What Went Wrong at Abu Ghraib?

No one would question that the events that took place in Abu Ghraib in 2004 (Gilman & Lewis, 2005) were unethical, but when it comes to identifying the causes, opinions vary greatly. While individuals are ultimately responsible for their own ethical behavior, institutional and situational causes provide the breeding ground for ethical breaches to occur. It is important to explore historical situations that provide insight into how the abuse of power leads to unethical decision making.

To prepare for this assignment:

  • Review Chapter 3 of the course text The Ethics Challenges in Public Service and focus on institutional challenges to ethical leadership.
  • Review Chapters 5 and 6 of the Frontline documentary “The Torture Question” and think about the institutional challenges and possible underlying causes of unethical conduct of the guards at Abu Ghraib.
  • Review the Stanford Prison Experiment slides. Think about what Zimbardo called the “power of the situation” and how preconceived notions contributed to the behaviors of both the student guards and the student prisoners.
  • Consider the institutional challenges and possible causes of unethical behavior that contributed to the guards’ ethical breaches at Abu Ghraib.
  • Identify two underlying causes or institutional challenges that led to the ethical breaches at Abu Ghraib.

The assignment (1–2 pages):

  • Identify one individual, one institutional, and one situational ethical breach that took place at Abu Ghraib.
  • For each identified ethical breach, suggest an underlying cause or institutional challenge.
  • Explain how insights gained from the Stanford Prison Experiment might apply to each underlying cause or institutional challenge.

Support your Application Assignment with specific references to all resources used in its preparation. You are asked to provide a reference list for all resources, including those in the Learning Resources for this course.

  • Video: Kirk, M. (Producer/Writer/Director), & Gilmore, J. (Producer/Reporter). (2005). The torture question [Television series episode]. In D. Fanning (Executive Producer), Frontline. Boston, MA: WGBH Educational Foundation. Available from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/torture/view/
    • Chapter 5, “Taking the Gloves Off” (approximately 18 minutes)
    • Chapter 6, “Abu Ghraib—and Beyond” (approximately 20 minutes)
  • Slide Show: Zimbardo, P. G. (1971). The Stanford Prison Experiment: A simulation study of the psychology of imprisonment. Retrieved from http://www.prisonexp.org

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