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    Abu Ghraib A Series of Human Rights Violations Against Prisoners

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    Following the month-long period of conventional warfare in Iraq that led to Saddam Hussein’s regime collapse, the United States (U.S.) government sanctioned certain actions to find and destroy any of the country’s supposed cache of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) (Das and Malveaux 2005). These actions included a mandated U.S.-led occupation of Iraqi prisons that were to house suspected or known insurgents and terrorists. U.S. Army soldiers and members of the U.S. Intelligence Community were tasked with guarding and interrogating detainees. This led to the series of human rights violations against detainees carried out in the Abu Ghraib prison, Baghdad Correctional Facility (Leung 2004). These violations comprised of both physical and psychological forms of torture such as stress positions, sensory deprivation, sexual humiliation, and other acts of violence that sometimes resulted in deaths (Senate Report 2014).

    Although humanitarian organizations and smaller media outlets began publishing reports of human rights abuse by the U.S. military and its coalition partners at Iraqi detention centers and prisons as early as June 2003, the abuses came to global public attention with the publication of incontrovertible photographs by CBS News in April 2004. Reports following the scandal indicated that most of the detainees were wrongfully accused and were merely victims of circumstance, picked up in random military sweeps and at highway checkpoints (The New Yorker 2004). Despite it being the Bush administration’s rationale behind the war, no WMDs were found in Iraq. Though there was support for the soldiers within some domestic conservative circles, the incidents received overwhelming widespread condemnation both within the U.S. and abroad (Bartone 2008).

    Consequently, the U.S. Department of Defense removed 17 soldiers and officers from duty. According to CNN (2018), eleven soldiers were indicted and subsequently convicted of several charges relating to the abuses that took place at the prison between May 2004 and March 2006. Though the charges were great in context, the consequences were disproportionately minor. Sentencing of these lower-ranked personnel ranged from eight months to ten months along with discharges, with one case reaching up to ten years (Rothe 2006). Additionally, some of the soldiers were either exonerated or were never charged, and no justice was seen for the murders of the detainees. Notably, no high-ranking military, intelligence, or cabinet officials were charged with crimes relating to the abuses at Abu Ghraib. However, public outrage at the revelations of the torture spurred the Bush Administration to revisit some the most controversial aspects of counterterrorism policy. In 2005, a senate bill was passed that banned cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners (Lichtblau 2005).

    This paper uses the more comprehensive conception of dehumanization proposed by Fincher et al (2018), who note that “There are many ways to deny humanity… Beyond mind denial, one can reduce another to a body part or attribute to others nonhuman essences.” Dehumanization is therefore characterized as a psychological process that inherently undermines the individuality of others by placing them outside of the ingroup of “human”, denying them the universally recognized moral and natural rights granted. This act or process can be subtle and without overt malice, and encompass categorizing humans into data points—such as the amalgamation of teenaged mothers into a statistic—or to quickly refer to a person in general, such as the referral of clients as “heads” in a hair salon. These categorizations are primarily used to objectively conduct studies or convey information efficiently. Conversely, dehumanization can be more blatant with the intent to publicly slander, emotionally hurt, and resultantly fuel outrage and violence towards a group of people by or highlights the incongruence of “their” values with “ours” (Struch & Schwartz 1989 via Kteily et al. 2015). This process involves actively viewing others as less than human and thus not deserving of moral consideration by attributing them fewer human traits, emotions, and experiences.

    In their study, Kteily et al. (2015) found that blatant dehumanization spikes immediately following incidents of intergroup violence and strongly predicts support for aggressive actions like torture and retaliatory violence. Following the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, the U.S. government, pressured by public outrage, devised plans to disrupt, degrade, and ultimately destroy terrorism (U.S. Counterterrorism Strategy 2003). The U.S. government sanctioned strategies that would involve “direct and continuous action against terrorist groups”. These strategies to combat terrorism were “based on the belief that sometimes the most difficult tasks are accomplished by the most direct means.”

    Discussing the psychological effects of causing, witnessing, or receiving acts of dehumanization would be remiss to not include personal accounts. Personal and documented accounts of what happened in the Abu Ghraib prison describe the events as “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses.” As moral principles and as a moral doctrine, human rights are considered to be universally valid (Locke 1690). According to the lawsuit filed by former prison Salah Hassan, employees of CACI working at Abu Ghraib allegedly threatened him with dogs, deprived him of food, beat him, and kept him naked in a solitary cell in conditions of sensory deprivation. Humans are social creatures. Whilst many prisons use isolation as a form of punishment, even the basic moral rights of being clothed and not irreparably traumatized by psychological torture are supposed to be ensured. According to New York University professor of Middle Eastern studies, Bernard Haykel (via The New Yorker, 2004), these acts were a form of torture. Such dehumanization, he claims, is especially unacceptable in the Arab world because homosexual acts are against Islamic law. The mere fact that men were forced to be naked in front of other men was, in and of itself, dehumanizing in the sense of causing humiliation and embarrassment (Fincher et al. 2018).

    Disturbing images that surfaced following the scandal depicted the brutalized corpses of prisoners with guards giving a thumbs-up over them (Hettena 2005). This alludes to notions of “putting down” animals and humans for their own good (i.e. euthanasia), or when hunters kill animals for sport. Fincher el al. (2018) said that “Humanness involves more than just thinking and feeling.” Looking at what happen at Abu Ghraib, the effects of instances of torture can be more inclusively analyzed. The instances of torture and repression are many, but the overall mission of demoralizing the prisoners was clear as day. Dehumanization can involve many actions, and especially those that conjure an image of explicit animalistic distinction. A witness to the events quoted: “I saw two naked detainees, one masturbating to another kneeling with its mouth open. I thought I should just get out of there. I didn’t think it was right… I saw SSG Frederick walking towards me, and he said, “Look what these animals do when you leave them alone for two seconds.” Even calling a person a separate species has its damage to the psyche (Rai et al. 2018). Not only does it strip them of their humanness, it can also shape and create perpetrators from the ingroup to actually believe it. This gives credence to Kteily’s (2018) statement that blatant dehumanization involves openly held beliefs. However, this conception of dehumanization is not without its shortcomings.

    In contraire to Fincher et al. (2018), Rai et al. (2018), their definition of dehumanization is too broad. Instead, they advocate that teasing these processes apart and understanding the distinct role that dehumanization plays in conflict can only be accomplished with conceptual specificity. Their findings predict that “dehumanization may be most important for indirect, structural violence against strangers that is enabled by indifference rather than direct, personal violence in existing relationships that are motivated by antipathy” (Rai et al. 2018). In the case of Abu Ghraib, the conceptualization of dehumanization focuses more so on instances of the concept rather than the psychological effects. This paper would benefit from more personal accounts and psychological studies on effects of dehumanization so as to, ironically, humanize the victims. It also would not presume, as Kteily et al. (2015) does that the perpetrators have an inherent belief of inferiority of other groups relative to the ingroup.

    While they agree that studies of violence should examine both attributions of animal essences and mental state denial, they contest comprehensive conception by claiming that that having precise boundaries around distinguishable entities is the best guide for future research. Beyond efforts to analyze what occurred at Abu Ghraib through dehumanization, researchers could look more into the behavior of the guards via moral disengagement, obedience to authority, or symbolic interactionism and situational influences on behavior (Bandura 1999; Milgram 1963; Zimbardo 2007). Further examples to potentially support findings could draw from other similar examples of documented cases of prisoner abuse at U.S. facilities in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay (Bartone 2008).

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Abu Ghraib A Series of Human Rights Violations Against Prisoners. (2022, Mar 23). Retrieved from

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