Milgram Redux

Julia had responded to the request for laboratory assistants at the university hospital and arrived at the medical offices a few minutes early.

A few others sat in the waiting room, staring straight ahead with headphones in their ears. One young man looked up when she walked in and then turned his attention back to the wall.

She gave her name to the receptionist who seemed to have difficulty finding Julia’s name in the records, then made a face. “You’re late. Wait here.” And the receptionist walked back out of sight.

“Oh. I…” Julia started toward one of the chairs but then stopped. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and was turning around to look for a magazine when a side door opened.
A tall middle-aged man in a white coat and a clipboard leaned out and looked around the room. “Julia? Julia Freeman?”
“Here.” She said and gave a little wave. The man waved her toward the open door with the clipboard while he stood with his back to it, holding it open. She had to squeeze past him to go through.
She expected him to smell – like sweat or cologne, or formaldehyde, or something, but he didn’t. His name tag read, “F. Reilly.”

“Thanks for coming in… Ms. Freeman. The lab is the second door on the right. The restroom is just across the hall if you want to wash up.”
“Um. I’m fine, thanks.”

They went into the lab and Reilly gestured toward a leather-upholstered wheeled chair next to a desk full of electronic equipment.
Julia sat down and Reilly reached over to pull a cord. A curtain opened and Julia was able to see into the next room.
The room was empty except for a man seated in a chair. His wrists were strapped to the armrests. His hair was dark and hung wet on his shoulders. His eyes were nearly closed and his mouth hung open.

“This…” Reilly gestured toward the man in the other room, “is a ‘suspected’ terrorist. And when I say ‘suspected’ it is only because we do not yet have the specific evidence that the courts say is necessary to convict.”
Reilly continued, as if reciting a script. “If you have paid attention to the news, you will know that our situation has changed recently and our nation’s military no longer has the kinds of freedoms it once did in pursuing criminals and terrorists.”
He took a deep breath. “All questioning now requires a civilian interrogator and a military witness. Today, you, Julia Freeman, assistant number 6172, are the interrogator and I, Francis Reilly, am the witness. Please sign this form to indicate that you understand.”

Reilly held out the clipboard and Julia took it, after hesitating a moment. “Um…”

“You will be paid eight dollars per hour for your time.” Reilly interrupted. “Your fee will be mailed to you.”


“Turn your attention to the man in the chair. The window here is a one-way mirror. He cannot see or hear you. You will ask him the questions on the cards you see on your left, speaking clearly into the microphone in front of you. If the answers he gives are not satisfactory to you, push the button on the right. This will administer a small electric shock to the man. If you feel that the shock is not having an effect, you can increase the voltage using the large dial on the machine on your left. We need to get started, so please begin.”

Julia held her hands above the table, unsure what to do. “I… uh…”

“First, turn the microphone on.”

Julia fumbled with the microphone until she found a small switch, which she flipped. Electronic feedback came through a speaker on the wall and Reilly jogged over to adjust the volume. He returned and gestured toward the cards on the desk.

Julia cleared her throat. “Can you hear me?” The man in the chair turned his head toward the window but did not say anything. Reilly leaned in and shook his head quickly an pointed at the cards.

Julia paused, then continued. “Are you a member of Al Qaida?” The man leaned his head back, as though bracing himself, but said nothing. Reilly pointed at the small red button on Julia’s right.

She repeated the question, more forcefully. “Are you a member of Al Qaida?” Reilly nodded and smiled. The man in the chair didn’t move. Reilly pointed again at the button. Julia paused again, then reached out and pushed the button. While the button was depressed, a quiet buzz was audible through the speakers and the man in the chair shuddered.

“Oh.” Julia pulled her hand back. “I don’t think I can do this.”

Reilly leaned in and turned off the microphone. “You can do this. Your country needs you to do this. Please continue.” He switched the microphone on again.

Julia repeated the question again. Again the man in the chair did not answer, but braced himself in the chair. This time Reilly pointed at the voltage dial. Julia pretended to turn it up but Reilly saw what she was doing. He leaned in again and turned off the microphone, shaking his head. “Ms. Freeman, you have to do this.”

“I can’t!”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“I just can’t do it!”

“Julia, you signed the form…”

“This is inhumane! I won’t do it!”

Reilly leaned back, preparing himself to give the speech he normally gave in this situation, but Julia took the opportunity to stand. When she saw that Reilly was not going to stop her, she opened the door and left.

Reilly looked out the door and saw her rush past the receptionist and out the front door. He returned to the desk and switched the microphone on. “OK Bill, we’re done with that one. Good work. Take five.”
The man in the chair pulled his hands out of the wrist straps and stood and stretched. “Al, are you in there?” Another man walked out from behind the wall and waved at the window.

“Al, make a note. Subject number 6172, Julia Freeman, has failed the Federal Patriot Test of Loyalty. Consider subject 6172 as a security risk. She will require follow-up investigation. Send two agents to her home tonight.”