe not the most scintillating post ever, but an interesting topic, and an interesting parallel.

So, are there parallels? Does absolute power corrupt absolutely, even when those in power are peons following orders, or peons who really don't have any power?

By the way, Charles Graner was found guilty of abuse today and faces up to 15 years in prison. Hapless pawn, or evil bastard?
posted by mudpuppie at 9:00 PM on January 14, 2005


Funny to see 16k'ers calling people noobs ;)

On a more related note, i strongly reccomend Das Experiment, a german movie made about the Stanford Prison Experiment in 2001.
posted by svenni at 9:06 PM on January 14, 2005


oops.
posted by svenni at 9:06 PM on January 14, 2005


profwhat: are you kidding? I know of guys who are still in jail in Naples, Italy, for buying a fucking potato wrapped in aluminum foil that was supposed to be hash. They were arrested in 1983 and are still there. No, life in prison sucks. I don't care where you are. All of the rules still apply.
posted by snsranch at 9:11 PM on January 14, 2005


I remember seeing plenty of comments recently where MeFites would flatly disagree with the analogy.

Something about Rumsfeld being evil or the war in Iraq being wrong or the US armed forces being rotten to the core... something like that.

Anything but a simple reason for possibly explaining such depraved behaviour.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:14 PM on January 14, 2005


How about the proposition that "most" US prisons are worse than the basement or Abu Ghraib. The corrections industry estimates there are 12,000 rapes in US prisons a year - more than in LA, Chicago and NY combined.

Where is the Frank Johnson of today?
posted by mlis at 9:15 PM on January 14, 2005


mudpuppie; thank you, those are the questions I would like answered.
posted by snsranch at 9:15 PM on January 14, 2005


Hapless pawn, or evil bastard?

Stupid jerk, 's what I'd say.

There are idiots like that all over the world. Locking him away for 15 years won't make him a better person, but it might at least send out the message that if you abuse people (even if they're Iraqi prisoners), you may be held accountable.

The real scandal is not that there are jerks like Graner and trash queens like Lynnndie England out there, but that the guards and their superiors seemed to be completely unaware of such concepts as human rights and the Geneva Convention. Heck, they could have at least handed everyone a copy or given them a 45 min prep talk, is that too much to ask?
posted by sour cream at 9:22 PM on January 14, 2005


Seems to me that those folks who have been elevated to power more quickly (or have been given more power proportionally to the power they originally held) are more apt to abuse their new authority.
posted by aberrant at 9:23 PM on January 14, 2005


uncanny hengeman; You are one the money!!
posted by snsranch at 9:32 PM on January 14, 2005


Erm... thanks?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:46 PM on January 14, 2005


Sorry, perhaps I should explain, as it's not obvious enough, apparantly.

I thought this post was poor because it has been posted multiple times as illustrated in the message above mine. The fact that it can now be "looked at in a new light" does not make a triple post "the best of the web" all over again.

So, once again; poor post.

Perhaps more links would have solved this issue, as suggested by fenriq.
posted by dazed_one at 9:47 PM on January 14, 2005


The Third Wave experiment also can inspire some thought on what might be a contributing factor in Abu Ghraib.

Being lazy, I'll simply link to jessamyn's excellent comment on The Third Wave experiment at AskMe.
posted by page404 at 9:59 PM on January 14, 2005


Uhm, so the average US citizen sucks at understanding the concepts of empathy and justice. So, whats new?
posted by Deepspace at 10:18 PM on January 14, 2005


page404, thanks for that link, Third Wave was new to me and very powerful and scary stuff.
posted by fenriq at 10:44 PM on January 14, 2005



BTW, I'm not for a minute suggesting Stanford Experiment-esque behaviour is the only reason for the depravity of Abu Ghraib.

But I have seen people here and on other forums dismiss it outright, with no reason given.


(There but for the grace of God go I.)
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:54 PM on January 14, 2005


Uhm, so the average US citizen sucks at understanding the concepts of empathy and justice. So, whats new?

You're missing the point here. The experiment shows that any human being placed in the right situation is capable of being inhumane.

You can scoff and say, "But I would never do that." But research proves otherwise. You can say research conditions don't necessarily reflect real-life situations. Nevertheless people have to realize that behavior like this shouldn't be blamed on one individual, but rather the overall structure of the organization that allows abuses to continue unchecked.

This is of course not an apology, but making an example out of one guy is not going to solve this problem, I guarantee. It may go away for awhile, but it'll surface again and people will be left scratching their heads as to why it happened.
posted by superchicken at 11:04 PM on January 14, 2005


BTW, any rational psych researcher will cite this experiment will cite this experiment as a cautionary tale of what NOT to do.

There is such a thing now called informed consent that everyone should be aware of.

As a participant in any study, you always always have the right to walk out on an experiment for any reason. It is your legal right, and researchers are ethically required to inform you of this right.
posted by superchicken at 11:15 PM on January 14, 2005


You know, this has never happened to me before, but I am having a massive sense of deja vu over this thread.
posted by scarabic at 11:18 PM on January 14, 2005


I'm going to use the, "it's new to me!" to make snsranch feel better about this.

Everytime I want to post something, I have to spend five minutes making sure that it's not a double. It takes a lot of work to be a good mefi user.
posted by superchicken at 11:23 PM on January 14, 2005


. . . but snsranch knew this was a double and then he posted it anyway with his own commentary - hardly best of the web.
posted by caddis at 3:26 AM on January 15, 2005


All poor post comments should be in Meta, not here.

The Standford prison experiment is very relevant to Abu Ghraib. In both cases, the tormentors enjoyed themselves immensely. The smiling, the waving, the thumbs-ups, and the enthusiastically shared pictures and emails – are behaviors unique to this war.

The prosecution’s case against Graner proved he tortured others for no other reason than personal kicks, and Graner could not prove otherwise. Graner’s verdict excuses the administration in the public’s eyes, since he and soldiers like him had their own motive, personal enjoyment, for torturing Iraqi’s.

But the Standford experiment suggests that anyone, including Ivy League graduate students, will torture others, and like it, in an environment where they have no oversight and one group is given control over another. Can this administration be found partially guilty for simply not providing oversight, which is all they will admit to at this point?
posted by xammerboy at 9:20 AM on January 15, 2005


...it is quite possible that many never made the connection between the document they'd signed a few weeks earlier and their mysterious arrest and detention.

You're joking, right?
posted by Krrrlson at 2:24 PM on January 15, 2005


"...including Ivy League graduate students..."

Minor point: Stanford isn't an Ivy League school.

I just recently watched Das Experiment and it really shook me up.
posted by bdk3clash at 2:33 PM on January 15, 2005


(There but for the grace of God go I.)

Indeed. I think there's a tendency to think 'I wouldn't do that', when Zimbardo's (and of course Milgram's) work suggests that I would.

That said, the prosecution has a huge vested interest in showing the Abu Ghraib abuse as being the work of a few bad apples, rather than symptomatic of problems in the military as a whole, or even the result of directives from above.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:39 PM on January 15, 2005


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