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A lesson in behavior

Aspen Times writer

Dear Editor:

While condemning terrible, inhumane acts forced upon some prisoners in Iraq, holding the guards involved accountable for their actions, and putting in place safeguards against such behavior in the future, we must also have compassion for both the abused prisoners and the perpetrators and support their rehabilitation.

History and science have shown time and time again how otherwise normal, caring people can commit brutal acts when put in situations where such behavior is required of them or where people put under their control are dehumanized.

Consider the landmark 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment (www.prisonexp.org) in which a random sampling of normal college students were put in roles of prisoner and guard in a simulated prison. The two-week experiment was ended after only six days, in large part because it had become too real and the guards began forcing prisoners to perform increasingly degrading acts.

Were the guards in this experiment bad people, or evil? No. They willingly, though unintentionally, relinquished their free will and let their position of power, the prison environment, and the rules of the experiment determine their behavior.

The guards in Iraq are not “victims.” They should be held accountable for their actions, the worst being lack of mental fortitude. But we must also acknowledge that their behavior is symptomatic of systemic faults in the prison system that creates an environment conducive to such behavior.

Most importantly, this should be a lesson to all of us to be ever vigilant about remaining in control of our thinking in all situations and recognizing and rejecting insidious outside influences on our behavior.

David R. Cramer

Basalt


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