A licence to abuse: Max Bowden on Abu Ghraib
“The scenes depicted in the photographs are a graphic example of what often takes place in a prison environment where controls and supervision are inadequate. Prison guards have been abusing inmates for as long as there have been prisons. In a now infamous 1971 psychological experiment at Stanford University, in which one randomly selected group of students was permitted to play the role of “guards” over another group of “inmates,” abuses began almost immediately, and at one point involved forcing inmates into sexually humiliating role-playing. People don’t like to admit it, but the propensity for cruelty is in all of us, and it rises to the surface for many when they are given complete authority over other human beings. Add the unique environment of war, in which culture, religion, race, ethnicity, and ideology often separate guards from prisoners, and abuses are sadly and extremely likely.
The fact that the pictures were taken at all, and the cheerful expressions on the faces of the American bullies, suggest an atmosphere in which these soldiers had no reason to fear being punished for their behavior. It seems doubtful that the photos were meant to be used later to intimidate other prisoners, as has been suggested. If that had been so, the guards would probably have tried to look threatening. These photos have the appearance of grotesque souvenirs. The smiling faces of the tormentors suggest that apart from lacking moral judgment, these soldiers felt licensed to abuse.” [From The Atlantic.]