Prisons and War: Bringing out the Worst


America's Gulag

A time will come when a politician who has willfully made war and promoted international dissension
will be as sure of the dock and much surer of the noose than a private homicide.
It is not reasonable that those who gamble with men's lives should not stake their own.

- H G Wells

by Stephen Grey

On 8 October 2002 over the Atlantic at 30,000 feet on board a Gulfstream jet, Maher Arar looked out through the portholes of the private plane at the clouds beneath and the red glow of dawn.  Stretching out on the wide, upholstered leather seat, he glanced across at the large video screen on which was displayed the path of the plane from its departure point near New York, onwards to Washington, DC and then to its final refuelling point at Portland, Maine, before heading across the ocean.  A telecommunications engineer in Ottawa, Canada, Maher was used to air travel - but not to such luxury.

His companions - specialists attached to the CIA - were preparing to switch on another in-flight film, an action movie.  Maher could think only of what fate lay ahead of him when he reached the country to where the United States was now sending him for interrogation and from where his family had once fled - Syria.  He recalls: "I knew that Syria was a country that tortured its prisoners.  I was silent and submissive; just asking myself over and over again: 'How did I end up in this situation?  What is going to happen to me now?'"

Maher had been arrested after arriving at New York's JFK Airport at 2pm on 26 September to change planes.  He'd been returning home from a holiday in Tunisia.  He was accused of membership of Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation and of knowing two other Syrian-Canadians who were said to be terrorists.  Maher was baffled; he hardly knew the pair.  They both seemed ordinary Muslims like him - hardly extremists.  Though Maher was a Canadian citizen, after interrogation in New York he was told he would be deported to Syria, not his adopted country.  It petrified him.

One of the CIA agents, who called himself Mr Khoury, had explained that he, too, was originally from Syria.  Unlike Maher, Khoury was wearing a grey lounge suit.  Maher was still wearing an orange boiler suit and was shackled with steel handcuffs and chains.  During the flight, Khoury lent him a turquoise polo shirt, made in Canada.  Maher would be wearing that shirt and nothing else for the next three months.  He would be wearing it as his arms, his palms and the soles of his feet were beaten with electric cables.


After the plane landed in Jordan, he was taken by van to a Damascus jail.  He was not alone: from the cells around him, he heard the screams of those under torture.  One prisoner was from Spain, another from Germany.  All had been flown in to help America's war on terrorism.

There was no daylight coming into his cell, just a dim glow through a hole in the reinforced concrete of his ceiling.  Maher wanted to pray towards Mecca, but no guard would tell him which direction that was.  And anyway, he could bend only one way - forward, towards the metal door.  He couldn't keep track of the days, but knew that about once a week he would be brought out to wash himself.

Maher was inside a secret system. His flight was on a jet operated for the CIA by the US's Special Collection Service.  It runs a fleet of luxury planes, as well as regular military transports, that has moved thousands of prisoners around the world since 11 September 2001 - much as the CIA-run secret fleet, Air America, did in the 1960s and 1970s.  Some of the prisoners have gone to Guantanamo, the US interrogation centre at its naval base in Cuba.  Hundreds more have been transferred from one Middle Eastern or Asian country to another - countries where the prisoners can be more easily interrogated.

For transfers of low-level prisoners from war zones such as Afghanistan and Pakistan, military cargo planes have been used.  But the CIA has tended to favour the Gulfstream and other executive jets for the higher-value prisoners and their transfer to sensitive locations.  The operations of this airline - and the prisoners that it transports around the world - have been protected in a shroud of total secrecy.  The airline's operations are embarrassing because they highlight intense co-operation with regimes of countries such as Egypt, Syria and Pakistan, which are criticised for their human rights record.  The movements of these planes expose a vast archipelago of prison camps and centres where America can carry out torture by proxy.  The operations are illegal, in that they violate the anti-torture convention promoted by George W Bush which prohibits the transfer of suspects abroad for torture.

When Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote The Gulag Archipelago, he described a physical chain of island prisons clustered in Soviet Russia's northern seas and in Siberia.  But the description was also metaphorical: the archipelago was a cluster of prisons around which swirled the sea of normal society.  Just like Solzhenitsyn's system, the American archipelago operates as a secret network that remains largely unseen by the world.  Although a few of the prisons have become well-known - Guantanamo, in Cuba; the CIA interrogation centre at the US airbase in Bagram, just north of Kabul; the airbase on British Diego Garcia - there are others, hidden from view: the floating interrogation centre located on board a US naval vessel in the Indian Ocean; an unknown jail referred to only as Hotel California by the CIA.  Of those operated by America's allies, the worst prisons include the Scorpion jail and the Lazoghly Square secret police headquarters in Cairo, and the Far'Falastin interrogation centre in Damascus, Syria.

The transfer to these prisons, unregulated by any law, has become known as "rendition", a term used as an alternative to lawful "extradition".  Rendition was invented by Sandy Berger, Bill Clinton's national security adviser, who described it as a "new art form".  After 9/11, a trickle of renditions became a flow, and became the foundation of a whole system to tackle world terrorism.  J Cofer Black, former head of the CIA's counter-terrorism centre, testified in late 2002 that there were at least 3,000 terrorist prisoners being held worldwide.  Intelligence documents show the scale may be even greater.  In the two years following 9/11, the Sudanese intelligence service alone claimed to have sent more than 200 captured prisoners into US custody.  Of the terrorist suspects seized by America in the same period, only US citizens such as John Walker Lindh, the Californian found fighting with the Taliban, or those arrested within the US, such as Zacarias Moussaoui, accused of being a would-be hijacker in the 9/11 attack, would make it to court.

Tora Bora, Afghanistan, early December 2001: Up in the foothills of the Spin Ghar mountains on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a British special forces soldier reaches into his pocket to find his tangle of plastic handcuffs.  Grabbing his prisoner's arms, he locks them tight around the wrists.  Daylight reveals the detritus of a night fight - four hours of battle that have been the SAS's biggest engagement since Yemen in 1972.  On the churned-up slopes of rough grass and patches of snow, blankets, personal belongings, empty shell casings and the bodies of 38 Islamic warriors lie abandoned.  Another 22 fighters, the survivors, are kneeling on the ground.  The fighters, from across Arabia, from Pakistan and even from Chechnya, are dressed in brown and grey shalwar kameez and thin sandals.  Their hands are tied behind their backs, held taut with plasticuffs.  Their heads are covered with canvas bags.

