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SERE training and torture

by Jeffersonian Democrat Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 11:18:02 AM EST

I haven't written a lot of diaries, mostly because people here have much more insight, expertise, and perception than I.  Nevertheless, I think I'll write this one up because it something I have personal experience with and the subject came up on another thread.  I'm a SERE grad, and although the program, especially the Resistance Training Laboratory (RTL, or mock POW camp) is classified, I think that I can comment on what's been going on in the news about the program and correct a lot of misperceptions on the objective of torture.


I went through in November '87.  Some of the best training I've ever had as one really learns about oneself.  I mean really learns about oneself.  I think the human ego quite naturally, for survival reasons, blocks out and denies mental weaknesses but with this training one is confronted by one's psychological weaknesses, which is a good thing in order to be able to compensate for them.  That is the object of the training.

I was a weapons sergeant in 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne)  [before I went to college and switched to the Navy as a Naval intelligence officer] but when I went through SERE, I back-doored my in while still a young infantry buck-sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division.

The training was tough for me, psychologically, which made it even more worthwhile in my opinion.  It was a cold November and I was the first to visit the "People's Pond" by the infamous "bearded one", a former A-Team master sergeant from Vietnam who had his camp overrun by NVA.  A very big guy, and I am relatively small (5'6) and at the time had a build like a swimmer.  I was never a Rambo type, that's not me genetically, but as every SF guy or SEAL will tell you, it's the size of the heart that matters; if you really want that profession you can succeed, it's all about will-power.  In anycase, I was stupid and while wearing hospital pajamas, boots without laces, and a black canvas hood over my head, I rose my hand when they asked who would not sign their signiture for blankets.  Since you are not supposed to sign anything, I rose my hand (assuming everyone else would also) and suddenly found myself jerked up and flung into the icy water of the "Peoples Pond", then "de-loused" by having a water hose put up under my hood (and those hoods stay wet for the entire duration!).  During my first interrogation, my wet clothes were taken from me and the female interrogator made a big deal and laughed about my shrunken genitalia (yea, why don't YOU go take a swim, bitch!).  Sorry, a little mysogeny coming out.

Funny thing is, I never gave them the information of our "mission" in the scenario.  Not because I didn't break (I did, and I still have an aversion to ice cold water to this day), but because of the sleep deprivation and overwhelming stimuli, I simply FORGOT!  Yep, and afterwards they said how well I did, heh.  I guarantee you, I would've told them if I had actually remembered!

Most people break in the training, everyone has a breaking point.  The object is to bounce back like a basketball and resist and live to come home with honor.  Too many POWs in North Korea and Vietnam were psychologically ruined because they broke but still believed that they were traitors and weak and they were not prepared to deal with it.  They thought interrogations were of the Hogan's Heroes type and if you gave more than name, rank, and serial number you were a traitor.  That may have worked fine in WWII but our cold war communist adversaries were a totally different animal altogether.

That's why the late Col. Nick Rowe and his friend who was also a POW with him, Dan Pitzer, started the SERE program at Ft. Bragg.  The program, though classified, is based on his experiences as a 5-year POW.

If you are truly interested in the SERE program, I highly suggest Rowe's book "Five Years to Freedom".  It's all in there.

See, the point of this diary is not that torture is used to get information (forget 24 folks) but rather it is used to turn a person, exploit them and indoctrinate them.  There is no such thing as brain-washing, you can't wash someone's brain of their thoughts, but you can indoctrinate, just watch "Outfoxed" again.  The torturers of today know that, they don't expect the "ticking bomb" scenario, they want to drive a wedge between the victim and the other detainees; to exploit, indoctrinate, and turn them.

See, I learned that physical pain is NOTHING (but I confess to not have a branding iron applied to my genitals but that attitude sure adds spice to the sex life).  No, the PSYCHOLOGICAL pain is much worse.  Not knowing if you are ever going home to friends and family is much worse than the physical pain because at a point, the brain shuts off the pain receivers, but the psychological rollercoaster remains.  These people at GITMO are not trying to commit suicide because of the physical pain, it's the psychological pain that's driving them; and consider that suicide is a mortal sin in Islam as it is in Judeo/Christianity and you have the extent of this psychological pain.

It's a damn shame, to put it mildly, that these techniques were developed by our Communist "enemies" and now we're the ones using them.  I recognized the techniques immediately when Abu Graib first broke.  I wanted to blog about it but I signed a sensitive information disclosure agreement and I wouldn't get the same kid gloves treatment as Uncle Karl.

