Abu Ghraib prison, set in Iraq was led by American soldiers in 2003 which saw inhumane and violent treatment of the prisoners there. The torture took place in physical, psychological and sexual forms as well as rape, sodomy and homicide of the prisoners. Some of the reasons for their unacceptable behaviour may be due to: Power and Status: – As they were reservist soldiers, they had a low ranking within the army. However, within the prison setting, they had the highest status and amount of power over the prisoners and as a result, this change could have caused them to take advantage of their role.
Revenge and Retaliation: – As Iraq and America were at war, the soldiers may have perceived the situation at Abu Ghraib as also fighting for their country. Also, violence faced by the American army at the hands of the Iraqis, may have triggered the aggressive behaviour of the soldiers at the prison. Deindividuation and Helplessness: – As the soldiers often committed the violent acts in groups they may have felt a loss of their personal identity. This would therefore lead to a decreased awareness of their own actions and therefore responsibility for them.
Situational Factors: – Due to the prison setting, the American soldiers may have adapted to their idea of what their role consisted of. Obedience: – It was argued that the orders they received came from higher ranking officials and therefore obedience was central to their beliefs and disrespecting an authority figure would be highly unacceptable. Conformity: – As violence occurred in groups one individual would be less likely to speak out against the torture. As a result, he or she follows the group and conforms to their behaviour and attitude as they have the majority influence.
Cue arousal: – Virtually anyone can be aggressive if sufficiently provoked, stressed, disgruntled, or hot. The soldiers were certainly provoked and stressed: at war, in constant danger, taunted and harassed by some of the very citizens they were sent to save, and their comrades were dying daily and unpredictably. Their morale suffered, they were untrained for the job, their command climate was lax, their return home was a year overdue, their identity as disciplined soldiers was gone, and their own amenities were scant. Heat and discomfort also doubtless contributed.
Ingroup/Outgroup: – The fact that the prisoners were part of a group encountered as enemies would only exaggerate the tendency to feel spontaneous prejudice against outgroups. In this context, oppression and discrimination are synonymous. One of the most basic principles of social psychology is that people prefer their own group and attribute bad behaviour to outgroup. Prejudice especially festers if people see the outgroup as threatening cherished values. This would have certainly applied to the guards viewing their prisoners at Abu Ghraib, but it also applies in more “normal” situations.