Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

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Prisoner abuse and the mess in Iraq

So Donald Rumsfeld has not only admitted to Congress that, yes, American soldiers have been doing rather nasty and degrading things to Iraqi detainees but there is, in fact, far worse to come – including videos! (It’s already been confirmed that 2 Iraqis have died in US custody – one with ‘strangulation’ identified as the cause of death on his post-mortem report! – and there will almost certainly be more come to light if allegations of firing on unarmed prisoners from a prison watchtower are accurate.)

However, the abuse, according to Rumsfeld, has not been ‘systematic’ but merely the actions of some ‘bad apples’. As his President, George W Bush, points out, there are some 200,000 American troops in Iraq and the vast majority are doing a demanding and highly-dangerous job with bravery and integrity.

In the larger scheme of things, the average ‘GI Joe’ in Iraq is probably epitomising Bush’s case on a daily basis.

Unfortunately for Bush and Rumsfeld, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Red Crescent, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have them squarely in their sights.

According to the Red Cross, they recorded regular abuses at Baghdad’s Abu Grhaib jail between March and October 2003 – the worst being in the October – and presented the evidence to Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in January this year. Partly as a result of this presentation and partly from some internal whistleblowing, a low profile investigation was launched. It is claimed Bush was not told – becoming only aware when the now-notorious photographs of sadomasachistic and sexual abuse were broadcast on CBS-TV’s 60 Minutes on 28 April.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, however, have been alleging abuses at Abu Grhaib and other prisons for most of 2003. Amnesty filed its concerns with the US Government and the Coalition Provisional Authority as far back as the July – 3 months before the Red Cross were finally stung into action. Amnesty claims it received no response and was consistently denied access to American detention facilities.

For an America supposedly dedicated to bringing ‘freedom and democracy’ to Iraq, the revelations have been, as Rumpsfeld put it to Congress last Friday, “a catastrophe”.

The whole issue of abuse of Iraqi prisoners may prove to be a very personal catastrophe for Tony Blair. With the Daily Mirror – without any advance warning – having published photographs on 1 May of British soldiers maltreating Iraqi detainees, the Ministry of Defence is now admitting to serious concerns that abuse has taken place – the Mirror’s photographs are thought to be fake reconstructions of a real event. Although at least one Iraqi has died in British custody – the abuse by British troops is thought to be on nothing like the scale of Abu Grhaib. (In contrast to the American non-response, Amnesty International say the British government has been engaged in dialogue with them about their concerns since last May.)

According to the polls, the majority of the American public supported the war on Saddam Hussein’s regime. With mass demonstrations in the UK in late Winter 2003 against the proposed war, Blair had to make it an issue of his personal integrity and overstate the (notorious ’45 minutes’) threat posed to get Parliament to approve military action. While Bush, at least until the outbreak of serious violence in Falluja and Najaf this April, generally enjoyed public support, Blair has been on the receiving end of relentless criticism from both politicians and the media almost since the official cessation of hostilities.

The ferocity of the American response to the April uprisings has not gone down well with either the British media or the British public. The revelations about Abu Ghraib have further underminded British taste for what is more and more perceived to be ‘America’s war’ – complemented by suspicion about just when the Blair and/or the Ministry of Defence first knew about the abuses – British or American.

The last thing Blair needs now is abuse by British soldiers to be proven – even small-scale abuse and even if it only involves a few rogue elements. 

The animal in man
At a HemsMESH meeting in South-East WakefieId in October 2000, I recall Spiral Dynamics co-developer Don Beck saying: “When a country goes to war, its government had better prepare the people for tales of their troops committing attrocities.”

Don is echoing a First World War British colonel who said: “I’ve seen my own men commit attrocities and should expect to see it again. You can’t stimulate and let loose the animal in man and then expect to be able to cage it up again at a moment’s notice.”

