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Saying No to Torture: A Gallery of American Heroes


Saying No to Torture: A Gallery of American Heroes

Rebecca Gordon

Why was it again that, as President Obama said, “we tortured some folks” after the 9/11 attacks? Oh, right, because we were terrified. Because everyone knows that being afraid gives you moral license to do whatever you need to do to keep yourself safe. That’s why we don’t shame or punish those who were too scared to imagine doing anything else.


“In the 1960s, psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a famous series of experiments,in which subjects were convinced by white-coated authority figures to deliver what they believed to be painful and life-threatening electric shocks to people they believed were also experimental subjects.”

Also relevant was the work of Professor Phillip Zimbardo, then of Stanford University, and now Professor Emeritus at the same institution. In 1971 Zimbardo took early 20 somethings and randomly assigned them to such roles as “guard”, or “prisoner”, The study was funded by a grant from the US Office of Naval Research and was of interest to both the US Navy and Marine Corps who, at that time, wanted to better understand the conflicts between guards and prisoners.
The experiment was originally planned for a two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life. It had to be ended prematurely after only six days because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated. In only a few days, the guards became sadistic and the prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress.
Zimbardo as the “commandant” of this experiment had to be told by a colleague to cut it off because, coming in from the outside, they could see that to which Zimbardo had become oblivious as he was involved in the experiments documentation.
This makes these “profiles in courage” detailed above all the remarkable and verifies Hannah Arendt’s, notion of “the banality of evil”. One doesn’t have to be some sociopathic misfit to conceive,. administer, or participate in such a system–you only have to be a “good German” and “just follow orders” or in the absence of “orders” make up your own and execute them.
Both the Navy and the Marines KNEW all of this (because they funded the study!) and yet Gitmo happened anyway. There is nothing “moral” about the authoritarian structure of the military establishment. They are nothing more or less than an organized crime family sanctioned by law.


40 years ago, I never imagined that that I would live in a time and place where the use of torture would actually become a topic for anything but universal condemnation - much less that the US government actually did it, and through its refusal to prosecute those who committed these heinous acts, confirming that the USA is likely still torturing people or at very least reserved the right to torture any time in the future.

Fuck the USA.


They weren’t scared of anything but missing the opportunity to indulge their sadism in the service of expanding their empire, and preparing for the day when these grotesqueries would need to be employed to hold it together.