Stanford County Jail vs. Abu Ghraib

After the Standford Prison Experiment ended, there was much criticism on the amount of torture and abuse that was allowed by Phillip Zimbardo. The point of this experiment was to help understand the relationship between prisoners and guards, however, while his experiment sheds light to human behavior, power, and authority, thirty years later in Abu Ghraib Prison, the prisoners faced the harsh reality of true sadistic torture and abuse.

During the era of Saddam Hussein’s reign over Iraq in 2003,  the world’s most notorious prisons, Abu Ghraib with torture, weekly executions, and unacceptable living conditions(Hersh, 2017). About 50,000 men and women were imprisoned at this time. When the regime collapsed, the prison was then used as a U.S military prison for the purpose to find more information about potential terrorist attacks and chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein allegedly had access to. Most of the prisoners were innocent civilians that had been picked up in random military sweeps at checkpoints throughout Baghdad. Because of the war in Iraq, military personnel believed that everyone was guilty and cannot be proven innocent unless they receive some information. Throughout the years that the Army and CIA ran the prison, they committed a series of human rights violations against the detainees, with the violations including physical and sexual abuse, torture, rape, sodomy, and murder. By April 2004, the extensive abuse that occurred at Abu Ghraib came to public attention and the George W. Bush administration along with the FBI  gave military authorization to commit these acts of torture against these prisoners. When we take a look and compare what happened to the prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the participants at Stanford County Jail, there are many instances where there are similarities but also differences.


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Prisoners doing push-ups in Stanford County Jail. 


In Stanford County Jail, the prisoners had also suffered psychological abuse and humiliation for the six days that they were there. For example, the most sadistic prison guard, Dave Eshelman used psychological tactics of abuse that exhausted the inmates. They were constantly awakened from their sleep to recite count, they were made to do push-ups when they had recited their count wrong. This had taken a toll on their mental capacity to handle stress and even may have taken a physical toll, being that they were deprived of sleep and constantly told to do exercise as a punishment. In Abu Ghraib, the prisoners faced the same treatment. They were constantly put in exhausting situations where the had been deprived of their sleep, constantly being moved from cell to cell so they do not have the ability to relax. In other instances, they were forced to be put in strenuous physical positions that harmed them and exhausted them.


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Prisoners in Abu Ghraib forced into a human pyramid. 


While both participants in the Standford County Jail and prisoners at Abu Ghraib have suffered some type of humiliation and psychological abuse during their incarceration, because Stanford County Jail was just a simulation, they were not exposed to the true torture that the prisoners in Abu Gharib faced. Prisoners in Abu Gharib, ranging from women, children, and men all were faced with sexual abuse, rape, torture, and the potential to be murdered. At the end of the Stanford Prison experiment, the guards had felt remorse for their actions against the prisoners but when the military officers were on trial for maltreatment of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib, they used the situation of war to justify why they have abused the prisoners.

The psychologist that conducted the Stanford Prison experiment, Phillip Zimbardo, had made comments regarding the abuse occurring at Abu Ghraib. “Zimbardo said that unless systemic forces, including poverty, racism and military conditions like those that existed in Abu Ghraib are recognized and changed, imprisonment alone will never eliminate the problem of evil behavior and there will always be a bad apple at the bottom of the barrel,” (Mbugua, 2017). The Stanford Prison Experiment had shed light on the relationship between prisoner and guard to help understand the behavior of those in a position of authority and those in a position of submissive capacity. Zimbardo had attempted to bring change to these conditions with this experiment, but the case of Abu Gharib has shown that while we know about the evils that occur in this world, people will still continue to hide under authority figures so they have that power to commit heinous and sadistic acts.


Hersh, S. (2017). Torture at Abu GhraibThe New Yorker. Retrieved 6 December 2017, from

Mbugua, M. (2017). Zimbardo blames military brass for Abu Ghraib Retrieved 6 December 2017, from


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