Friday, May 11, 2007

The Real Evil-Doers Walk Free

Philip Zimbardo's book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil confirmed my belief that the wrong people were punished for the torture that took place at Abu Ghraib. The people punished were set-up to take the fall while the truly guilty people will never face the consequences of their actions.

There is no doubt in my mind that a certain section of our government understood the psychology of the famous “Stanford Prison Experiment” Zimbardo started in 1971. They knew that "powerful situational forces" could make people behave in ways they would not ordinarily. Especially when those people are very young soldiers trained to "fall in" and not question authority.

On top of the training many of these soldiers received, the part of the brain, called the pre-frontal cortex, is not fully developed until a person reaches their early 20s. This section of the brain responsible for "executive functions" allows us to prioritize our thinking, imagine, think in the abstract, plan, anticipate consequences, and control impulses. Combine the aforementioned with the process of group dynamics, which can overwhelm any individual, forcing them to compromise their values, morals and beliefs for the sake of the's a formula guaranteed to produce torture-ready soldiers. How can we expect young men and women to fight against this powerful psychological force when most adults with fully developed brains will succumb?

“The evidence now is strong that the brain does not cease to mature until the early 20s in those relevant parts that govern impulsivity, judgment, planning for the future, foresight of consequences, and other characteristics that make people morally culpable….”

-- Ruben Gur, MD, PhD
It is true that all our soldiers "volunteered" for military service; and while a few signed up only to hurt or kill others, most signed up after being deceived by recruiters or because their parents and school thought that the military would straighten them out, or because this is their chance to become the "GI Joe" they played with just a few short years ago.

The people that should be held fully accountable -- unlike our young soldiers -- have brains that are fully mature, have the life experience to draw from, are highly educated, and lead the wealthiest and most powerful nation on Earth. There is no excuse for these people because they know exactly what they are doing.


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