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Israel trains US assassination squads in Iraq

... the secret war in Iraq is about to get much tougher, in the hope of
suppressing the Ba'athist-led insurgency ahead of next November's
presidential elections.  US special forces teams are already behind the
lines inside Syria attempting to kill foreign jihadists before they cross
the border, and a group focused on the "neutralisation" of guerrilla
leaders is being set up, according to sources familiar with the
The Israeli Torture Template: Rape, Feces and Urine-Dipped Cloth Sacks

... According to a political appointee within the Bush administration and
U.S. intelligence sources, the interrogators at Abu Ghraib included a
number of Arabic-speaking Israelis who also helped U.S. interrogators
develop the "R2I" (Resistance to Interrogation) techniques. Many of the
torture methods were developed by the Israelis over many years of
interrogating Arab prisoners on the occupied West Bank and in Israel

The Bush administration is pursuing its campaign to protect Americans from
International Criminal Court jurisdiction even as it deals with the Iraqi
prisoner abuse scandal that may involve some of the very war crimes the
court was created to handle...


Abuse less shocking in light of history In right conditions, many could
descend to brutality. It has happened before.
By Rick Hampson

One of the most surprising things about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by
U.S. soldiers is that so many Americans are surprised.

Decades of research and eons of history point to one conclusion: Under
certain circumstances, most normal people will treat their fellow man with
abnormal cruelty. The schoolboys' descent into barbarism in William
Golding's classic The Lord of the Flies is fiction that contains a deeper

And from Andersonville to the ''Hanoi Hilton,'' no combination of
circumstances turns us against our better nature faster than the
combination of war and prison, whether we are acting on orders or on our

Charles Figley, a Florida State University psychologist who studied the
experiences of 1,000 U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War, describes himself
as ''shocked about people being shocked'' by the reports from Iraq.

''About 25% of the vets I've talked to either participated in, witnessed,
or were aware of violations of the Geneva Conventions'' in Vietnam, he

Geneva is a long way from Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, where U.S.
military police photographed each other tormenting hooded, naked Iraqis in
their custody. Three face courts-martial, and four others could soon learn
whether they will be tried, too.

President Bush has called the alleged offenders a relative few whose
actions ''do not reflect the nature of the men and women who serve our
country.'' Still, many Americans wonder how people described as kind and
decent by the folks back home could lapse into such extraordinary

Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford University psychologist who presided over the
single most famous experiment in the field, blames the system, not the
soldiers, who ''were put in a situation where the outcome was totally

''It's not a few bad apples,'' he says. ''It's the barrel that's bad. The
barrel is war. That's what can corrupt, whether it's in My Lai or in

That might explain the actions of soldiers such as Lynndie England, so
gentle back home in West Virginia that she wouldn't even shoot a deer on
family hunting trips, or Sabrina Harman, whose mother says that when she
found a bug in the house she'd release it outside.

It also raises the question: Were the American guards following orders or
defying them?

The evidence is conflicting. Many families and other experts say they
doubt the relatively unsophisticated reservists would come up with tactics
that seemed specifically designed to humiliate Muslim men, such as
stripping them naked and forcing them into homosexual poses.

England said Tuesday that she was ordered to pose for photos showing her
holding a leash around the neck of an Iraqi prisoner. In an interview with
KCNC-TV in Denver, she said her superiors praised the techniques she and
other military police were using on prisoners. They ''just told us, 'Hey,
you're doing great, keep it up,' '' England said.

Whether the American guards were following orders or not, the prison seems
to have been a virtual petri dish for the sorts of abuses that experts
have long warned against and that threaten to undermine the U.S. war
effort in Iraq.

School for scandal

Soldiers are not lab rats. But experts say that in retrospect, conditions
at Abu Ghraib virtually assured a scandal. They point to the presence of
some conditions -- and the absence of others. The following appear to have
been insufficient or deficient:

* Training. The guards were reservists, most of whom had not been trained
to work in a prison or internment camp, much less interrogate terrorists
or prisoners of war. The 372nd Military Police Battalion was practiced
mostly in traffic enforcement.

* Staffing. By most accounts, there were too many prisoners and too few
guards. Experts say this tends to encourage brutality as a crude means of
inmate control.

* Direction. The soldiers' basic charge was to guard prisoners, but that
became muddied when military intelligence officers came forward with vague
requests to ''soften up'' prisoners and ''set conditions'' for

* Supervision. The unit's commander, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, rarely
visited the prison within a prison (the so-called hard site) where
prisoners were abused. Her authority may have been usurped by military
intelligence officers, but even at a congressional hearing Tuesday, a
Pentagon official and a major general couldn't agree on who was in charge.
That prompted Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to ask, ''How do you expect
the MPs to get it straight if we have a difference between the two of

* Accountability. In the absence of a clear line of command, the guards
were on their own -- operating at night, behind prison walls, in a foreign
country far from home, without lawyers, journalists or relatives to
observe them.

In addition to what was lacking, Abu Ghraib also had ingredients to
encourage abuse:

* Stress. The young and inexperienced soldiers were in a war zone that had
witnessed many deadly sneak attacks on soldiers and civilians. The prison
itself was the target of almost daily mortar attacks. One such incident
Sept. 20 killed two Army intelligence soldiers.

* 9/11. The government has argued that the war on terrorism sometimes
requires suspensions of civil liberties. Critics ask whether this message
trickled down to guards, who concluded that in this war, anything goes.

