Torture Without Orders: Hidden in Plain Sight

December 23, 2014


By Gerald Gray, LCSW, Institute for Redress and Recovery

Just released US Torture Papers focus on torture in interrogation, ostensibly for defense of the country. The US also tortures another way, not for defense but for regional control by terror.

Abu Ghraib was no accident, nor what went on at any of the other known US military prisons. US military and intelligence agencies are shot through with psychologists, and virtually all established psychologists know the Stanford Prison Experiment of 1971—but the public does not. That experiment showed that prison guards working under stress will torture even without orders unless overseen by an outside agency, with the most brutal guard setting the standard each shift.

Our military does not allow the International Red Cross or the UN to have unfettered access to military prisons, despite international law the US has signed. There were thousands of prisoners in Iraq in revolving door prisons—too many to interrogate. Abu Ghraib held 7,000 prisoners guarded by 90 soldiers, according to the Schlesinger Report, produced by the former US Secretary of Defense.

What results from blocking the Red Cross or the UN? In a prison structure known to produce torture, there was then no paper trail, no orders to torture. If anyone was caught, only the lowest ranking would be punished—exactly what happened at Abu Ghraib. The lowest ranking were set up and never knew it—and the US public has been set up too, both by this mechanism and by exclusive focus on torture for interrogation.

If the purpose of Abu Ghraib was just to hold prisoners, the guard force would have been increased. But the structure was known predictably to produce torture, with thousands of prisoners tortured and released back into the populace with stories of what happened to them or others they could see or hear. In all the countries where torture this massive occurs, it is for political control by terror. This does not look different from all the rest we clinicians see in torture treatment centers.

Those above the guards—psychologists, lawyers, ranking military, and politicians to the very top, are responsible for this. They knew or should have known—that is command responsibility—here, criminal responsibility. Psychology is useful to such a government–which explains its recently revealed influence of the American Psychological Association in support of psychologists’ participation in prisoner interrogation.