Wednesday, March 5, 2008

In Our Names


The Evil of Abu Ghraib.

The GNB Stylebook calls for most longer stories to open with:

  • SLUG
Not this one.

There are ten photos. I want to throw up.

There is a video as well. I want to cry. I am suppressing tears as I write.

They did this in our name. Children. Boys and girls with guns tortured prisoners, beating them with fists, burning them with cigarettes and electricity, forcing them to do sex acts which were not only perverse but were deep moral abominations before God. These soldier-children threatened men with death and with dogs while fathers and men perhaps enemies, perhaps simply swept up in sweeps, turned in for revenge or religious reasons, or there by bad luck, for no real reason at all -- the men cowered naked or died. These men were forced to roll in human shit and pose covered in shit for the amusement of their captors who took photos. Even death was not an escape as our soldier girls and boys posed with tortured mutilated corpses, grinning at the lens.

And while it is not in this set of photos, we know from the Senate there are many thousands of photos and hundreds of hours of film, classified top-secret to prevent you and I from seeing them, of our soldiers raping boys in front of their fathers, and sexually assaulting daughters. These children were sent home, dishonored in a culture where sexual dishonor equals death.

Our soldiers did this. In our names.

I CAUTION YOU IN THE STRONGEST POSSIBLE TERMS... the photos are horrific to view. They will remain with you as long as your memory works properly. There is also a film, in its own way, better perhaps, but even more real as it puts the photos in a larger context and ads dubbed in sound.

It has been months at least, since I've had a medic flashback. I'm partially in one right now as I type. If there is any reason you should not see these photos, do not. They show human beings torturing other human beings, posing with the dead, committing war crimes.

There is a full article associated with the photos and film. I recommend reading it.

Article and film. (Film NSFW under any circumstances. Violently disturbing.)
Photos. (Absolutely NSFW under any circumstances. Violently disturbing.)

You may read the article without seeing either film or photos.

From the article:
Wired Magazine

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.

Philip Zimbardo: 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 Rouge.

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 opposition.

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."

There's more...

Yes, you may read the article, without viewing the film or seeing the photos.

I have to go be ill now.