The abuses at Abu Ghraib reminded my brother of the experiment in which subjects were randomly assigned to be prisoners or guards. The experiment, held at Stanford University in 1973, became so brutal and ugly so quickly that it was called off after six days, rather than the two weeks it was intended to last.
The lead scientist, Philip Zimbardo, said “it had passed beyond the point of being an experiment -- it had, in fact, become a prison for all of the participants, even the experimenters,” according to Raven & Rubin’s second-edition Social Psychology text.
Here’s an overview of the experiment. Here’s Zimbardo’s own, lengthier account.