From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]


“Music has been used in American military prisons and on bases to
induce sleep deprivation, “prolong capture shock,” disorient detainees
during interrogations–and also drown out screams. Based on a leaked
interrogation log, news reports, and the accounts of soldiers and
detainees, here are some of the songs that guards and interrogators


Disturbing New Photos From Abu Ghraib  /  02.28.08

“NSFW: VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED. As an expert witness in the
defense of an Abu Ghraib guard who was court-martialed, psychologist
Philip Zimbardo had access to many of the images of abuse that were
taken by the guards themselves. For a presentation at the TED
conference in Monterey, California, Zimbardo assembled some of these
pictures into a short video. obtained the video from
Zimbardo’s talk, and is publishing some of the stills from that video
here. Many of the images are explicit and gruesome, depicting nudity,
degradation, simulated sex acts and guards posing with decaying
corpses. Viewer discretion is advised.”


zim [at] stanford [dot] edu


A Simulation Study of the Psychology of Imprisonment, Conducted at
Stanford University

“Welcome to the Stanford Prison Experiment web site, which features an
extensive slide show and information about this classic psychology
experiment, including parallels with the abuse of prisoners at Abu
Ghraib. What happens when you put good people in an evil place? Does
humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph? These are some of the
questions we posed in this dramatic simulation of prison life
conducted in the summer of 1971 at Stanford University.

How we went about testing these questions and what we found may
astound you. Our planned two-week investigation into the psychology of
prison life had to be ended prematurely after only six days because of
what the situation was doing to the college students who participated.
In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners
became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress. Please join me on
a slide tour describing this experiment and uncovering what it tells
us about the nature of human nature.”     –Philip G. Zimbardo


TED 2008: How Good People Turn Evil, From Stanford to Abu Ghraib
BY Kim Zetter  /  02.28.08

MONTEREY, California — Psychologist Philip Zimbardo has seen good
people turn evil, and he thinks he knows why.

Zimbardo will speak Thursday afternoon at the TED conference, where he
plans to illustrate his points by showing a three-minute video,
obtained by, that features many previously unseen
photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (disturbing content).

In March 2006, published 279 photos and 19 videos from Abu
Ghraib, one of the most extensive documentations to date of abuse in
the notorious prison. Zimbardo claims, however, that many images in
his video — which he obtained while serving as an expert witness for
an Abu Ghraib defendant — have never before been published.

The Abu Ghraib prison made international headlines in 2004 when
photographs of military personnel abusing Iraqi prisoners were
published around the world. Seven soldiers were convicted in courts
martial and two, including Specialist Lynndie England, were sentenced
to prison.

Zimbardo conducted a now-famous experiment at Stanford University in
1971, involving students who posed as prisoners and guards. Five days
into the experiment, Zimbardo halted the study when the student guards
began abusing the prisoners, forcing them to strip naked and simulate
sex acts.

His book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil,
explores how a “perfect storm” of conditions can make ordinary people
commit horrendous acts.

He spoke with about what Abu Ghraib and his prison study can
teach us about evil and why heroes are, by nature, social deviants.

Wired: Your work suggests that we all have the capacity for evil, and
that it’s simply environmental influences that tip the balance from
good to bad. Doesn’t that absolve people from taking responsibility
for their choices?

Philip Zimbardo: No. People are always personally accountable for
their behavior. If they kill, they are accountable. However, what I’m
saying is that if the killing can be shown to be a product of the
influence of a powerful situation within a powerful system, then it’s
as if they are experiencing diminished capacity and have lost their
free will or their full reasoning capacity.

Situations can be sufficiently powerful to undercut empathy, altruism,
morality and to get ordinary people, even good people, to be seduced
into doing really bad things — but only in that situation.

Understanding the reason for someone’s behavior is not the same as
excusing it. Understanding why somebody did something — where that
why has to do with situational influences — leads to a totally
different way of dealing with evil. It leads to developing prevention
strategies to change those evil-generating situations, rather than the
current strategy, which is to change the person.

Wired: You were an expert defense witness in the court-martial of Sgt.
Chip Frederick, an Abu Ghraib guard. What were the situational
influences in his case?

