US psychologist Zimbardo says Abu Ghraib not ‘bad apples’, but Bush administration

Bush, Rumsfeld, and war crimes in Iraq, cartoon by Steve Bell

From Associated Press:

‘Psychology Of Evil’ Prof’s Last Stanford Lecture

STANFORD The retiring psychology professor who ran the famed Stanford Prison Experiment savagely criticized the Bush administration’s War on Terror Wednesday and said senior government officials should be tried for crimes against humanity.

In his final lecture at Stanford University, Philip Zimbardo said abuses committed by Army reservists at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison weren’t isolated incidents by rogue soldiers.

Rather, sadism was the inevitable result of U.S. government policies that condone brutality toward enemies, he said.

Individual military personnel those who stripped prisoners and leashed them like dogs are only as culpable as the people who created the overall environment in which the soldiers operated, Zimbardo told undergraduates enrolled in Introductory Psychology.

“Good American soldiers were corrupted by the bad barrel in which they too were imprisoned,” said Zimbardo, 73.

“Those barrels were designed, crafted, maintained and mismanaged by the bad barrel makers, from the top down in the military and civilian Bush administration.”

The professor blasted President Bush, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other senior officials who said that al-Qaida and Taliban captives would be considered “unlawful combatants” rather than “prisoners of war,” a designation that would invoke the Geneva Convention.

He said those officials “should be tried for the crimes against humanity.”

See also here.

And here.

It only takes one dissenting voice to cut through a torrent of hatred. Evidence shows that even a small number of nonconformists can have a disproportionate impact in preventing dangerous forms of groupthink. NICOLAS LALAGUNA reports.

19 thoughts on “US psychologist Zimbardo says Abu Ghraib not ‘bad apples’, but Bush administration

  1. Stanford faculty protest Rumsfeld selection to think tank
    By Josh Richman
    Article Launched: 09/17/2007 05:23:47 PM PDT

    Stanford University faculty members are protesting former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s appointment as a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.

    Renowned professor emeritus of psychology Philip Zimbardo, who has publicly blamed Rumsfeld and other Bush Administration officials for the notorious abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, is among a protest petition’s “instigators,” as he put it.

    “We think he has distinguished himself for all the wrong things than what the university should stand for and what America should stand for,” Zimbardo said Monday, adding that about 118 people had signed the petition by Sunday, but the number should increase rapidly when the academic quarter begins next week.

    The Hoover Institution announced Sept. 7 that Rumsfeld will be a visiting fellow serving on a task force of scholars and experts focused upon issues pertaining to “ideology and terror.”

    “Hoover is in a sense independent of Stanford but it’s always linked to Stanford,” Zimbardo said – the conservative public-policy think tank is located on the university’s campus, but the faculty senate has no input on its appointments. “They can have any fascist they want there, and they do… We’ve never protested before but this seems to be egregious.”

    The Hoover Institution hadn’t returned calls seeking comment late Monday afternoon.

    Rumsfeld resigned as defense secretary in November, a day after frustration with his handling of the Iraq war was cited as a source

    of voter dissatisfaction contributing to Republicans’ loss of majority control in Congress. By then, some Republican members of Congress had joined with Democrats in urging President George W. Bush to dump Rumsfeld.

    Zimbardo, 74, is perhaps best known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment in which students assigned to be guards in a mock prison in a campus basement quickly became sadistic. At the same time, the students chosen to be prisoners soon showed passivity and depression, quickly leading to dangerous and psychologically harmful situations which forced him to end the experiment.

    In 2004 he testified for the defense in the court martial of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick, a guard at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, arguing that the soldier’s sentence should be mitigated because few people can resist the urge to become abusive in such an environment without proper training and supervision. Frederick still received the maximum sentence of eight years in prison. Zimbardo repeatedly and publicly has blamed Rumsfeld and other Bush Administration officials for the Abu Ghraib abuses, most prominently in his book published this year, “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.”

    On that book’s Web site, Zimbardo says Rumsfeld “created the conditions for troops to commit war crimes and torture by sidelining and disparaging the Geneva Conventions. He did so by approving interrogation techniques that violated the Geneva Conventions as well as the Convention against Torture, and by approving the hiding of detainees from the International Committee of the Red Cross.”

    Other former Cabinet members who are fellows or visiting fellows at the Hoover Institution include former Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, 2001-05 under President Bush; former Defense Secretary William Perry, 1994-97 under President Clinton; former Secretary of State George Shultz, 1982-89 under President Reagan; and former Attorney General Ed Meese, 1985-88 under President Reagan. Current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is a senior fellow now on leave from the Hoover Institution, and retired Army Gen. John Abizaid – who commanded the U.S. Central Command from 2003 through March, with dominion over U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan – is now a visiting fellow.

    Reach Josh Richman at or 510-208-6428. Read the Political Blotter at


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