Torture and other indignities imposed upon detainees at Abu Graib and Guatanamo Bay were wholly predictable and completely avoidable, according to a noted psychologist.
Professor Philip Zimbardo, the author of the famous 1971 Stanford Prison experiment and host of the PBS series “Discovering Psychology,” spoke Friday to Tidewater Community College students about his forthcoming book, “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.”
Zimbardo says any normal person, given the right set of circumstances, can turn bad and he says that explains what happened to war on terrorism detainee guards.
“At Abu Ghraib, these were army reservists who did these terrible things. they had no mission-specific training. They had no resources. No senior officer ever came down in the middle of the night to check what they were doing,” he said.
Zimbardo served as an expert witness for one of the military guards who was tried for atrocities there.
He admits the guards themselves are responsible for what they did, but he insists they didn’t start off with sadistic intent, that they were overwhelmed by the situation they faced, and, they aren’t alone when it comes to culpability.
“Who was watching the store? So, yeah, the guys who did it and the women who did it are guilty, but their guilt has to be shared by all those that are in the command — not only the military command, but the (President) Bush command because there should have been oversight. There should’ve been surveillance. Where there is, you don’t get these kinds of abuses.”
Zimbardo doesn’t buy that this was just one or two “bad apples,” pointing out that there have been more than 600 documented abuse complaints with more than 400 formally investigated so far.
He says too much secrecy, combined with poor training, led to negative outcomes.
He also says, “I think we have not learned the lessons from Abu Ghraib.”
Zimbardo’s book is due out in March 2007.