That ‘animal’ is what the Gravesian approach (as Spiral Dynamics) terms the RED vMEME – the most extreme manifestation of what Sigmund Freud (1923) termed the ‘Id’. The animal’s motif is: “I’ve got the power and I can do whatever I want.” Freud saw sex and aggression as being the two prime drivers of the Id – and that’s exactly what a number of the photos from Abu Ghraib depict!

So, what  Don Beck is saying is that, in the heat of battle, we need the RED express-self-without-consequences vMEME to be high in a soldier’s consciousness. (We don’t, after all, want soldiers worrying too much about taking a bullet or getting blown up – they might refuse to fight or run away!) But that ferocious RED will not always be subsumed on demand by the order and discipline of the BLUE vMEME. In effect attrocities are an almost-inevitable by-product of war.

Historically warfare is littered with attrocities. For example, in Burma in World War II British troops frequently executed Japanese prisoners (in total defiance of the Geneva Conventions). (At least the Japanese took prisoners – even if they then worked many of them to death.) In the 1950s torture of rebel prisoners by the British and the French was commonplace in Kenya and Algeria respectively. The My Lai massacre in March 1969 was the single worst attrocity committed by American troops in Vietnam. Amnesty International has alleged abuse and torture by British troops in Northern Ireland while the latest ‘Bloody Sunday’ enquiry still rumbles on…. Etc, etc, etc.

Don Beck, like the First World War colonel, is saying that attrocities will happen. So those in government need to accept that, obviously have means to try to prevent it but also have a way of managing it when it happens.

This is especially difficult when there is a ‘free press’. The Pentagon tried to dissuade CBS-TV from running the Abu Grhaib photos and failed. Parliament, in all its BLUE pomposity, has called into question the motives of Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan for publishing photos he didn’t know to be real, which have damaged the reputation of British forces and may expose them to greater danger. The fact is that the harmonic of RED and ORANGE which drives so much of the Western media is generally more concerned with sales and advertising revenue than the ‘greater good’ – whatever their protestations to the contrary.

Demonsing the other side engenders abuse
Every side in a war portrays themselves as the ‘good guys’. So attrocities are problematic. The good guys aren’t supposed to do that kind of thing. It becomes particularly problematic when a side claims to be fighting a ‘moral war’. The war against Saddam is arguably the most moral war fought by American forces since World War II. Then General Patton, one of the senior American commanders in the European theatre, conceded: “There would unquestionably be some raping.” He described the anticipated rapes as “a little R&R” for the troops. Hang on! Wasn’t it the Nazis who were supposed to be like that?!?

Or, maybe it’s okay to maltreat the other side’s women if you can demonise them as ‘Nazis’ or ‘Nazi women’ or ‘women of Nazis’ or ‘women who are complicit in Nazis running their country’…?

The PURPLE vMEME likes to discrimate between ‘our tribe’ and ‘your tribe’. The more obvious the distinctions between tribes the greater the discrimination – and in times of trouble that discrimination readily turns into demonisation.

In World War II, for all that they were ‘Nazis’ and spoke a different language, the Germans at least were similar in appearance to the British and Americans troops they fought against. Not so the ‘slant-eyed, yellow-skinned Japs’. Treatment of German prisoners by the Allies was, in general, markedly more humane than that of Japanese prisoners (when they were taken alive).

In Iraq, it’s almost a PURPLE set-up: American soldiers in Star Wars stormtrooper uniforms, mostly white/some black, largely Christian vs a civilan population, swarthy-skinned, men in ‘dresses’, almost everybody with ‘teaclothes’ around their heads, universally Muslim. And PURPLE’s village gossip mentality turns it into a pastiche of: The Great Satan vs the hijackers who flew planes into the Twin Towers.

With PURPLE drawing that kind of demarcation – reflected in Donald Rumpsfeld having to remind himself (and Congress?) that “Iraqis are human beings” – licence is given for RED to do as it will. Mikhail Bakhtin (1941) calls it ‘Authorised Transgression’.

Of course, it works both ways. RED, licenced by Iraqi PURPLE’s demonisation of Americans, had a great time killing the 4 American contractors in Falluja in early April – the incident which triggered the American seige – and then mutilating and burning their bodies.

