This article from USA Today tries to describe how the soldiers in Abu Ghraib, people that lived normal, caring lives in the US, could have gotten caught up in the torture of prisoners: USATODAY.com – Abuse less shocking in light of history. The article refers to several psychology experiements that I remember from Psych 101. In one the researcher has students “teach through punishment” and administer electric shocks. Suprisingly, most subjects followed orders and increased voltages even when their “students” were screaming in pain. In another study, the researcher sets up a mock prison environment. In that mock environment, some of the subjects did things similar to the Abu Ghraib situation. The experiment had to be called off before it was finished.
I don’t think this excuses anybody, heinous crimes were committed and everybody involved is responsible, however I think this means that those in command should be even more responsible because they did not create a structure that would have prevented these crimes. Based on scientific studies, we knew something like this could happen and we didn’t put adequate controls in place.