These arrests provided the entry point into the American archipelago.  Though Britain and other allies would later criticise America's tactics and its treatment of terror prisoners (the British high court would call it "monstrous"), this operation proved how UK soldiers were involved with US activities from the beginning.  New sources reveal the extent of the involvement - from Britain's participation in Task Force 11, a special forces group operating from a base code-named K2 in Uzbekistan, to a series of SAS battles in Afghanistan that resulted in the capture of large numbers of prisoners.  As a "combat zone", Afghanistan provided some legal cover for those arrests.  But Britain and America also seized many others across the border in Pakistan.  Operating outside the law, the CIA has established snatch squads around the world.  They have allowed the arrests of suspects, including Britons, which would be illegal if they took place on home soil.

For instance, Wahab al-Rawi, a Briton, was questioned, but never arrested or held by MI5 in the UK.  He came to be arrested only following a tip-off from MI5 to the CIA when he visited the Gambia, in West Africa, where legal controls were more lax.  Wahab al-Rawi is Iraqi-born, but a British citizen.  He is enormous, and cannot walk too far without running out of breath.  "I was fat before the Americans arrested me," he quips.  Wahab sits in a jail cell in the Gambian capital, Banjul, at the headquarters of the country's secret police.  His questioner is an American "from the embassy", who, it is pretty clear, works for the CIA.  Wahab has been answering questions about his supposed membership of al-Qaeda.  He later describes his interrogator thus: "He called himself Mr Lee and was even bigger than me.  He was so enormous he had these rolls of fat like breasts."  Wahab, a 38-year-old from Acton, west London, has been in jail for the past four days.  He was arrested at the airport when he went to greet his brother, Bisher, coming in on a flight from London.  A businessman whose family fled persecution from Saddam Hussein in Iraq, he had invested £300,000 after mortgaging his house to back his latest business venture: a mobile factory to process Gambian peanuts.  Bisher, who is handy with anything technical, had come out to help fix up the equipment.

Like Canada's Maher Arar, Wahab and Bisher got into trouble after surveillance information was passed to the US by their domestic intelligence agency - in their case, MI5.  Both Wahab and Bisher are friends with a Jordanian Islamic preacher in London called Abu Qatada who is accused of having links to terrorists.  Abu Qatada is eventually locked up by the British, but there is insufficient (or no) evidence to arrest or hold Wahab or Bisher.  Instead, their details are passed on to the US as part of an "intelligence exchange" in the post-11 September world.  "When I asked Lee whether I could see the British consul to protest at my arrest, he laughed," recalls Wahab.  "'Why do you think you're here?' he asked me.  'It's your government that tipped us off in the first place.'"  The CIA official was thereby breaching the Vienna Convention, which requires foreign detainees to get access to their nation's consulate.

Across the world, the involvement of the CIA in the arrest of suspects, typically bypassing local laws, has become routine.  After Bosnia's civil war, which killed more than 200,000 people, the US and Europe worked hard to instil the idea that disputes should be solved through legal channels.  But the CIA disregarded the new Bosnian supreme court and took four suspects away for questioning.  In Malawi, which receives British and US development aid to foster the growth of a legal system, a local court was ignored when the CIA snatched four al-Qaeda suspects last year.  The men were released after interrogation.

Rendition arrests probably began in earnest in Tirana, Albania, in July 1998 when a team of CIA operatives ran an operation with Albania's secret police.  They tracked down and tailed a group of five Egyptian Islamist militants, foiling their plan to destroy the US embassy with a truck bomb.  They were captured together and taken to police headquarters where, as the CIA waited outside, they were physically tortured.  They were then bundled into an unmarked US Gulfstream jet waiting at the airport and flown to Cairo.  After being handed over to the Egyptian government, Ahmed Osman Saleh was suspended from the ceiling and given electric shocks; he was later hanged after a trial in absentia.  Mohamed Hassan Tita was hung by his wrists and given electric shocks to his feet and back.  Shawki Attiya was given electric shocks to his genitals, suspended by his limbs and made to stand for hours in filthy water up to his knees.  Ahmad Ibrahim al-Naggar was kept in a room with water up to his knees for 35 days; had electric shocks to his nipples and penis; and was hanged without trial in February 2000.

15 December 2002, downtown Damascus, Syria: In a bustling street, taxis are honking their horns.  Pedestrians hurry by.  They hurry because no one on this road likes to linger too long.  The office building beside the road - with its tinted windows - has a certain reputation.  It is the headquarters of the Mukhabarat, foreign intelligence.  Elsewhere in the city, the atmosphere is relaxed today.  The president, the young London-educated former eye doctor Bashar al-Assad, is back in London with his British wife, Asma (or "Emma", as she used to call herself), on a state visit to see Tony Blair and the Queen.  The previous night, al-Assad has been at the Lord Mayor's Banquet, where business leaders and politicians toasted Syria's commitment to peace and reform.  Blair welcomes al-Assad with lunch at Downing Street and the Syrian president enthuses about "the warm personal relations I enjoy with Mr Blair."  Maher Arar has no access to radio or television to hear news of the rapprochement between the two countries.  He is still in his cell, barely wider than his torso and about two inches longer than his height.  As Blair sits down to chat to al-Assad about progress on the war on the terror and the need to support the US/UK plan to invade Iraq, Arar is reaching the end of his tether.  For days he has endured beatings, constant questioning and demands that he confess.  He is, in fact, ready to confess to anything.  He signs a false statement saying that he went for training in Afghanistan.  But what he cannot do - because he knows nothing - is provide useful information that the Syrians can pass back to US intelligence.

In the depths of Far'Falastin jail, one floor below the Falastin road, Arar has no contact with other prisoners.  All he can hear, during the 10 months of his imprisonment, is the sound of them screaming.  In the beginning, the jailers take him upstairs regularly to be questioned and beaten.  Before sessions he is placed in a waiting room where he gets to hear the torture of other prisoners.  They call out: "Allah-u-allah" - "God, oh God," they cry.  Once he hears the sound of someone's head being slammed repeatedly against the metal interrogation table...