‘Bad apples’?…or ‘systematic’?
So far we’ve looked at the effect of the PURPLE and RED vMEMES in this type of situation. Now let’s look at the role of BLUE.

Following the Second World War, there was much concern about how an advanced civilisation like Germany could have conducted the Holocaust as well as a near-genocidal campaign against the Slavs of Russia and Eastern Europe.

One sociologist who researched this issue was Theodore Adorno who developed the ‘Fascism Scale’, designed to measure what he called the ‘Authoritarian Personality’ (Adorno et al, 1950). This type of person would have rigid beliefs and a general hostility towards other groups, be intolerant of ambiguity and submissive to authority figures.

Adorno didn’t know it at the time (1950) – because Clare W Graves had yet to commence the remarkable project from which Spiral Dynamics would be developed – but he was effectively measuring Graves’ D-Q (BLUE) system.

In one of the variations of Stanley Milgram’s notorious ‘Obedience’ experiments, Milgram’s assistant Alan Elms (Elms & Milgram, 1966), Elms found that high scorers on Adorno’s Fascism Scale administered stronger ‘electric shocks’ than low scorers when ordered to do so by an authority figure. (The shocks and the cries and pleas for help were fake; but nearly all Millgram’s ‘volunteers’ believed they were electrocuting the ‘victim’ for real.)

The US Army, like any effective modern military force, has a high BLUE Obedience culture. It has to have for such a disciplined structure to work. In basic terms, subordinates obey superiors – for the most part unquestioningly.

In most documented accounts of military attrocities, torture and abuse, the authority figures have condoned the activities – either implicitly (turned a ‘blind eye’) or explicitly. In some cases they have ordered them directly – as with the infamous Lieutenant William Calley at My Lai.

The BLUE vMEME, in its quest for conformity to the right way to live, is highly responsive to instructions from the correct authority figure. In the Army, the correct authority figures are superior officers.

One of Calley’s soldiers, when explaining why he personally had killed over 50 Vietnamese at My Lai, said, “Because I felt like I was ordered to do it, and it seemed like I was doing the right thing.”

So has BLUE been involved at Abu Ghraib – or has it just been a rather unfortunate excess of RED ‘animal’ licenced by PURPLE demonisation? In other words, a few ‘rotten apples’ or systemised abuse?

There is evidence emerging that the R2I – Resistance to Interrogation – programme is being deliberately employed in Abu Ghraib. This involves sexual jibes and stripping prisoners. Major-General Antonio Taguba, in charge of the US military investigation, has discovered that US military intelligence officers and private intelligence contractors – including CACI International – have influenced the way the abused prisoners have been treated. Whether this has been by direct instruction or by suggestion is not yet in the public domain (to my knowledge, at the time of writing) but interviewed guards have apparently stated that they thought it was their duty to ‘soften up’ the prisoners for questioning.

It’s worth noting here that the Washington Post has claimed that in April 2003 the US Defence Department authorised interrogation techniques for the notorious Camp X-Ray in Guant á namo Bay, Cuba, which included stripping inmates, subjecting them to bright lights and loud music, and depriving them of sleep. The Post also claims that similar methods have been authorised for use in Iraq with detainees with links to terrorist or insurgent groups.

Undoubtedly, human rights groups would consider such techniques to be abuse and possibly torture – and there is no doubt of the higher authority from which they originate.

Interestingly, the Amnesty International allegations take in Camp X-Ray as well as Bagram and Kandahar in Afghanistan – and that may link to Taguba’s discovery that Afghan prisoners are being flown into Abu Ghraib by ‘other government agencies’ for interrogation.

Such manipulaton smacks of some pretty powerful ORANGE strategic thinking.

