Saturday, May 08, 2004

Some more reasons why we shouldn't be surprised about Abu Ghraib

I don't have links for the first two, older, items but I will see if I can find ones and if I can, I'll add them in an update. So check back in a few days.

First reason why we shouldn't be surprised is the fact that we've known for some time that US intelligence forces are let's call it not above a little torture to get what they want. From a Reuters dispatch for December 26, 2002:
CIA interrogators have been using "stress and duress" techniques on captured enemies in Afghanistan that blur the line between legal and inhumane, the Washington Post reported on Thursday. ...

Captives who refused to cooperate were sometimes kept standing or kneeling for hours, in black hoods or spray-painted goggles, the Post said, citing intelligence specialists said to be familiar with CIA interrogation methods.

At times they were held in awkward, painful positions and deprived of sleep with a 24-hour bombardment of lights - subject to what are known as "stress and duress" techniques, the report said. ...

[S]ome who did not cooperate were turned over - "rendered," in official parlance - to foreign intelligence services whose practice of torture has been documented by the U.S. government and human rights organizations, the Post said. ...

"The picture that emerges is of a brass-knuckled quest for information, often in concert with allies of dubious human rights reputation, in which the traditional lines between right and wrong, legal and inhumane, are evolving and blurred," the Post reported. ...

The off-limits patch of ground at Bagram was described by the Post as one of a number of secret detention centers overseas where U.S. due process does not apply, where the CIA undertakes or manages the interrogation of suspected terrorists.
"Rendition" is something we also already knew about. And the cruelty, the (again I say it) brutalization of war was also on the record, as demonstrated in the June 20, 2003 issue of the Daily Mirror (UK):
American troops today admitted they routinely gun down Iraqi civilians - some of whom are entirely innocent.

As distrust of the invading forces increases amongst the local population US soldiers said they have killed civilians without hesitation, shot injured opponents and abandoned them to die in agony. ...

Sergeant First Class John Meadows summed up the prevailing attitude amongst his colleagues telling the Evening Standard that Iraqi fighters were dressed in civilian clothes.

"You can't distinguish between who's trying to kill you and who's not," he said.

"Like, the only way to get through s*** like that was to concentrate on getting through it by killing as many people as you can, people you know are trying to kill you. Killing them first and getting home."

And in an admission that directly contrasts with the line coming out from the Pentagon's spin doctors Specialist Corporal Michael Richardson added: "There was no dilemma when it came to shooting people who were not in uniform, I just pulled the trigger.

"It was up close and personal the whole time, there wasn't a big distance. If they were there, they were enemy, whether in uniform or not. Some were, some weren't."

Describing the scene during combat Richardson admitted shooting injured soldiers and leaving them to die.

He said: "S***, I didn't help any of them. I wouldn't help the f******. There were some you let die. And there were some you double-tapped."

Making a shooting sign with his hand he went on: "Once you'd reached the objective, and once you'd shot them and you're moving through, anything there, you shoot again. You didn't want any prisoners of war. You hate them so bad while you're fighting, and you're so terrified, you can't really convey the feeling, but you don't want them to live."
What's more, the hatred, the coldness, the indifference, generated by a prison atmosphere has also long been demonstrated, as noted by the New York Times for May 6:
In 1971 researchers at Stanford University created a simulated prison in the basement of the campus psychology building. They randomly assigned 24 students to be either prison guards or prisoners for two weeks.

Within days the "guards" had become swaggering and sadistic, to the point of placing bags over the prisoners' heads, forcing them to strip naked and encouraging them to perform sexual acts. ...

Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo, a leader of the Stanford prison study, said that while the rest of the world was shocked by the images from Iraq, "I was not surprised that it happened."

"I have exact, parallel pictures of prisoners with bags over their heads," from the 1971 study, he said.

At one point, he said, the guards in the fake prison ordered their prisoners to strip and used a rudimentary sex joke to humiliate them.

Professor Zimbardo ended the experiment the next day, more than a week earlier than planned.

Prisons, where the balance of power is so unequal, tend to be brutal and abusive places unless great effort is made to control the guards' base impulses, he said. At Stanford and in Iraq, he added: "It's not that we put bad apples in a good barrel. We put good apples in a bad barrel. The barrel corrupts anything that it touches." ...

Craig W. Haney, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who was one of the lead researchers in the Stanford experiment, says prison abuses can be prevented by regular training and discipline, along with outside monitoring.

Without outsiders watching, Professor Haney said, "what's regarded as appropriate treatment can shift over time," so "they don't realize how badly they're behaving."

"If anything," he said, "the smiling faces in those pictures suggest a total loss of perspective, a drift in the standard of humane treatment."
A drift that included referring to prisoners as "it."

And given that we know that the CIA would not shy away from "stress and duress," a bit of verbal gymnastics on the same lines as declaring there are no "prisoners" at Gitmo because they are "detained personnel," the issue of following orders has to be considered, that is, how much of what was done was done because the soldiers knew that someone higher up wanted it done. On that score, too, there is prior knowledge. This is from the same Times article, describing studies done by Dr. Stanley Milgram some 40 years ago:
In a series of experiments, he told test subjects that they were taking part in a study about teaching through punishment.

The subjects were instructed by a researcher in a white lab coat to deliver electric shocks to another participant, the "student."

Every time the student gave an incorrect answer to a question, the subject was ordered to deliver a shock. The shocks started small but became progressively stronger at the researcher's insistence, with labels on the machine indicating jolts of increasing intensity - up to a whopping 450 volts.

The shock machine was a cleverly designed fake, though, and the victims were actors who moaned and wailed. But to the test subjects the experience was all too real.

Most showed anguish as they carried out the instructions. A stunning 65 percent of those taking part obeyed the commands to administer the electric shocks all the way up to the last, potentially lethal switch, marked "XXX."
Milgram's book on the experiments, Obedience to Authority, is still available. (By the way, Milgram is also the person who originated the "six degrees of separation" concept.)

Interestingly, the Times article ends this way:
Experiments like those at Stanford and Yale are no longer done, in part because researchers have decided that they involved so much deception and such high levels of stress - four of the Stanford prisoners suffered emotional breakdowns - that the experiments are unethical.
That is, it's simply not proper to subject people to these kinds of stresses. Unless, of course they are "enemies" and "its." Then it's not only proper, it's acceptable and even encouraged either directly by order or subtly by atmosphere.

We dehumanize others and thus brutalize ourselves, we make murder mundane and cruelty casual, we highlight hatred and condone callousness, and then we are astonished to discover that we have reaped what we have sown and ask each other with wide eyes, "How could they do it?"

"They" didn't. We did.

Footnote: It seems it's not just "enemy prisoners" who are being abused.
India asked the United States for information Tuesday on allegations that Indian nationals were being forced to work for contractors in Iraq with little rest and low pay and were kept in the country "against their will,"
the Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday.

Update: Found links for those first two items.

I couldn't find a link for the Reuters dispatch, but the Washington Post article on which it's based is archived at the paper's site here. (Note that this is just a title and summary; the article itself must be paid for. But at least this can show the doubters that the article in questions exists.)

The link for the Daily Mirror article is here.

Additional Update: Found links to descriptions of the Stanford prison experiment and Milgram's experiment.
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