The former CIA agent Bob Baer, who worked covertly for the US across the Middle East until the mid-1990s, describes how each Middle Eastern country has a purpose in the archipelago.  He says: "If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan.  If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria.  If you want someone to disappear - never to see them again - you send them to Egypt."

Cairo, 2003: Each night before sunset, a flotilla of feluccas is untied from jetties in the city centre and sails up against the current on a cool Nile breeze.  The boats, filled with tourists, move silently in the calm water.  As it grows dark, the tourists may notice a handful of floodlit watchtowers and the silhouettes of guards standing on their turrets, shouldering rifles.  Just yards from where they are enjoying the stunning sunset, perhaps discussing their plans for a tour nearby at the Great Pyramids of Giza, is the entrance to what for many is a version of hell.  Behind the walls and watchtowers that announce Torah prison is an inner complex, a 320-cell annexe shaped like the letter "H", known as el-Aqrab, or the Scorpion.  Some of America's most secret prisoners are held in solitary confinement here.  And here, too - for years - some of the most infamous names in Islamist extremism have been held, from the Cairo-born doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri, who became Osama Bin Laden's right-hand man, to Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual extremist who defined the philosophy that has inspired two generations of Islamist terrorists.  Many argue that Torah's harsh conditions have helped to breed this extremism.

But the Scorpion annexe is something else again.  No outsider knows who is being held within its walls.  Since its construction was completed in 1993, no visitor - no family member, no lawyer - has been allowed inside.  The Scorpion is where some of the secret prisoners of the war on terror are being held and interrogated.  Former prisoners describe "welcome parties", where soldiers line up to "welcome" new detainees and prisoners with batons, electric shocks and beatings.  There are also "search parties", accompanied by humiliating practices such as intimate searches, shaving of hair and beatings.  And there are also "farewell parties", when the detainee is beaten by jailers before leaving prison.

There are whispers of another secret prison, newly built, which is also being used for holding al-Qaeda suspects: in Upper Nile, near Aswan.  Egyptian officials speak proudly of what they are doing to help the war on terror.  It is the latest phase in a long line of covert US co-operation with the Egyptian government stretching back many years.  Egypt still receives about $2bn a year in aid from America, of which $1.3 billion is military aid.  Nowadays, the co-operation is geared towards helping Egypt ward off Islamist extremism, and also to escape criticism for its many repressive measures.

Normally, all prisoners of Britain, the US and its allies would have the protection of the law of habeas corpus.  But US federal judges have argued that enemy aliens do not have these rights and that it is not for the courts to interfere with the military in prosecuting a war by second-guessing whom it chooses to detain and interrogate.  After 9/11 Congress authorised the American president to "use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organisations or persons [whom] he determines planned, authorised, committed or aided" those attacks.  It further recognised presidential authority to decide on any other actions "to respond to, deter or prevent acts of international terrorism".

Counter-terrorism Centre, CIA headquarters, Langley, Virginia 6 November 2002: If the colour picture were not so fuzzy, it would be damned impressive.  An eye in the sky at 10,000 feet shows live pictures of a convoy of cars moving down a desert highway 12,000 miles away.  The picture is being captured by an unmanned Predator spy plane and conveyed by satellite from the Hadramaut region of Yemen.  Though it is 4am at the Counter-terrorism Centre, the little operations control booth is crowded, as it always is these days.  The technology all around is top-of-the-range: the product of billions of dollars of spending.  At the back of the room stand the CIA's lawyers - always present when life-or-death decisions are to be made.  But they have already signed up to what will happen next.  At the centre of the screen are some black cross-hairs.  They are already locked on to the car in front.  It only remains for Cofer Black, the long-time head of the Counter-terrorism Centre, to give the order.  A key turns, a button is pressed, and the aptly named "hellfire" missile streaks home.  An explosion fills the screen - the camera unshaken on the Predator plane from whose wing the missile has been launched.  The target that night is a wanted terrorist named Abu Ali, also known aa Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi.  A few hours later, when his death is confirmed, the agents celebrate their success.  However, bystanders are also killed, including a US citizen named Kamal Derwish, from Buffalo, New York State.

Assassination of America's enemies seemed a clever tactic after 9/11.  The CIA's political masters ordered it to kill terrorist leaders when it was possible to do so with minimum "collateral damage".  It was a return to the bad old days of the Phoenix programme (the documented assassination of thousands by the CIA in Viet Nam) and Nicaragua (laying mines in harbours in the 1980s and training "contras").  But it often went wrong.

Throughout the new archipelago, the penalty for involvement in Islamist extremism is frequently death or a life sentence.  Trials are usually conducted by a military tribunal, and appeals for clemency to be considered only by the US president.  In Uzbekistan, a maverick British ambassador, Craig Murray, was put on sick leave after he publicly exposed human rights abuses, including execution of Islamist dissidents by boiling alive.  Uzbekistan is one of Britain's and America's closest allies in central Asia because it has provided bases that have enabled operations into Afghanistan.  The US is settling in for a long-term presence in return for tolerating human-rights abuses.

In the post-9/11 debate on tactics and policy there has been very little effort to address the roots of terrorism.  Rather like the cowboy song - "Don't try to understand 'em/Just rope, throw and brand 'em" - Bush's response to the crisis has been too focused on military retaliation.  The military has defended the use of terror tactics.  A former US army colonel, Alex Sands, declared: "The whole point of using special operations is to fight terror with terror.  Our guys are trained to do the things that traditionally the other guys have done: kidnap, hijack, infiltrate."

Yet as the world gains glimpses of George W Bush's archipelago, revulsion at the Americans' modus operandi - and support for the suspects they deliver into the torturers' hands - will grow. Rope, throw and brand 'em may no longer prove a suitable containment policy.

Source: Monday 17 May 2004

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: article
Date: Sat, 15 May 2004 01:07:40 -0500
From: Cody Hatch <>
To: Ruth Hatch <>

Quite a slanted article.  Overall, I more-or-less agree with the slant, but they mix up several different issues.

