Re-running the Stanford experiment in Turkish prisons

It goes on today, more or less:

The problem confronting the conscripts nonetheless extends far beyond commanders who are drunk with power. In perhaps the strangest twist in the story of the disko, [rights activist Tolga] Islam says prison guards themselves are chosen from the ranks of conscripts, often from the same group that they oversee — and sometimes torture. “These are people who have been taken from the same group of soldiers, some know each other. And what is most incredible is that, from what we understand, commanders don’t necessarily tell guards how to torture or how far to go. In the disko, they give them impunity to do what they wish.”

It is chillingly similar, Islam says, to a notorious 1971 experiment by Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo, where participants were randomly given roles as guards or prisoners in a mock prison. Within less than a week, the mock guards had quickly “become sadistic,” subjecting some prisoners to psychological torture. The experiment was shut down after only six days.

“The diskos are the perfect real life example of this experiment. Guards begin to think, ‘We have this person in our prison for 24 hours. Nobody will stop us if we torture him.’” That disturbing license for abuse leads prison guards develop their own practices of torture, from slapping inmates who make eye contact with guards to severe and prolonged beatings, deliberate malnourishment, confining recruits to cramped and filthy spaces, or leaving them shackled outside in the sun for prolonged periods of time.

While former military judge Kardaş says that such practices follow a “hard logic” of instilling fear and a sense of arbitrary control among recruits, at times even that vague reason for torture seems to be absent. In Uğur’s case, it is difficult to understand what the torture was meant to communicate, given that his unit had just days left before its term of service was over. “The only way to explain it is that there’s a culture of impunity here, one that gives people unimaginable power and allows abuse to go on for years,” Islam argues.

Here is much more, by Noah Blaser, sad story but compelling reading.


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