The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo, 2007, Excerpts
The central premise of The War on Terror following the attacks of September 11, 2001 is that terrorism is the primary threat to national security and to the homeland and that it must be opposed by all means necessary. This ideological foundation has been used by virtually all nations as a device for gaining popular and military support for aggression, as well as repression. It was used freely by right-wing dictatorships in Brazil, Greece, and many other nations in the 1960s and ‘70s to justify torture and death-squad executions of their citizens who were positioned as the enemies of the state.
Fear is the State’s psychological weapon of choice to frighten citizens into sacrificing their basic freedoms and rule-of-law protections in exchange for the security promised by their all-powerful government. Fear is a method [French existentialist author Albert Camus]. Terror makes fear, and fear stops people from thinking rationally. It makes people think in abstractions about the enemy, the terrorists, the insurgents who threaten us, who thus must be destroyed. Once we begin thinking of people as a class of entities, as abstractions, then they meld into “faces of the enemy,” and primitive impulses to kill and torture them surface even among ordinarily peaceful people. Fear was the linchpin that gained the majority support of the U.S. public.
The issue here is that by arousing and sustaining fear of an enemy at our gates, the Bush administration was able to position the president as the Almighty Commander in Chief of a nation at war. By calling himself “commander in chief” and vastly expanding the powers granted him by Congress, President Bush and his advisors came to believe that they were above national and international law and that therefore any of their policies were legal simply by asserting them in a newly recast official legal interpretation. The seeds for the flowers of evil that blossomed in that dark dungeon of Abu Ghraib were planted by the Bush administration in its triangular framing of national security threats, citizen fear and vulnerability, and interrogation/torture to win the war on terror.