First, deporting people to wherever you think they should go, rather than where their passport says they should go is, I think, wrong.  The degree of complicity the US has in the fate of the prisoners at their destination is under some debate - the article spins it as though CIA employees were personally torturing people, which is almost certainly false.  On the other hand, if you deport someone to a country they've fled for fear of torture, and they end up being tortured, you are certainly responsible, no matter how clean you've kept your own hands.

Many countries and organisations view Syria, Egypt, et cetera as being perfectly civilised countries with excellent human rights records.  By and large, these are the same organisations that have a particular distaste for the US, and the War on Terror - which makes their complaints about prisoners being handed over to security agencies they normally portray as perfectly innocent somewhat ironic - if no less sad.

Second, after a few pages of talking about the gross illegality of passing prisoners around, the article says in passing:

Normally, all prisoners of Britain, the US and its allies would have the protection of the law of habeas corpus.  But US federal judges have argued that enemy aliens do not have these rights and that it is not for the courts to interfere with the military in prosecuting a war by second-guessing whom it chooses to detain and interrogate.

Indeed, judges have done so, and to the extent that they have called these practices legal, then they ARE legal, which undermines the bits of the article which focus on legality.  *shrug*  Not that I care much - legal or not, to the extent that employees of the US government hand prisoners over to regimes that they know (or even strongly suspect) will torture them, they become as responsible for the torture as if they apply the electric shocks to the genitals themselves - and if that's legal, then it damned well shouldn't be.

Third, right at the very end the article veers off from talking about shuffling prisoners around to the killing of terrorists via Predator drones.  To call this assassination is just silly.  The US is fighting a war, and the point of war is to shoot your enemies, which in this case al-Harethi would certainly qualify.  What, precisely, would The New Statesman have preferred?  Is it the platform they didn't like?  Would it be okay if the Hellfire had been fired from a manned helicopter or jeep?  Or would they have preferred a different weapon?  I admit to being at something of a loss.  Further, comparing the event to the Phoenix program is bizarre, unless the author is unaware of precisely what the Phoenix program was.  A better example would be the killing of Yamamoto.  After breaking Japanese codes, the US learned Yamamoto was making a tour of the front, and set up an ambush along his route.  The US shot down an unarmed transport with 16 fighters simply to kill one person, but this was NOT assassination.

Cody Hatch <
"A society that puts equality...ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom." -- Milton Friedman

The Stanford Prison Experiment: Still Powerful after All These Years

I was sick to my stomach.  When it's happening to you, it doesn't feel heroic; it feels real scary.  It feels like you are a deviant.

­ Professor Christina Maslach, UC-Berkeley, to psychologists gathered in Toronto 12 August 1996

by Kathleen O’Toole

The view through the doorway was too familiar ­ like something she had seen in the international news sections of Life or Newsweek.  Several young men ­ dressed in khaki uniforms and wearing reflector sunglasses that hid their eyes ­ were herding a larger group of men down a hallway.  The latter were dressed in shapeless smocks that exposed their pale legs and the chains that bound one ankle of each man to another.  Paper bag blindfolds covered their heads.

Christina Maslach's stomach reacted first.  She felt queasy and instinctively turned her head away.  Her peers, other academic psychologists, noticed her flinch.  "What's the matter?" they teased.  On that fateful Thursday night a quarter-century ago, Maslach would take actions that made her a heroine in some circles as "the one who stopped the Stanford Prison Experiment."  Even her now-husband, Stanford psychology Professor Philip Zimbardo, referred to the UC-Berkeley psychologist as a hero when he spoke to a group of undergraduates in his introductory psychology class last spring.  But Maslach, her professional and personal lives reshaped by that night, rejects the label.

Speaking at a symposium of the American Psychological Association last summer, she urged other social science researchers to consider the circumstances of her alleged heroics:

bulletShe had walked into the experiment late and therefore was more likely to be startled than those who had been planning it for months and observing it for five days, she said.
bulletShe was involved in a romantic relationship with Zimbardo, the experiment's principal investigator, and not working for him as a graduate student or colleague.

Yet she had difficulty resisting the group pressure to be enthusiastic about what was going on in the name of science.  "At that point, I felt there was something wrong with me, thinking here I am, I'm supposed to be a psychologist, I'm supposed to understand, and I was having a hard time watching what was happening to these kids."

In the prison-conscious autumn of 1971, when George Jackson was killed at San Quentin and Attica erupted in even more deadly rebellion and retribution, the Stanford Prison Experiment made news in a big way.  It offered the world a videotaped demonstration of how ordinary people ­ middle-class college students can do things they would have never believed they were capable of doing.  It seemed to say, as Hannah Arendt said of Adolf Eichmann, that normal people can take ghastly actions.

Details of the experiment are well known.  They are included in most basic psychology texts and in a public television psychology course, "Discovering Psychology," that Zimbardo wrote and narrates.  Movie rights have been optioned, 60 Minutes has filmed a segment on the experiment, and even a punk rock band in Los Angeles calls itself Stanford Prison Experiment.  In summary:

On Sunday morning 17 August 1971, nine young men were "arrested" in their homes by Palo Alto police.  At least one of those arrested vividly remembers the shock of having his neighbours come out to watch the commotion as TV cameras recorded his hand-cuffing for the nightly news.  The arrestees were among about 70 young men, mostly college students eager to earn $15 a day for two weeks, who volunteered as subjects for an experiment on prison life that had been advertised in the Palo Alto Times.  After interviews and a battery of psychological tests, the two dozen judged to be the most normal, average and healthy were selected to participate, assigned randomly either to be guards or prisoners.  Those who would be prisoners were booked at a real jail, then blindfolded and driven to campus where they were led into a makeshift prison in the basement of Jordan Hall.  Those assigned to be guards were given uniforms and instructed that they were not to use violence but that their job was to maintain control of the prison.

From the perspective of the researchers, the experiment became exciting on day two when the prisoners staged a revolt.  Once the guards had crushed the rebellion, "they steadily increased their coercive aggression tactics, humiliation and dehumanization of the prisoners," Zimbardo recalls.  "The staff had to frequently remind the guards to refrain from such tactics," he said, and the worst instances of abuse occurred in the middle of the night when the guards thought the staff was not watching.  The guards' treatment of the prisoners ­ such things as forcing them to clean out toilet bowls with their bare hands and act out degrading scenarios, or urging them to become snitches­ "resulted in extreme stress reactions that forced us to release five prisoners, one a day, prematurely."