A few ‘rotten apples’? The abuse scandal appears increasingly to have more of a systematic element. How far the ‘abuse element’ went up the Pentagon/Defence Department hierarchies we have yet to find out, but the Washington Post claims include one that some of the techniques used in Guant á namo Bay had to be authorised by Donald Rumsfeld himself. Claims that the Americans are liberators now look rather grubby and stained. Some observers last year joked that it was difficult at times to tell who was the madman with the weapons of mass destruction: Bush or Saddam Hussein. Whether he knew about the abuses or not, whether he is genuinely apologetic or not, Bush’s regime is now tarnished with some of the approbium he so readily heaped upon the former dictator.

2nd Tier hegemony?
Last year some informed observers stated that they perceived elements of what the Gravesian approach calls ‘2nd Tier thinking’ in the American approach to Iraq – and beyond.

This approach reputedly comes from the so-called ‘Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz Doctrine’ – devised by Donald Rumpsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz when they were out of White House favour during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

This ‘Doctrine’ is aimed at securing American global economic – and, where necessary, military – hegemony in the first decade of the 21st Century. Supposedly it even includes a strategy for taking on China – increasingly acknowleged as developing into the world’s second largest economy by 2010. George W Bush is said to have been much influenced by this Doctrine. Few have seen the core documents – so some caution is needed when commenting upon the Doctrine.

One can see how a ‘Pax Americana’ – spreading the values of ‘democracy and freedom’ around the world – might appear to have 2nd Tier characteristics to some. And since TURQUOISE is said to be willing to sacrifice some for the greater good of all, a war to rid the world of a near-psychopathic ‘evil’ threat like Saddam would fit too. I’ve even seen one comment that maybe the concept of abusing prisoners to obtain critical information reflects YELLOW’s pragmatism!

Franky, I can’t see it. The sheer narrowness of White House/Defence Department thinking and the lack of forward thinking doesn’t seem very 2nd Tier to me.

During the short war the American military were apparently equally surprised by the speedy collapse of the regular Iraqi army (RED trying to run an under-resourced and antiquated BLUE machine?) and the ferocious resistance of the irregular Fedayeen fighters (PURPLE loyalty to Saddam and/or their land?).

The Coalition Provisional Authority seemed to have no real plan of what to do with Iraq once Saddam Hussein was ousted. Resoration of basic utitlities has been painfully slow – leaving people coping at times with basic BEIGE survival needs. The abysmal failure from the start to ensure adequate security – remember the stories of American troops standing by while hospitals and museums were looted? – undermined PURPLE safety needs, leading to a real lack of confidence in the conquerors and facilitating the growth of RED lawlessness.

The Americans have been bounced into many key decisions – from the decision to hand over nominal sovereignty on 30 June to restoring elements of the Iraqi Army they disbanded to police Falluja after the ill-fated seige.

And now, either lack of control (the ‘bad apples’) and/or ill-designed control (systematic, abusive interrogation methods) has produced the abuse scandals, further inflaming Iraqi PURPLE hatreds and justifying RED animal excesses against Coalition troops.

A great deal of what has gone wrong in Iraq was predictable, having an open mind and using a tool like Spiral Dynamics. (Didn’t anybody in the White House, the Pentagon or the Defence Department run a Move Away From meta-programme to work out what could go wrong?)

If the war and occupation of Iraq does not come from the 2nd Tier – and it doesn’t look that way to me  – then it is tempting to assign RED revenge/take-the-law-into-our-own-hands and/or ORANGE oil-greed motives to the Americans. But I wasn’t party to any of the decision-making processes – so I simply don’t know. To speculate probably isn’t helpful.

What is needed now is an honest acknowledgement and thorough analysis of the mess and an assessment of the options available.

It’s notable that Tony Blair is now leading the call for Pakistan to get heavily involved in providng troops to Iraq under a new United Nations mandate. As both a staunchly Muslim state and an ally in the United States’ war against the Taliban, they probably stand some chance of being acceptable to both sides.

