Prisons: America's Shame
Don't miss this commentary in the Los Angeles Times (free subscription required) by Los Angeles lawyer Robert L. Bastian Jr. on how prisons are the shame of America--and how the allegations in Iraq reflect the violent, abusive prisons that have arisen here. We're just exporting the shame.
Bastien reminds us that Winston Churchill once said, "treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of civilization of any country," and says, if Churchill is right, so, are America's critics.
President Bush says "That's not the way we do things in America" and what's going on at Abu Ghraib is "not the nature of the American people." He's wrong.
In 1971, for example, Stanford psychology professor Philip G. Zimbardo initiated an experiment in which participating Stanford students were designated either as prisoners or guards, with guards told to maintain order. After only a few days, the project had to be terminated prematurely because the guards were, with no apparent motivation other than fulfilling their roles, becoming uncomfortably abusive toward the prisoners. What does that say about our "nature"?
In another famous experiment, Yale psychology professor Stanley Milgram told subjects to give electric shocks to a victim in a learning experiment. As the victim — an actor in another room who was not actually being shocked — gave incorrect answers, the participants were asked to turn the voltage up, even to where the dial read "danger," a point at which the victim could be heard screaming. Although often reluctant, two-thirds of the subjects continued to follow orders to administer shocks.
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