Zimbardo's primary reason for conducting the experiment was to focus on the power of roles, rules, symbols, group identity and situational validation of behaviour that generally would repulse ordinary individuals.  "I had been conducting research for some years on deindividuation, vandalism and dehumanization that illustrated the ease with which ordinary people could be led to engage in anti-social acts by putting them in situations where they felt anonymous, or they could perceive of others in ways that made them less than human, as enemies or objects," Zimbardo told the Toronto symposium in the summer of 1996.  "I wondered, along with my research associates Craig Haney, Curtis Banks and Carlo Prescott, what would happen if we aggregated all of these processes, making some subjects feel deindividuated, others dehumanized within an anonymous environment in the same experimental setting, and where we could carefully document the process over time."

Jekyll and Hyde experience

Maslach walked into the mock prison on the evening of the fifth day.  Having just received her doctorate from Stanford and starting an assistant professorship at Berkeley, she had agreed to do subject interviews the next day and had come down the night before to familiarise herself with the experiment.  At first, she said, she found it "dull and boring.  I looked at the prison yard from the point of view of the video camera [that had been set up to monitor it] and there was not much happening.  So I went around to the other end of the hall where some guards were waiting to start their next shift."  There, she had a pleasant conversation with a "charming, funny, smart" young man waiting to start his guard shift.  Other researchers had told her there was a particularly sadistic guard, whom both prisoners and other guards had nicknamed John Wayne.  Later, when she looked at the monitor of the prison yard again, she asked someone to point out John Wayne and was shocked to discover it was the young man she had talked with earlier.  "This man had been transformed.  He was talking in a different accent a Southern accent, which I hadn't recalled at all.  He moved differently, and the way he talked was different, not just in the accent, but in the way he was interacting with the prisoners.  It was like [seeing] Jekyll and Hyde...  It really took my breath away."

Several prisoners engaged in a debate with John Wayne, she said, in which they accused him of enjoying his job.  He said that he wasn't really like that, he was just playing a role.  One prisoner challenged this, Maslach said, noting that the guard had tripped him earlier when he was taking him down the hall to the bathroom.  No researchers were around to see the act, the prisoner said, which indicated to him that the act reflected the guard's true disposition.  John Wayne disagreed, saying that if he let up, the role wouldn't remain powerful.

Later that evening, Maslach said, she suddenly got sick to her stomach while watching guards taking the prisoners with paper bags over their heads to the bathroom before their bedtime.  Her fellow researchers teased her about it.  After leaving the prison with Zimbardo, she said, he asked her what she thought of it.  "I think he expected some sort of great intellectual discussion about what was going on.  Instead, I started to have this incredible emotional outburst.  I started to scream, I started to yell, 'I think it is terrible what you are doing to those boys!' I cried.  We had a fight you wouldn't believe, and I was beginning to think, wait a minute, I don't know this guy.  I really don't, and I'm getting involved with him?"

Zimbardo was shocked by her reaction and upset, she said, but eventually that night, "he acknowledged what I was saying and realised what had happened to him and to other people in the study.  At that point he decided to call the experiment to a halt."  Says Zimbardo: "She challenged us to examine the madness she observed, that we had created and had to take responsibility for."

Lives redirected

Maslach is one of several people whose life was redirected by the experience.  Researcher Haney went on to earn a law degree from Stanford after obtaining his doctorate in psychology and became one of the leading legal consultants on prison reform litigation, as well as a teacher at UC-Santa Cruz of psychology and law and the psychology of institutions.  Prescott, who was the research team's consultant on real prisons, had spent 17 years behind bars before the experiment.  He stayed out of legal trouble afterward, taught at Stanford, hosted his own radio show and does community service.

Maslach married Zimbardo in 1972 and became a full professor at Berkeley, studying the processes of dehumanization.  "I started interviewing prison guards, real ones, and also people in emergency medical care.  Out of that grew a lot of the research I have done over the years on job burn-out," she said.  Her work has looked at "how people who are responsible for the care and treatment of others can come to view those they care for in object-like ways, leading them, in some cases, to behave in ways that are really insensitive, uncaring, brutal and dehumanizing."

The first prisoner to be released from the experiment went on to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology, doing an internship at San Quentin.  He became a forensic psychologist for San Francisco's city jail and is now a consultant who advises judges regarding motions for prisoners' release.  Respected in his field, he requested that his name not be used for this story because "I don't want my name and face associated with this anymore.  The first 10 years it was fun," he said, but now he feels "the media never gives up."  Reporters and movie producers keep calling him in conjunction with the experiment, he said, because he became a prison psychologist.  "I'm the gimmick that makes it cute, and Phil [Zimbardo] is totally unable to empathise with my position."

Zimbardo and Maslach say they feel an ongoing responsibility to communicate about and apply the research beyond the academic world, which is why they generally agree to do interviews about it.  For Zimbardo, the prison experiment also has led to research on a range of social situations that generate pathological conditions.  He has studied the social psychology of madness and cults, shyness as a kind of self-imposed prison, and time perspective ­ the way people come to be controlled by their overuse of past, present or future timeframes.  Zimbardo has testified before legislative bodies, courts and military corrections authorities.  He is pleased that testimony about the research influenced Congress to change one law so that juveniles accused of federal crimes cannot be housed before trial with adult prisoners, because of the likelihood of violence against them.  Quiet Rage, a video that he and his Stanford undergraduate students produced from footage of the experiment, continues to be used in college classes and by civil, judicial, military and law enforcement groups to enlighten and arouse concern about prison life.

The experiment has not, however, brought about the changes in prisons or even in guard training programs that he would have liked.  In fact, prisons have been radically transformed in the United States in the last 25 years to make them less humane, Haney told the Toronto symposium audience.  Voters have increasingly voted for politicians who take a tough public stance in favour of prisons as places for punishment, rather than for reforming social deviants.  Long, determinate sentences are part of the new trend in policy, he said, as are an increasing number of prisons, like California's Pelican Bay, that put prisoners in long-term isolation.  "Psychology and other social science disciplines have been moved out of any kind of meaningful participation in debates over criminal justice policy," he said, urging the academics in his audience to "figure out ways in which we can re-involve ourselves in this debate."

