The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter

Examining the forces that spawn monstrous behavior

By Wray Herbert

March/April 2007

In April 2004, the world was shocked by the publication and broadcast of horrifying photos coming out of a military prison near Baghdad. One showed a petite, female American soldier leading around a crawling, naked Iraqi prisoner on a dog leash. Another showed more naked Iraqi prisoners stacked high in a human pyramid, while American soldiers stood nearby, grinning for the camera. The photos showed prisoners forced to masturbate, to fake fellatio, and to perform other denigrating activities, each image more hideous than the last. This was America's initiation into what's now known simply as Abu Ghraib, after the massive prison facility now synonymous with systematic torture and degradation of Iraqis by the American military.

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo, along with millions of other Americans, watched the parade of depravity in disbelief that spring. Little did he know that soon he was to be personally drawn into this national nightmare, called upon to serve as an expert witness—and ultimately as counselor and friend—to one of the torturers, Ivan "Chip" Frederick.

Defending a torturer was an unlikely role for Zimbardo. The Stanford University professor, a lifelong pacifist, trained Vietnam War protestors of the 1970s in how to peacefully (and effectively) oppose America's war in Indochina. He was opposed to American intervention in Iraq, and found the recklessness of the American military operation there appalling and unacceptable.

So what landed such a…

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