Perhaps Blair is yet capable of redeeming himself. I was much impressed with the way he sold the war on Afghanistan to moderate Muslim states – in a way Bush probably couldn’t have done – even learning pertinent parts of the Qu’ran to support his case. At the time I wondered if Blair was indeed capable of YELLOW pragmatism. The way he then tied himself to Bush, come what may, in a largely-futile attempt to influence policy over Iraq has proved very damaging to his credibility domestically, in Europe and around the moderate Muslim world.

Now, though, Blair might be able to influence Bush after all. The President desperately needs some new thinking in his policy making – as Albert Eistein reputedly said: “Problems cannot be solved by the same complexity of thinking which created them.”  This means, to some extent at least, breaking with the closet group of advisers (Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice – even Colin Powell, if appropriate) – to allow the input of fresh and different thinking.

Studying the 1961 ‘Bay of Pigs’ fiasco, Irving Janis (1972) noted President Kennedy had a similar closet group of advisers at the time – Janis termed this kind of limited input conferring groupthink and observed that it is at its most closed when under external pressure.

Bush needs to break out, not close in. He needs a way out of the mess – a new vision, if you will, before his presidency terminates in ignominy. Blair needs to regain his lost credibility. Bush taking Blair’s advice to heart for once might give them both an important first step.



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  1. Tony Cosgrove says

    Hi Keith
    Hope you are well. Just been reading your Iraq piece and the correspondence. USA has got what it wants for it’s first step of controlling the Mid East. Iran and Syria soon to follow, then linking up with the pipelines in Chechnya and Azerbaijan. The world domination plan is still on track for USA. Can Kerry stop it?
    Tony Cosgrove

  2. Don H says

    I agree completely about the stupidity of the U.S. forces’ actions, but I’d call the Shias BLUE not PURPLE (they’re not magical primitives) – I’d call the insurgents – red/blue – our forces blue/orange – in other words, a lot of blues fighting. – rigid beliefs all around.

    • keitherice says

      Hi, Don

      No problem in seeing the Shias as having a huge amount of BLUE structure, orthodoxy and one-right-wayness in their religion. What I meant was PURPLE’s attachment to the cemetery as a burial ground associated with their religion. PURPLE’s attachment to its physical territory – especially if it’s associated with spirituality – is something the BLUE-ORANGE scientific reductionism of the Western governments so frequently overlooks/doesn’t understand. Just look what we do to our PURPLE-red traditional communities!!

      No problem either with attaching a degree of BLUE to the insurgents – in the sense of ‘noble cause’. I also suspect you can attirbute PURPLE in the sense of loyalty to their land. When one generally considers the US military, I would agree BLUE-ORANGE – it seems such a technology-based machine! In this instance, I attributed it red-BLUE because there was a distinct lack of thinking through the bigger picture and the potentially huge implications. Once again a distinct lack of Move Away From meta-programmes. The move onto the cemetery site seemed very careless of consequences – impulsive? – and a determination to ‘get ’em!’ with superior power. In retrospect, I think it’s more RED-blue in terms of motivation than red-BLUE.

      Thanks for the dialogue. It’s this kind of exchange which really helps to develop the complex mapping SD gives us.



  3. Ben Levi says

    I liked the Iraq solution expressed in this article: How to Get Out of Iraq by Ex-Ambassador Peter W. Galbraith:

    Galbraith argues, in what I feel is a second-tier perspective (albeit 20-20 hindsight) for a potential win for everyone involved… dividing Iraq up into 3 federal but separate entities; one in the north for the Kurds (who are IMHO the furthest along in the spiral), one in the South for the Shi’ites, and the middle by the Sunnis.

    Obviously doing that creates its own set of life conditions to deal with, but my interpretation of Galbraith’s belief is that this solution sets up the LCs so the Purple v-Meme is healthier, while setting the stage for Blue and Orange to emerge. I can see this as potentially greater leverage for creating LCs conducive to the spiral evolution of these three cultures, as opposed to the concept of an “Iraq” we’re holding now…that seems to be downshifting into Red, rather than the other direction.