In Zimbardo's view, prisons are "failed social-political experiments" that continue to bring out the worst in relations between people "because the public is indifferent to what takes place in secret there, and politicians use them, fill them up as much as they can, to demonstrate only that they are tough on crime...  They are as bad for the guards as the prisoners in terms of their destructive impact on self-esteem, sense of justice and human compassion."

Haney listed a number of lessons from the study that he said are largely ignored in American prisons as well as in other institutions of power today.  The study demonstrated, for example, that "good people are not enough" to prevent abusive excess, he said.  "Individual differences matter very little in the face of an extreme situation...  Institutional settings develop a life of their own independent of the wishes and intentions and purposes of those who run them."

Research ethics

And what about research institutions?

Zimbardo still has mixed emotions about the ethics of his experiment.  His experiment has been criticised by some social scientists, as was the obedience experiment of his high school classmate Stanley Milgram, for its treatment of human research subjects.  In Milgram's 1965 experiment, the subjects were led to believe that they were delivering ever more powerful electric shocks to a stranger, on the orders of a white-coated researcher.  Most were distressed by the situation, but two-thirds delivered the highest level of shock ­ labeled "danger - severe shock."  Like some of Zimbardo's guard subjects, some of Milgram's were anguished afterward by the revelation of their dark potential.  When asked about the ethics of such research for a 1976 magazine profile, Zimbardo said that "the ethical point is legitimate insofar as who are you, as an experimenter, to give a person that kind of information about oneself.  But my feeling is that that's the most valuable kind of information that you can have and that certainly a society needs it."

He told Stanford Report that he believes the pendulum now has swung too far toward protecting research subjects at the expense of new knowledge that could help society.  "Our study went though the human subjects committee then because they didn't know in advance, nor did we, that anything would happen...  Now [review committees] assume everybody is so fragile, that if you propose to tell a research subject he failed a test, it will damage his self-esteem forever.  So most research now is paper and pencil tests.  We ask people things like 'Imagine you were a guard, how would you behave?'"

He would prefer, Zimbardo said, that human subjects review committees at universities "allow some controversial things to be done but in a highly monitored way.  Videotapes should be checked every day, and there should be the option of an independent overseer blowing the whistle at any time."  He told the Toronto symposium audience last summer that the prison experiment was both ethical and unethical.  It was ethical, he said, because "it followed the guidelines of the Stanford human subjects ethics committee that approved it.  There was no deception; all subjects were told in advance that if prisoners, many of their usual rights would be suspended and they would have only minimally adequate diet and health care during the study," which was planned to last two weeks.  It was also ethical for him to continue, he said, in that more than 50 people came to look at the study in progress and did not register any objections before Maslach registered hers.  Among those who did not intervene were parents and friends of the students who came to see them on the prison's visiting nights, a Catholic priest, a public defender, and "professional psychologists, graduate students and staff of the psychology department who watched on-line videos of part of the study unfold or took part in parole board hearings or spoke to [the study subjects] and looked at them."

But it was unethical, he said, "because people suffered and others were allowed to inflict pain and humiliation on their fellows over an extended period of time."  "And yes, although we ended the study a week earlier than planned, we did not end it soon enough."

Contact: Stanford University News Service (415) 723-2558

Source: 8 January 1997

The above articles help to make what happened at Abu Graib a bit more understandable, I think.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Prisons
Date: Sat, 22 May 2004 01:07:40 -0500
From: Cody Hatch <>
To: Ruth Hatch <>


Ran across an description of a prison:

"It starts off by being stripped naked in front of 10 police officers including two women, gratutious humiliation is used to break you down."

"... worst jail that you can possibly imagine."

"Not even a hole to go to the bathroom. You have to piss against a wall and you sleep in piss on the concrete floor."

"[I demand] the immediate shutdown of this secret underground prison."

The jail in question, however, is in Marseille. Article here (in French):, automatic English translation here:  (And yes, I would agree that automatic translation tools have a long way to go.)

Cody Hatch

Zombie Patriotism

Government is not reason, it is not eloquence - it is force!  Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearsome master.

- George Washington

by Bruce Patterson

* * *

Is it possible for a dead human body to feel colder than the steamy tropical air blanketing it?  Here I am dragging this dead Vietnamese kid to the burn pile by his one good ankle and I'll be damned if his skin doesn't feel cold.

What a waste.  My company was doing ghost time as a Quick Reaction Force operating from inside of our base camp.  We'd been choppered out to Highway 19 in An Khe Pass because an American supply convoy had been ambushed by the Viet Cong.  We'd been dropped behind the ambushing force with orders to cut off their retreat and to kill them if we could.  But helicopter gunships had already done our work for us.  The jungle flanking the highway had been defoliated by the US Air Force spraying Agent Orange, and the pilots of the gunships had no trouble locating their ant-like targets.  So the only shooting any of us wound up doing was while finishing off one or two of the enemy wounded.  This was peculiar enough because, if you ever found yourself on the wrong end of a gunship's mini-guns, you nearly always wound up in chunks.

Like this kid I was dragging to the burn pile.  I was only 18 years old, but this kid didn't look to be older than 15.  Still he'd been shot through by multiple 20mm high explosive rounds and, though I tried not to look at him, I knew that only about three-fourths of him was there.  We had orders to gather up and burn all of the bits and pieces, but I'd seen a glob of brains I knew I was leaving for the fire ants no matter what my orders were.

I'd once taken a good long look into the nature of Vietnamese brains and I'd learned about all I could from the experience.  It was just before Christmas, 1967, we were in the bush and we accidentally stumbled into some Viet Cong eating lunch.  During the resulting chaos one Vietnamese kid deposited his nearly fully intact brains on the foot trail.  In the aftermath of the firefight I happened to get positioned beside the brains while the way ahead was being cleared.  And so, with time to spare, I wound up staring at them.  Because thoughts originate inside of brains, I wondered if these terrorist brains were different than my American brains, or whether communist brains were different than capitalist brains.  Somehow it stood to reason that I should be able to see some physical difference.  The boy was a communist and using terrorist tactics, the communists were on a global crusade against God and Civilization and they would settle for nothing less than the "defeat of America" and so the enslavement of all of mankind.  Whereas I was an American and I was sent by Jesus and George Washington to bring peace and freedom to my little brown brothers here on the other side of the world.  Because I was an American, I'd been anointed their protector and I was protecting them, guiding them toward the light and selflessly serving them just as Jesus had done for all mankind.  Because I was an American, World Democracy was flowing from the barrel of my gun.

