Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Legacy Department

Applied Sociology

Committee Chair/Advisor

Wentworth, William

Committee Member

Sturkie , Douglas K

Committee Member

Winslow , Sarah


In the spring of 2004, the military police assigned to guard the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq found themselves at the center of numerous investigations regarding the abuse, torture, rape, and murder of detainees in United States custody. Their behavior was influenced and encouraged by U.S. officials, including President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The Bush administration effectively created a reality for the military police that fostered increasingly violent and aggressive tendencies beyond what is expected or allowed in similar circumstances. Existing literature and conclusions from previous studies support the claim that social and situational forces can influence individuals to commit cruel and unusual acts while under the authority of a legitimated institution or figure. The obedience studies conducted by Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment provide empirical evidence of the social psychological theories of the social construction of reality, impression management, and the Thomas Theorem. I explore the story of Abu Ghraib through the lens of symbolic interactionism via the qualitative data collection process of content analysis. Government documents such as interrogation procedures defined by the U.S. Army and memorandums prepared, issued, and (sometimes) rescinded by government officials in the months leading up to the investigations regarding detainee treatment and interrogation at Abu Ghraib is included in the content analysis. Other materials included consist of the photographs, newspaper articles, and documentaries that engulfed the media during and after the investigations, as well as the official expert investigation reports and detainee and eyewitness account depositions and interviews. A careful examination of the materials in the content analysis reveal a striking resemblance to the empirical studies listed above, supporting the claim that situational factors created a reality the guards considered to be real and (as the Thomas Theorem predicts) became real in its consequences.

Included in

Sociology Commons



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