    • keitherice says

      When I heard on the radio this morning that the Americans were planning to enter the huge ancient cemetery at Najif in force, I remember thinking: “Don’t these guys learn anything?” I found it hard to believe that they would be quite so stupid. Listening to the news later in the day, with reports of Imam Ali’s mosque having been damaged in the resultant firefight and a senior figure in the US Army attempting to reassure the local Shias that the Americans were not anti-Shia, it became clear that someone had actually been that stupid.

      The insurgents set a classic ‘jamjar-for-wasps’ trap…and the Americans walked straight into it! It goes like this…
      1. Launch provocative strikes against an occupying force from a site holy to the local population and totally insignificant to the occupiers. The strikes have to be sufficiently lethal that the occupiers have to act.
      2. Draw occupying force into holy site and ensure maximum damage to site – preferably in front of the world’s TV cameras.
      3. Melt away almost magically – because the insurgents are on foot and the Americans are in tanks – leaving it obvious who is doing the damage. 4. Stand back and wait for outraged reaction from the local believers – and any other believers to whom the site is sacred.

      It’s the insurgent RED’s cynical and abusive exploitation of the Shias’ PURPLE, with the gung-ho red/BLUE of the US military machine walking staight into the trap. There must have been half-a-dozen other ways the Americans could have dealt with the situation – eg: surrounding the cemetery and laying passive seige to the cemetery, with the aim of effectively starving them out. Instead we got a full-frontal attack which received condemnation from all around the Muslim world. It wouldn’t entirely surprise me if more coalition troops lost their lives due to this blundering stupidity than any of the abuse scandals!

  4. Dan Hahn says


    1. reframe Purple for Americans. Good neighbors or some such. This is crucial for world stability. and also,

    2. Find a win-win-win in Iraq. A way for Shi’ites to be Shi’ites, Sunnis to be Sunnis, and Kurds to be Kurds. Reframe the idea of nation (a British imposition, anyway, drawn from assumptions only as old as the Treaty of Westphalia, which means nothing to Asians I’m sure.) And let them run their country. As of June 30th, the major change is merely a name change: the authority becomes the American Embassy.

    3. Meanwhile, run, don’t walk, toward viable alternative energy sources in the West. Big oil bought up a lot of technology 20+ years ago, more or less to sit on it. Leverage it out.

    4. Get the dollar and euro in synch quick. Recover Bretton Woods to the extent viable today.

    5. Cultivate Palenstinians who do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Same with Israelis (even Sharon seems to recognize this, even if his Likud Party does not).

    6. Reinvigorate the CIA with a knowledge mission.

    7. Reinvigorate some Clintonesque smarts vis a vis collaborative postures in the world’s hot spots.

    Well …a start.

    Dan Hahn

  5. Dennis Taylor says

    Very thought provoking indeed. Keep up the good work.

  6. Gary Stamper says

    I’ve spent quite a bit of time at your great website over the past few months. Your ‘Meshworks’ description and ‘how-to’ have been a major influence on the formation and development of our Seattle Integral Salon, ‘SeattleIntegral’.

    Thank you. Your article, ‘Prisoner Abuse & the Mess in Iraq’, is a great and thorough analysis of much more than just the abuse. While this administrations actions have had the support of a majority of Americans, there were plenty of qualified voices that raised the issues that you address, particularly “so you’ve won the war…now what?” I agree with your analysis of the second-tier issue. If it were truly a second-tier approach as some have suggested the ‘what now’ factor and the reaction of purple and red would have been anticipated and a plan would have actually been in place. Too much was missed and misunderstood.

    As to whether the Rumsfield-Wolfowitz Doctrine might exhibit second-tier thinking, it’s my amateur SD opinion that there’s strong factor as to why it’s not: INTENT. It’s one thing for ORANGE with knowledge of second-tier thinking to write a document that sounds good on the surface (freedom, democracy to the world), it’s another thing altogether to live in a second-tier manner.

    There’s plenty of evidence that a significant portion of this administration believes in profit more than they believe in freedom. Again, great job, Keith. Thanks, and keep up the important work.
    Namaste’ Gary