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I. Invitation to Cuba

II. The Psychology of Terrorists

III. Drexel University

IV. November 8, 2006

V. The Psychology of Captivity

VI. The Psychology of Prisons

VII. The Psychology of War

VIII. Preparations

IX. 1934

X. November 13, 2006

XI. Takeoff

XII. In The Air

XIII. Arrival at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

XIV. Briefing at Headquarters of the Joint Task Force

XV. Lunch

XVI. Guard Duty

XVII. Camp Delta

XVIII. Medical Treatment

XIX. Behavioral Services

XX. Camp 5

XXI. Departure from Guantanamo Bay

The Legitimacy of GTMO: An Eyewitness Report, Page 5

A Travel Journal by Dr. Eric A. Zillmer
Pacifico Professor of Psychology at Drexel University

The Psychology of Captivity
November 8, 2006

It is important to differentiate between “unofficial” abuse of prisoners and mistreatment related to official government policy. For example, several U.S. soldiers have been found guilty of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, but they were acting without official sanction by the U.S. government and in fact have been prosecuted for their misconduct. Anyone working within a correctional facility or prison environment knows how vulnerable such a setting is for misconduct by guards, particularly in crowded conditions and under inadequate supervision.

As a psychologist I am concerned about the psychological effects of isolation and captivity, and I am very familiar with my colleague Zimbardo’s famous investigation into prison life. Zimbardo asked a group of ordinary college students to spend time in a simulated prison. Some were randomly assigned as guards, given uniforms, Billy clubs, and whistles and were instructed to enforce certain rules. The rest became prisoners, were asked to wear humiliating outfits, and were locked in barren cells. After a short time the simulation became very real as the guards devised cruel and degrading routines. The prisoners, one by one, broke down, rebelled, or became passively resigned.

The facts about Abu Ghraib underscore the issue of how complicated the relationship between prisoners and guards can be and how easily it can break down. Thus, while it was a shock to the American public that the behavior at Abu Ghraib was perpetrated by U.S. uniformed personnel; it came as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with this psychological literature. But there was no evidence that U.S. policy or directives legitimatized the prisoner abuse. Rather, Abu Ghraib was most likely caused by a group of “bad apples.” But, is there authorized or unauthorized abuse going on at GTMO?