Zimbardo: Abu Ghraib was under bombardment all the time. In the
prison, five soldiers and 20 Iraqi prisoners get killed. That means
automatically any soldier working there is under high fear and high
stress. Then the insurgency starts in 2003, and they start arresting
everyone in sight. When Chip Frederick [starts working at Abu Ghraib]
in September, there are 200 prisoners there. Within three months
there’s a thousand prisoners with a handful of guards to take care of
them, so they’re overwhelmed. Frederick and the others worked 12-hour
shifts. How many days a week? Seven. How many days without a day off?
Forty. That kind of stress reduces decision-making and critical
thinking and rationality. But that’s only the beginning.

He [complained] to higher-ups on the record, “We have mentally ill
patients who cover themselves with [excrement]. We have people with
tuberculosis that shouldn’t be in this population. We have kids mixed
with adults.”

And they tell him, “It’s a war zone. Do your job. Do whatever you have
to do.”

Wired: How did what happened at Abu Ghraib compare to your Stanford
prison study?

Zimbardo: The military intelligence, the CIA and the civilian
interrogator corporation, Titan, told the MPs [at Abu Ghraib], “It is
your job to soften the prisoners up. We give you permission to do
something you ordinarily are not allowed to do as a military policeman
— to break the prisoners, to soften them up, to prepare them for
interrogation.” That’s permission to step across the line from what is
typically restricted behavior to now unrestricted behavior.

In the same way in the Stanford prison study, I was saying [to the
student guards], “You have to be powerful to prevent further
rebellion.” I tell them, “You’re not allowed, however, to use physical
force.” By default, I allow them to use psychological force. In five
days, five prisoners are having emotional breakdowns.

The situational forces that were going on in [Abu Ghraib] — the
dehumanization, the lack of personal accountability, the lack of
surveillance, the permission to get away with anti-social actions —
it was like the Stanford prison study, but in spades.

Those sets of things are found any time you really see an evil
situation occurring, whether it’s Rwanda or Nazi Germany or the Khmer

Wired: But not everyone at Abu Ghraib responded to the situation in
the same way. So what makes one person in a situation commit evil acts
while another in the same situation becomes a whistle-blower?

Zimbardo: There’s no answer, based on what we know about a person,
that we can predict whether they’re going to be a hero whistle-blower
or the brutal guard. We want to believe that if I was in some
situation [like that], I would bring with it my usual compassion and
empathy. But you know what? When I was the superintendent of the
Stanford prison study, I was totally indifferent to the suffering of
the prisoners, because my job as prison superintendent was to focus on
the guards.

As principal [scientific] investigator [of the experiment], my job was
to care about what happened to everybody because they were all under
my experimental control. But once I switched to being the prison
superintendent, I was a different person. It’s hard to believe that,
but I was transformed.

Wired: Do you think it made any difference that the Abu Ghraib guards
were reservists rather than active duty soldiers?

Zimbardo: It made an enormous difference, in two ways. They had no
mission-specific training, and they had no training to be in a combat
zone. Secondly, the Army reservists in a combat zone are the lowest
form of animal life within the military hierarchy. They’re not real
soldiers, and they know this. In Abu Ghraib the only thing lower than
the army reservist MPs were the prisoners.

Wired: So it’s a case of people who feel powerless in their lives
seizing power over someone else.

Zimbardo: Yes, victims become victimizers. In Nazi concentration
camps, the Jewish capos were worse than the Nazis, because they had to
prove that they deserved being in this position.

Wired: You’ve said that the way to prevent evil actions is to teach
the “banality of kindness” — that is, to get society to exemplify
ordinary people who engage in extraordinary moral actions. How do you
do this?

Zimbardo: If you can agree on a certain number of things that are
morally wrong, then one way to counteract them is by training kids.
There are some programs, starting in the fifth grade, which get kids
to think about the heroic mentality, the heroic imagination.

To be a hero you have to take action on behalf of someone else or some
principle and you have to be deviant in your society, because the
group is always saying don’t do it; don’t step out of line. If you’re
an accountant at Arthur Andersen, everyone who is doing the defrauding
is telling you, “Hey, be one of the team.”

Heroes have to always, at the heroic decisive moment, break from the
crowd and do something different. But a heroic act involves a risk. If
you’re a whistle-blower you’re going to get fired, you’re not going to
get promoted, you’re going to get ostracized. And you have to say it
doesn’t matter.

Most heroes are more effective when they’re social heroes rather than
isolated heroes. A single person or even two can get dismissed by the
system. But once you have three people, then it’s the start of an

So what I’m trying to promote is not only the importance of each
individual thinking “I’m a hero” and waiting for the right situation
to come along in which I will act on behalf of some people or some
principle, but also, “I’m going to learn the skills to influence other
people to join me in that heroic action.”


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