Psychologist, Philip Zimbardo explained the behavior of the guards blaming the situation they were put into. ‘’ They’re overwhelmed; Fredrick 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… and they tell him, ‘’it’s a war zone. Do your job. Do whatever you have to do’’.’’ (Zimbardo, Wired)
Conformity in Abu Ghraib
Why do people conform to others around them? Two influences appear to be crucial in understanding why people conform in groups. First influence is Informational influence, which involves people’s desire to be right. Secondly, normative influence that involves people’s desire to be liked by the group.
In 2003 when 372nd Military policed were assigned their mission as Abu Ghraib prison guards they were trained to support combat operation but were not trained to be prison guards. Military police were told ‘if it looks like the enemy shoot it’ (Ken Davis, Ghost of Abu Ghraib). Little information was given to the guards and they were left to use their own initiative. One of the factors that influence conformity is the characteristic of the situation. People are more likely to conform in ambiguous situation where they are unclear about how they should respond. Another factor that influences conformity is cultural differences, researches have found that people from a collectivist cultures are more likely to conform. The guards that were based in Abu Ghraib were all going through a culture shock and felt out of place. Therefore, this encourages unity among the group and they all had a common mission and that was to protect the USA from further terrorist’s attacks. In this situation the guards were the outsiders, which increased the levels of social influence among the military guards. (Henry Gleitman et al, 2007)
On each site there was approximately 6 to 7 guards to 1000 detainees. Therefore, the military police were a minority group and felt the need to express their authority to the maximum so the detainees did not over throw them. Understanding group dynamics is important to understand how the guards united together and encouraged one another to inflict brutal torture to the detainees. In the Abu Ghraib situation the group dynamic of the guards had a dramatically change on how the separate individuals act in the groups from when they were alone. ‘’Thus, fear becomes terror, hostility turns into murderous rage, and each crowd member becomes a barbarian- a grain of sand among other grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will’’ (le Bon, 1895). Gustav Le Bon described this process as de-individuation, a state in which an individual in a group loses awareness of themselves as a separate individual. The prison guards de- individuation occurred from the result of them taking on the role of guards and having being in authority over the detainees. (Henry Gleitman et al, 2007)
Group Polarization is a tendency for group decisions to be more extreme than the decision that would have been made by any of the group members working as individuals. Group polarization was evident in the Abu Ghraib situation as when one individual from the group came up with a torturing idea the rest followed in his example. A factor leading to group polarization are when people generally try to conform to the other member of the group both in the way they behave and to the attitudes they expressing. (Ibid) The military police were told that the detainees were the worse of the worse and the information they help would save lots of lives and have global impact. (Ghost of Abu Ghraib) The military police feeling that the detainees were against them and were their enemy united them close to each other and felt like this was a justification to their actions. Group members will do what they and to promote the sense of group cohesion, as a result doubt or disagreements are downplayed and enemies are stereotyped e.g. ‘’our opponents are stupid or evil’’. (Henry Gleitman et al, 2007)
Obedience in Abu Ghraib
Psychologists have tried to find an explanation to how obedience occurs in situations like Abu Ghraib or genocides. They tried to explain obedience with two difference approaches; one approach is based on the intuitively appealing notion that some individuals are more obedient than others, and it is theses individuals who are the primary culprits. Second approach emphasizes the social situation in which the obedient individuals find themselves (Ibid). Ideological justification is an important factor in obedience as the guards in Abu Ghraib had to justify their actions to themselves and reassure themselves that’s they was doing right. The prison guards follow orders because they believe that national security requires that they do so. This provides an ideological justification for their obedience. (Susan Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 2009)