* Revenge. Soldiers may have been influenced by a range of events, from
the 9/11 attacks to an escalating series of incidents in Iraq.

* Instability. Prisons are stabilized by long-standing, informal
understandings between guards and inmates. But at Abu Ghraib, everyone --
guards and prisoners alike -- was new and had neither a common language
nor culture.

These factors combined to produce a classic case of abuse. But Zimbardo,
the Stanford psychologist, sees something else in the jeering faces of the
guards in the prison photos -- a sort of timeless euphoria.

''The trophy photos make no sense,'' he says. ''At some level, even as
you're doing this stuff, you should realize this isn't something you're
going to want documented in the future. I think these people got lost in
what I call 'expanded present time.' The past seemed distant. The future
was vague. All they knew was they were in charge of these animals. It was
their circus.''

He sounds surprised. And, after what he went through in 1971, it takes a
lot to surprise Zimbardo.

Studying abusive behavior

The two most famous experiments that bear directly on Abu Ghraib were
separately designed and executed by two members of the class of 1950 at
James Monroe High School in the Bronx -- Zimbardo and Stanley Milgram.

In the early 1960s, Milgram was teaching at Yale and studying the impact
of authority on human behavior. He wanted to see whether ordinary people
would follow orders to keep administering what they thought were ever more
painful and powerful electric shocks to test subjects.

He hired local residents to participate in what he told them was an
experiment in ''teaching through punishment.'' They were the ''teachers,''
and they would, on instructions, apply electrical shocks to the
''learners.'' The director would take responsibility for any harm to the

What Milgram found surprised him: based purely on the instructions of a
researcher in a white lab coat, two-thirds of the subjects kept raising
the voltage levels, despite the howls (and eventually the ominous silence)
of the learners in the next room. The teachers didn't know the electricity
wasn't on, and that the learners were actors pretending to be hurt.

Milgram later identified some key conditions for suspending human
morality, many relevant to Abu Ghraib: an acceptable justification for the
behavior; an important role for participants; use of euphemisms such as
''learners'' (instead of victims); and a gradual escalation of violence.

A decade later, Milgram's old honors program classmate undertook an
experiment of his own in a basement of the psychology building at

In 1971, Zimbardo recruited 24 college students from around the San
Francisco Bay Area to pose as guards or inmates in a mock prison for two

But, in contrast to Milgram, he gave them few further orders and
supervised them only loosely.

Quickly, the guards became more and more abusive, the inmates more and
more cowed. At night, when Zimbardo was gone, guards put bags over
inmates' heads, stripped them of clothing and told them to simulate sex
acts. Finally, after several inmates suffered emotional breakdowns, a
shaken Zimbardo stopped the experiment after six days.

He concluded later that he himself had gotten swept up in the situation
and didn't see what was happening until it was too late. ''You could never
even try that today,'' he says. ''You'd be sued.''

While Milgram's study stands for the proposition that most good people
will sometimes follow bad orders, Zimbardo's suggests that sometimes good
people don't even need bad orders -- none or vague ones will do.

Milgram had strictly supervised his subjects, and they did the wrong thing
-- he called it ''surrendering your agency,'' your self-control. Zimbardo
had mostly left his subjects on their own, and they did the wrong thing.
He called it ''the power of the situation.''

Over the years, the experiments have become famous. They are taught in
psychology classes and have formed the basis for novels and movies.

At the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., the experiments are
often mentioned in courses in the Department of Behavior Sciences and

Not everyone fails the test. The cadets at West Point periodically get a
visit from someone who did not surrender his agency -- Hugh Thompson, the
Vietnam War Army helicopter pilot who put his craft between marauding GIs
and Vietnamese civilians during the My Lai massacre in 1968.

Who among us?

To some, the fallout from the Abu Ghraib scandal is a sign of progress.

David Finkelhor, a sociologist at the University of New Hampshire and
director of the school's Crimes Against Children Research Center, says the
government's willingness to deal immediately with the problem contrasts
with World War II and Vietnam.

''In other wars, these things stayed under wraps -- it was not talked
about,'' he says. ''Now I think that there are a lot (of people) around
who are not willing to tolerate this, colleagues and their superiors who
are truly committed to keeping this from happening, even if it allows some
compromise of our mission.''

Frank Farley of Temple University, past president of the American
Psychological Association, says the photos offer an education, albeit a
painful one. ''We have learned a little bit,'' he says. ''We may become a
little bit more enlightened, also, about ourselves. It is going to be hard
for those dark concerns to be hidden.''

What's really different about Abu Ghraib are the photos, which have
granted the public a rare view of what can go on behind prison walls --
even when Americans are the jailers.

In his psychology classes at Stanford, Zimbardo used to talk about
Milgram's experiment. Who among you, he'd ask, would have been in the
minority that refused to keep applying the shocks? Without fail, he says,
each hand in the room shot toward the ceiling. The fact is that few people
in situations like this actually do resist.

Time and again, studies of torturers also have returned the same verdict:
''terrifyingly normal,'' in the words of Hannah Arendt, chronicler of the
trial of Nazi Holocaust functionary Adolf Eichmann.

This has been true in Northern Ireland, Greece and Brazil, in Josef
Stalin's Russia and Pol Pot's Cambodia. It was true in ancient Mexico;
blocks from the Iraqi prison hearings in Washington, the National Gallery
of Art displays a mural of Mayans parading tortured captives before their
victorious leader.

Who could do such a thing? The answer could be as far away as the nearest

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