If you did it and succeeded a second time, succeeded even in stealing an expensive mink coat, would you continue? Would you ever stop?
You would know that you were stealing and that stealing is wrong, and that if you ever were caught, you'd be arrested for it. But until that day came, how much would you care?
I've asked myself, and I'm sure other people have asked themselves, how these ten or so people who worked at the Abu Graib Prison could do such disgusting things.
I don't believe for a minute that they were 'just following orders.' No sensible CO who has a care for his military career would give such orders, not in today's military.
Why else don't I think these people were influenced by higher-ups?
Because of the pictures.
I read a lot of criminal psychology books (by John Douglas and others), and I watch forensics shows like The New Detectives and The FBI Files on the Discovery Channel.
These people were taking pictures of themselves, doing this stuff. It's the exact same sort of thing you see serial criminals doing, time after time. They want souvenirs. If a CO or even someone in Intelligence had ordered this, he would have forbidden them from leaving evidence--at least, if he were smart.
I don't know what possessed these people to think they could get away with what they were doing. I've read of the Stanford prison experiment, in which some people were given the role of prisoners and others were given the role of guards, and they had to halt the experiment early, I believe, because it was getting out of hand. The guards were abusing the prisoners. And these were just ordinary people in this experiment, no known nutcases.
Still--the perpetrators at Abu Graib were turned in by their fellow military personnel--who did not participate in these activities. So the impulse can be controlled--by military discipline, training, simple common sense and morals, or whatever.
I suspect the people who participated in the Stanford prison experiment were horrified later by what they did or allowed to be done to themselves. That will probably happen to these people, too.
I don't feel a need to preach on this subject. What I do feel a need to do is pray that, should I ever be faced with such a temptation, I will make the correct moral choice.