Sep 23, 2007

A Little Bit Serious for a minute

From Amnesty's website:
Amnesty International deplores acts of terrorism and acknowledges the right of governments to protect their citizens when they face such hostile challenges and threats. We all value our safety and that of our loved ones after all.

For too long the 'war on terror' has been used to justify acts of torture, 'rendition', discrimination and unlawful detention. Amnesty acknowledges that the perpetrators of terrorism must be brought to justice but believes this should be achieved without eroding the very values we are fighting to defend.

Governments, including the UK's, have manipulated public fears, exploiting them to excuse actions that under normal circumstances would never be thought of as acceptable.

Actions that include the rendition and detention of terror suspects without adequate legal representation or fair trial in prisons like Guantanamo Bay. Prisons where guards are ordered to use torture to break the will of detainees in order to obtain information.

The rule of international law and the protection offered by fundamental human rights mechanisms is being seriously violated. Governments assume you support such actions in the ‘war on terror’ but the truth is you’ve never been given a choice.

Until now.

This is your chance to voice your concern and join a movement of people who feel the same way. A movement that believes everybody deserves basic human rights no matter what their beliefs or what they are alleged to have done. A movement that feels accepting such immoral, illegal, even barbaric actions, undermines the society they live and believe in.

This is your chance to Unsubscribe if you haven't done so already or invite everyone you know to join you if you have...
After the second world war, in the aftermath of the shock (in most cases genuine, in other cases feigned) of the discovery of the extent of the Nazi atrocties, the American Psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a series of experiments to determine the extent to which people's human decency is curtailed by obedience. (n.b. I had a psychology tutor at one point who suggested that the ostensible goal of the experiment was to prove that atrocities on the scale committed in Europe could never have happened in The Land of the Free as, it was theorised, German's were more inclined to obedience than Americans).

In the experiment (which I imagine most of you are already familiar with) applicants (told they were taking part in a teaching experiment) were placed into pairs with a stooge (who they believed was another participant). The participant was then 'randomly' assigned the role of teacher and the stooge that of student. The participant would see the stooge being strapped into an electro shock machine. They were then taken to another room with a large machine for delivering electric shocks. They could hear (but not see) the stooge. For each question he answered incorrectly they were instructed to shock him.

As the incorrect answers increased so did the strength of the shocks. After a while the 'stooge' (actually a pre-recorded tape) was heard to moan out in pain, beg the participant to stop, to complain that he had a heart condition, and then, eventually to fall silent.

65 percent (26 of 40) of experiment participants administered the experiment's final 450-volt shock. Many continued to administer the 450 shock long after the victim had fallen silent. Further, as Philip Zimbardo identified, None of the participants who refused to administer the final shocks insisted that the experiment itself be terminated, nor left the room to check the health of the victim without requesting permission to leave.

I am pretty staggered when I recall how much has been done (and then tacitly accepted) in the name of fighting spurious notions over the course of the last half a decade. But I am more terrified by the fact that the rest of the time I forget.

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