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Explaining Abu Ghraib: A Review Essay
Journal of Human Rights (2009)
  • Christopher J Einolf, DePaul University

Four books written by social scientists and published in 2007 are reviewed: The Trials of Abu Ghraib: An Expert Witness Account of Shame and Honor, by Stjepan Mestrovic; The Lucifer Effect, by Philip Zimbardo; Torture and the Twilight of Empire : From Algiers to Baghdad, by Marnia Lazreg; and Torture and Democracy, by Darius Rejali. Prior research on torture has left unsettled the question of the importance of training and direct orders as causes of torture, and the role of liberal democratic institutions in preventing torture. The four books demonstrate that the Abu Ghraib torturers did not act on their initiative, but were encouraged to commit torture by their superior officers and by the effects of their social environment. The torturers did not receive formal training in methods, but did receive informal instruction from CIA and Guantanamo interrogators. While democratic states use torture less frequently than non-democratic ones, they nevertheless do use torture sometimes when faced with severe threats to security. Of the four books, Rejali’s Torture and Democracy stands out for its depth of research and quality of analysis.

  • torture,
  • Abu Ghraib,
  • democracy,
  • obedience
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Christopher J Einolf. "Explaining Abu Ghraib: A Review Essay" Journal of Human Rights Vol. 8 (2009)
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