Almost every group consists of one individual who has an authoritarian personality. Their personality traits include; tend to be highly obedient, and they also show a cluster of traits related to their obedience; they are prejudiced against various minority groups and hold certain sentiments about authority (Adorno et al, 1950). General Ricardo Sanchez was commander officer at Abu Ghraib and approved the use of coercive interrogation techniques including stress positions; sleep deprivation, the use of hoods, and isolation of detainees for over thirty days. The military personnel at Abu Ghraib felt empowered to abuse the detainees. This was evident from the leaked photos where the guards were smiling and flashing ‘thumbs-up’ sign as they abused the prisoners. This suggests that they felt they had nothing to hide for their superiors and felt no guilt or shame for what they were doing. The abuse became a social norm in Abu Ghraib that a picture of a naked detainees forced into a human pyramid was reportedly used as a screen saver on a computer in the interrogation room (Kate Zernike, New York Times, 2004). Results from varies social psychology studies and experiments have proved that when an inferior is obeying orders they see themselves merely agents who execute another’s will. Therefore, they are absolved of responsibility or if the actions are bad ones, absolved of guilt. This feeling of being authority figures instrument, with little or no sense of personal responsibility, can be promoted in many ways. One approach is by increasing the psychological distance between ones own actions and their end result. (Susan Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 2009)
Second approach to put on a psychic blinder by de-humanization of the victim and ignore the fact that the victim is a living, suffering human being. De- humanization of the victim allows the participant to think of the victim as an object, not a human being. Resulting in reduce or eliminating any sense of guilt at harming the victim. (Bernard, Ottenberg & Redl, 1965). The guards at Abu Ghraib made it evident that they did not see the detainees as human being. They started the process of de-humanization of the detainees by addressing them by their prison number rather than they name. When removing an individual’s name, you have removed one of their most important forms of identity. The guards removed all basic human rights and needs away from the detainees such as sleep, food, and hygiene. The guards humiliated the detainees by making them strip naked and perform sexual acts. All theses acts de-humanized the detainees making it easier for the guards to obey and conform to the abuse at Abu Ghraib.
However, that neither of theses intellectuals adjustments happen instants instead they happen gradually. (Susan Nolen-Hoeksema et al., 2009)
In January 2004, Joe Darby provided 2 compact discs of photographs to special agent Tyler Pieron exposing the abuse in Abu Ghraib. Darby was a military police serving at Abu Ghraib prison alongside military police Charles Graner. Charles Graner was in many of the leaked photos and was allegedly the group leader who encouraged the torture to the detainees. Darby was a prototypic ethical idol, which saw the wrong doing of the other military police and did something about it. Regardless, to the danger he was putting himself by lash back from the other guards. ‘’ I was afraid for retribution not only from them, but from other solders’’ (Joe Darby, BBC News). Even though Joe Darby knew what he saw was wrong it still took him three weeks to decided to hand those photograph in. Many would ask the question; what was different about Joe Darby that didn’t make him conform to the other guards. An individual who resists majority influence is just less concerned with social norms and so they feel less pressure to ‘fit in’. However, some individuals are completely against majority influence, no matter the situation. Theses individuals will go against the social influences at all time. Research as proven when an individual is asked to conform to something you consider to be morally wrong, then the conforming levels drop drastically. Zimbardo explained that some people have a ‘heroic imagination’, which means that they are more likely to act in a heroic way. This means that when faced with orders to obey, they are more likely to resists especially if the order is morally unjust (Rita L. Atkinson et al., 1990)
Social influence is central to human interaction and communal life. Cooperation, community, altruism and love all involve social influence. Obedience and conformity is learnt from a very young age. We hear or come across commands, instructions, directions and orders everyday. From a young age children and taught to be obedient to their person and teachers. As we grow older we follow orders, rules and instruction at schools, university, workplace and even in public areas. E.g. crossing the road when the green man flashes and smoking in designated areas etc. Conformity is in our everyday life as we go through life whether we are conforming to school uniform, conforming at work or even queuing up in a shop. This has been engraved into us as a part of social influence and social norms, therefore making it easier for us to conform to authority or social influence even in a situation like Abu Ghraib. Zimbardo’s stated that his famous Stanford university experiment was an eye opener for situation like Abu Ghraib and explains how good people turn evil as the ‘The Lucifer effect’. Zimbardo argues that good people can turn evil if there is enough social influence and when they are playing a role of authority. ‘‘People are always personally accountable for their behavior.. if the killing can be shown to be a product of the influence of a powerful situation within a powerful system, than its as if they are experience diminished capacity and have lost their free will or their full reasoning capacity’’. (Philip Zimbardo, Wired).