In the bush, whenever we killed some people during the day, that night we nearly always staked out their corpses.  Using cover of night, the enemy liked to "retrieve their dead" and we liked ambushing their burial details.  As luck would have it, what was left of my squad got elected to return to the bodies and to set the ambush that night.  Staking out dead bodies was such an old trick of ours that, as my squad crept toward our overnight accommodations, we moved in silent slow motion for fear of getting ambushed ourselves.  And when at last light we finally arrived back at the scene of the killings - this struck me as strange - the brains were gone.  I don't know why I'd expected the brains to still be there, but I had.  And seeing them gone made me realize that in one way both of our brains were the same.  In the jungle, both were food.

When I arrived at the burn pile one of my hole mates was there to help me.  He grabbed one end of the carcass, I the other and together, at the count of three, we tossed it onto the fire.  Then I walked away from the heat and kept my back to it while I stood and took a break.  I didn't believe that Good Guy/Bad Guy bullshit anymore.  In November outside Dak To most of a company in my outfit got cut off and was annihilated.  Overnight the North Vietnamese Army had custody of the GI's bodies and they had their way with them.  Among other things, the NVA carved out their innards and built campfires in their ribcages.

So I knew one of the reasons why we were burning these VC bodies was for payback.  It was payback plus a warning to the other VC nearby to keep away from us.  If there was any more fighting to be done hereabouts while we were the Quick Reaction Force, then we were going to be doing the fighting and we were the baddest motherfuckers in the jungle.  So see the charred corpses, smell the burning flesh and jump back!

Also we burned the gooks because they were pagans.  They worshipped the earth, the sky and the seasons.  According to their superstition, after they died they'd be joining their revered ancestors up in Paradise and there for all eternity they'd have their very own earthly bodies.  And so if you mutilated their bodies here on earth then they'd stay mutilated forever.  And the prospect of that supposedly scared the holy shit out of them and so acted as a powerful incentive for them to stay at home with their families where they belonged.  Because of that particular foxhole rumor, nobody knows how many Vietnamese went to their Happy Hunting Grounds missing their ears or other body parts (though, out of respect for the Native and African Americans in our ranks, so far as I know not ever did a Vietnamese get scalped or hung from a tree).

Supposedly these superstitious peasants also believed in a "third eye" sort of thing.  They had this weird concept of a Buddha Eye that they supposedly took real seriously.  So some GIs liked to shoot dead gooks in the middle of the forehead in order to give them what they wanted.  Also, if a gook was severely wounded and it was time to put it out of its misery, it was customary to deliver the coup de grace to the head.  So why not aim for the middle of the forehead?  Anyway, once a GI had made his Third Eye, he might reach down and leave an ace of spades, a unit patch or some other sort of calling card stuck to the wound.  Supposedly that also worked to put the fear in them.

If you looked at the reality of what we were doing in the right light, then it was clear that these gooks were not even humans in a spiritual sense.  As our Chaplains were fond of reminding us during their pep talks, God held a special place in his heart for killers like us but not for killers like them.  Since the gooks were all heading straight to Hell anyhow, it was no sin if we sped them on their way.

To avoid ground fire we'd come in real high in the choppers, and not a mile away I'd seen the village these dead gooks almost certainly had come from. "Come from" in the sense that their bloodlines might have reached back into the dirt of the nearby terraced rice paddies for one thousand or five thousand years.  Still they were too young, too poorly trained and too hopelessly outgunned to be going up against professionals like us.  Yet there they were, crackling on the burn pile.

We were about a week into the most famous of the VC's Tet Offensives, and all over the country peasant boys and girls like these were going up against us.  The official line was that this latest burst of terrorist violence was only further proof of how, unlike us peace-loving Americans, these gook people over here simply did not value human life and democracy the way we did.  How, judging by our high moral standards, human life was downright cheap to them.  So when these gook people went up against all odds, when they willingly threw down their lives just for maybe one chance to kill some of us, it wasn't courage - it was fanaticism.  They were stone crazy while we were not crazy in the least.

There is no "fog of war."  If anybody is in a "fog," it's the war's cheerleaders back home on the safe side of the world.  Because nothing is as personal as battle; nothing so white hot as cold, homicidal hatred.

I wasn't a zombie.  I knew exactly what I was doing and what for.  I also knew exactly what was happening to me as a result.  I could see, I could hear, I could smell and I too had feelings and soul.  I was just following orders but there wasn't the least bit of confusion in my mind about what was happening.  With utter, icy clarity I knew that my heart was getting ripped out of me.  Along with the gooks, my heart was getting thrown onto the fire and sent up as smoke, as steam.

Though at the time all I felt was a chill.

Source: 12 May 2004

Somebody can go that far down the "war" path and come back and become a real person again?  Wow.  Perhaps this is an argument against the death penalty?  It seems positive change can come where you least expect it...

Disgusting but True...

by Paul Bloom

Disgust is an adaptation towards veering us away from bad meat, and so it is naturally triggered by animals and animal waste products.  And so some things are universally disgusting: rotten meat, feces, urine, blood, vomit.  But disgust can readily extend to people.  People, after all, are made of meat.

It has been long observed that every movement designed to stigmatise or malign some group - Jews, black, gays, the poor, women - has used disgust.  Once you get somebody to view a group of people as disgusting, the attention shifts away from them as people, as moral individuals.  They become soulless bodies, and the circle closes in to exclude them.

Source: "Natural Born Dualists" from Edge: The Third Culture

See also:

bulletTo Urgh Is Human (in the section on Relationships) - The history of disgust is an ugly one.  The philosopher Martha Nussbaum, who is the main critic of a disgust-based morality, observes that "throughout history, certain disgust properties - sliminess, bad smell, stickiness, decay, foulness - have repeatedly and monotonously been associated with Jews, women, homosexuals, untouchables, lower-class people - all of those are imagined as tainted by the dirt of the body."
bulletEveryone Is a Potential Torturer (earlier in this section) - Robbins believes the general US prejudice against other nations is deeply ingrained.  "Calling Iraqi nationals ‘insurgents’, ‘ragheads’ or ‘baddies’ automatically dehumanises them and leads to a climate of disrespect," he says...

