How does IRI select torturers?

The IRI institution of torture: More and more, we see evidence of torture in IRI prisons. I will be the first one to agree that Iran is no stranger to torture in the past 60 years, or probably back further, but the extent in which we see torture in Iran is unprecedented. But, OK, IRI is still better than the PotPol regime, however, no consolation prize here. Seeing all this torture, the question in my mind was “what kind of person would become a torturer?” As a non-psychologist, I found it fascinating that the internet is full of all kinds of little experiments and theories on torture and the people who administer it, and I would like to share some thoughts with you (w/ appologies to our IC psych majors). Most experiments/theories I encountered were from the aftermath of the World War II in which scientists tried to rationalize how a sane person would do atrocities to Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and, in general, the enemies of the state. Here are the defined steps towards becoming a torturer:

The torture process to the torturer

1. Reluctant or peripheral participation

  1. Official encouragement: As the Stanford prison experiment and Milgram experiment show, many people will follow the direction of an authority figure (such as a superior officer) in an official setting (especially if presented as mandatory), even if they have personal uncertainty. The main motivations for this appear to be fear of loss of status or respect, and the desire to be seen as a “good citizen” or “good subordinate”.
  2. Peer encouragement: to accept torture as necessary, acceptable or deserved, or to comply from a wish to not reject peer group beliefs.
  3. Dehumanization: seeing victims as objects of curiosity and experimentation, where pain becomes just another test to see how it affects the victim.
  4. Disinhibition: socio-cultural and situational pressures may cause torturers to undergo a lessening of moral inhibitions and as a result act in ways not normally countenanced by law, custom and conscience.
  5. Organizationally, like many other procedures, once torture becomes established as part of internally acceptable norms under certain circumstances, its use often becomes institutionalized and self-perpetuating over time, as what was once used exceptionally for perceived necessity finds more reasons claimed to justify wider use.”

Now, labeling IRI prisoners with words like mohaareb, monaafegh, mofsed-ol-fel-arz or khoon-halaal makes sense.

Milgram’s experiment: One of the first experiments I came across was Milgram’s experiment (1960’s) which was repeated a few years ago by Derrel Brown giving exactly the same results. In this experiment, ordinary people were coerced to administer what they thought was up to lethal high-voltage to actors for wrong answers, who pretended to be in pain or unconscious. I will let the video do the work now, but remember that more than 50% of ordinary people could be coerced into flipping the switch all the way up to the deadly 450 volts.

Milgram Experiment (Derren Brown)

Amazing, wasn’t it.

The Asch Paradigm (the power of conformity in groups): Now, if someone showed you a few lines and your group was asked to identify the tallest line, and all other members identified the shortest line, what would you say?….. Don’t be too sure. Watch this video example of social pressure: “The Asch conformity experiments were a series of studies published in the 1950s that demonstrated the power of conformity in groups. These are also known as the “Asch Paradigm”.”

The Asch Experiment

Little Eichmanns: To summarize, given the environment, the pressures and the dehumanization of the prisoners these torturers become what is known as Little Eichmanns: “Little Eichmanns is a phrase used to describe the complicity of those who participate in destructive and immoral systems in a way that, although on an individual scale may seem indirect, when taken collectively would have an effect comparable to Nazi official Adolf Eichmann‘s role in The Holocaust .” I will spare the remaining clips, theories, experiments (summarized at the end* for interested readers) and go right to the cream of the crop.

Enrichment towards the cream of the crop psychopathic torturer: There is agreement that around 14% of population (up to 20% of the criminals in jail) are capable of psychopathic behavior, who actually enjoy torturing people. Now, if given that 50% of the ordinary population can be coerced to administer torture and 1-4% will actually enjoy doing it, it is very clear how a government like IRI can take advantage by selecting for and finally focusing on a torture-capable psychopathic group to do its dirty work.

Can a torturer claim that he was following orders? It is important to note that in most sites I looked at, The UN Human Rights charter and the torturers were held in the same level as the people who ordered torture and the Little Eichmann defense, i.e., I was ordered to torture, therefore, it is not my fault, did not work. I can just see the IRI supporters jump up looking for their pens to write about water-boarding in Gitmo, Abu Gharaib, and Bagram air-base and how they were able to get away with it. My answer is, first of all, water-boarding was wrong. Secondly, a few water-boarding cases cannot be compared to e.g., Torture in Rejai Shahr, one question from IRI supporters and in general, a systematic program of torture, rape and murder by IRI, and finally, just because someone else got away with it, you probably will not.

A final thought: I am sure that IRI torturers have a life, for the most part and go home at night to their wives / children whom they love dearly. Our challenge is to first of all let these IRI torturers realize how IRI is manipulating them to do evil, and finally, let them know that they will not spare punishment by claiming they were Little Eichmanns. Maybe then, we will see a reluctance and shame on these evil-doers and we will see more videos smuggled out of IRI prisons (See, e.g., Torture in Rejai Shahr) and force IRI to back down on this 7th century practice and join the human race in a 21st century civil society.

* For more experiments and talks in the field of social conformity/torture, see, e.g.: Social influence, Stanford prison experiment, My Lai Massacre, Lord of the Flies, Hofling hospital experiment, Moral disengagement and Banality of evil

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