Nov. 1, 2008
Lessons of Abu Ghraib: Understanding and Preventing Prisoner Abuse in Military Operations
The abuse of prisoners by U.S. Soldiers at Abu Ghraib had broad strategic consequences, leading many people around the world to question the legitimacy of U.S. goals and activities in Iraq. This paper draws on extensive unclassified reports from multiple investigations that followed Abu Ghraib, and applies key psychological as well as social-situational perspectives to develop a better grasp of the causative factors. From a psychological standpoint, most young adults are powerfully inclined to behave in accord with the social conventions and pressures around them. Especially in ambiguous circumstances, then, it is important that standards of behavior be clear and explicit throughout all phases of an operation and that leaders at all levels represent and reinforce those standards.