Yes, Virginia, There Was a Nanjing Massacre

When I first began investigating this topic, I expected only to report on gruesome deeds committed by Japanese soldiers during a particular battle in China leading up to World War II.  Yes, I found that - but I also found so much more.  The Nanjing (or Nanking) Massacre has become an international symbol of suffering both for the Chinese and the Japanese, but in very different ways.

Even the facts are disputed.  The recently-elected governor of Tokyo denies there ever was a massacre.  Japanese right-wingers feel the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal which revealed the Massacre was unfair, had little substance, and was based on hearsay and guesswork.  Some say only 47 were killed by the Japanese, with Chinese fighting among themselves accounting for the rest.  Some say there were 12,000 killed, or 45,000.  The Tokyo trial said more than 200,000.  The Chinese say 300,000.  Some insist 400,000.  The Japanese say if China is going to exaggerate, they won’t listen and need not apologise.  Some Japanese say the loss of discipline by the army was an isolated incident and nothing comparable took place in any other city.  They say Japan has always had discipline - for example, they respected China’s cultural artifacts in war even as other countries, including the US, looted them.  They say they have been shamed enough and need the matter dropped so they can regain national pride.  Other Asian countries say if the Japanese can’t humble themselves and sincerely apologise, then they shouldn’t be allowed their army back.  The Japanese counter that the US never apologised for dropping two atomic bombs or for fire-bombing Tokyo and that every country has at one time or another in the heat of battle committed acts deemed atrocities by opponents - with Japanese being no worse than the troops of other civilised nations.

In the past few years textbooks in Japan have begun to be changed to whitewash events and make the Japanese look like heroes who were trying to liberate Asia from Western colonial powers.  They say some Chinese were reluctant to see the Imperial Japanese Army leave their country after the war.  Revisionists claim children should not be taught history that would make them ashamed to be Japanese.  Best-selling books depict Japan as victim.  This has left Korea and China outraged.  The Japanese Prime Minister’s stopping at the Yasukuni Shrine dedicated to war heroes sacrificed a potential $2 billion contract with China for a bullet train.

Many scholars, even some who are Japanese, say plenty of evidence exists that the Nanjing Massacre not only happened but that it wasn’t an isolated incident and was sanctioned by military authorities who advocated a "scorched earth" policy to demoralise the Chinese and exact retribution.  They were authorised to kill all who might provide help to the enemy - including children.  They "blooded" new recruits by having them bayonet to death captured Chinese males.  The Japanese say they didn’t take prisoners of war because they had no way to feed them.  Apparent massive cover-ups have prevented conclusive determination of the number of Chinese deaths but witness after witness from village after village recounts similar awful tales of gang rape, slitting the bellies of all pregnant women and mass murders.  Most scholars feel the total number of Chinese executed by Japan approaches 30 million - exceeding the number of Jews killed by Germans in the Holocaust.

Many Japanese feel that their country’s refusal to accept their role in the war only adds to the country’s shame; some feel those who don’t learn the lessons of war are doomed to repeat them.  Conversely, others feel a rising sense of nationalistic pride and say Japan excels over any other nation when it comes to discipline and civility.  The tension between the two views appears to be generating an unsettling volatility.  Some younger Japanese say they are sick of having to answer for the sins of their elders.

Both China and Japan exhibit a self-righteous anger.

In China, the Nanjing Massacre seems to have become the emblematic massacre of the Pacific War.  Many are bitter that only six Japanese were executed for crimes related to Nanjing, whose rampage lasted six weeks.  The rampage involved the often gleeful killing of civilians - including women and children, apparently without provocation or excuse, by individual soldiers using sword, bayonet or bullet.  The killings would seem to have been unnecessary for military objectives.  There appears to have been wanton cruelty on a grand scale.  From 20,000 to 80,000 women were raped; the rapes often involving sadistic behaviour; many women were killed afterward and their bodies mutilated.  Some say the flesh of their thighs was occasionally used to make dumplings.  Soldiers took souvenir photos of each other beheading prisoners or posing with a severed head, smiles on their faces.  One soldier with an apparent sense of humour put a severed head in a tree and photographed it with a cigarette between its lips.

One can hardly discuss the Nanking Massacre without mentioning John Rabe, a Nazi working for Seimens China who is considered by many to be the "Chinese Oscar Schindler".  As the Japanese closed in on the city, foreigners were ordered to evacuate.  Rabe felt he would be shamed in front of his Chinese workers if he abandoned them.  He sent his wife away, and then mobilised remaining Westerners to create an "international safety zone" within which unarmed Chinese were to be protected by virtue of Germany’s pact with Japan.  One to two hundred thousand people were packed into a 2-3 square mile area.  For six weeks, Rabe and his co-workers fed, doctored, comforted and protected their charges as best they could.  Rabe is credited with saving their lives.  When the siege lifted in 1938 and Rabe felt able to leave, he returned to Germany and wrote Adolph Hitler to describe the Japanese atrocities he had witnessed.  Two days later, he was arrested by the Gestapo but Seimens intervened to prevent him from being sent to a concentration camp.  Nevertheless, he was by then destitute and in poor health.  After the war, Rabe was arrested by the Allies as a war criminal but was acquitted.  He survived the war and the starvation that followed because the Chinese government had learned he was alive.  He lived for years on food parcels mailed to him by none other than Madame Chiang Kai-shek.

The Peacemakers: Aggression and Culture
A Non-Human Example of the Cultural Transmission of Social Norms

Is aggressive behaviour innate or learned?  In baboons, it seems, it is learned.  A surprising natural experiment suggests that the level of violence in baboon society is culturally determined...

For articles on bioterrorism, patriotism enforcers, airport security, children in war, McCarthyism, humanitarian killing, Voice of America, pipelines, truth, lessons, anthrax, hatred and pain click the "Up" button below to take you to the Index page for this War on Terrorism section.

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