I grew up in a prison town. Some of the people I grew up with, and some that I knew very well, are now prison guards. About a third of the town works for the Texas Department of Corrections. So, stastically, of course I know a bunch of people who work at the prison. Everybody who grew up there does.
That means I also knew a lot of adults who had worked at the prison. Or families that did. I knew what the town was like. And long after leaving I even realized that not every town was like that. Talking to prison guards out here in California, prison guards who don't live among their own, showed me that. That let me see the differences, and see them just as clearly as can be. Stand a prison guard next to a plumber and it's not long before you know which is which.
So if you say to me, "take a bunch of good, solid American citizens, and set them to watching people who have been accused of horrendous crimes. Then ask them to do awful things to them to make them confess. Will they do it?"... I'd say, "yeah. They'll do it." And if you ask me, "even if you just accuse the people, and you don't prove they'd done anything?", I'd say, "what does that have to do with anything? It's not like the people torturing them know. I'm not even sure that they care, though I hope they do."
So if you were to ask me about the current scandal in the Iraqi prisons, I'd say, "what? This surprises you?"
The people defending them, the people who say, "but look at what other awful stuff <other person with olive skin> has done"... They're really making the same mistake as the people in the prisons who do awful things to the prisoners. They're forgetting that there are innocent people as well as guilty people there. That we accused those people, but we've proven nothing, and some of those accusations are wrong.
But it's hard to prove that. Because some of those accusations are right. Some of those prisoners, in one way or another, deserve that awful treatment. So the question is, how many innocent people do you torture and kill because they're standing near guilty people?
Traditionally, in this country, our judges like to say "none". Or "no more than we have to". But traditionally the citizens say something else. We may not have invented the lynch mob in this country, but we're certainly long-time fans of it. We've always had enough space that we can run people out of town on a rail, or make it clear they're not wanted, and if they stay around and get lynched, well... They didn't take the hint, so obviously they had it coming. If they were innocent, they'd have run off and started again somewhere else. For that matter, if they were guilty they'd have done the same thing.
We forget that there's not room to run away in some places. Not even if we make it clear the people we hate aren't wanted.
A small community might be one of those places. More crowded nations might be.
But a prison cell certainly is.