Like I said, read the book, it's all in there.

So, I haven't revealed anything classified, just anecdotal and philosphical in regards to the purpose of torture post-WWII.  So to you DIS types - screw you, revoke my clearance, I don't care, I live in Europe and am now a member of a socialist party - go do something usefull like catching Bin Laden or something.

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X-posted at Booman & Kos

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"
by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 11:19:10 AM EST

I haven't written a lot of diaries, mostly because people here have much more insight, expertise, and perception than I.

Every time you write, I read and wish you would write more often.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 01:58:06 PM EST
Thanks, but it is taxing my humility

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"
by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 02:15:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's hard to know what to say. So the purpose of this inhumanity is not to obtain information, but to "turn" the prisoners.

But why? What is to be gained from "turning" them in this manner?

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 02:05:57 PM EST
to drive a wedge between the victim and the other detainees.  For propaganga purposes.  Not necesarrily for the public but rather for for the relationships regarding the victim and other detainees.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"
by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 02:19:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok, I understand this reasoning in the pure local sense. Turning them against their fellow detainees is important to the prison commandant. But surely this is not the reasoning that leads to policy changes at the top level?

So then we think of propaganda, as in the Vietnam situation. However, I don't see it used in this case. I'll admit I only pass over the Arab media in a cursory manner (who can read everything?) but I haven't seen much of the propaganda that would come out of a "recanting" by a high-level operative.

So, I am still struggling to understand the rationale.

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 03:25:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's all about "breaking the enemy's will to fight" (as if torturing people did not encourage them --- or their family and friends --- to fight you) and a misreading of The Arab Mind, a book by a fellow called Raphael Patai.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 03:31:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You mean as when the interrogator comes into the cell and says "you know, you'd better tell us what you know because so-and-so already told us all we wanted to know about you"?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 03:34:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, exactly!  The tactical infomation is obselete after 24 - 48 hours, all interrogators know this.  So the object is exploitation, which is an insiduous path to turning one detainee against another.  That is the object of torture, not to get vital information but to expoit and indoctrinate.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"
by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 03:43:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But rationally, what is the value in this indoctrination of a small number who you have already captured? Especially in the case of a group like Al-Qaeda who are not a unified structure in the first place?
by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 03:51:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
because the small number who are captured reside with others in the small number who are captured.  Just like Vietnam POWs were small in number yet were important not for the public but for exploitation of the other POWs.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"
by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 03:58:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I know I must seem dense to not be getting this, but you seem willing to put up with my stupid questions, so:

(I still don't get it.)

Even if you can take every Al-Qaeda member you catch to Gitmo and indoctrinate them, every one of them through torture, what is the strategic value of this?

(Ignore for a moment the value lost to America's moral standing, just think for a moment of the extraordinary use of intelligent and creative men required to break these prisoners.)

by Metatone (metatone [a|t] gmail (dot) com) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 04:06:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hi Metanone,
It's really not a stupid question.  Remember, we're dealing with the Bush administration.  They are thinking that they have the upperhand from 30 years ago.  So your not understanding is quite normal for logical, thinking persons.  But they think in the cold-war mindset and in today's world, that is obsolete as witnessed by your question.  You are a logical thinking person, they are not, so it is hard to ask real questions.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"
by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 04:27:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They are thinking that they have the upperhand from 30 years ago.

And in their world, Charlie has been pushed back all the way to Outer Mongolia...
by Bernard on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 04:56:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
30 years ago the neocons were sharpening their teeth with an "experiment in competitive threat assessment" called "Team B". They have both feet squarely in fantasy world ever since.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 05:07:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
it is clear that the ticking bomb scenario actually never happens.

The question is why should someone use torture to obtain some information that it is better obtaine with surveillance. I always thought that torture was easy and was the way to go for a certain type of insane people (like the present US administration).

I agree with you that the inforamtion is not interesting but the propaganda is really useful. The point of torture is to obtain a confession and make others believe that this confession shows we are making big progress agains terrorists....

So you can torture anybody you wish, just becasue he thinks differently adn then make him confess.. then it doe snot matter what the original reasons were..

Publicity...in a sense Bush is getting publicity.

Great diary.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 02:41:41 PM EST
After 24-48 hours, any information an individual has is obsolete - one of the first rules of military intelligence.  Therefore, the torture is used for exploitation/propaganga purposes only.  Disgusting really but I won't go into the the issue of American exceptionalism as that is another can of worms.  Just suffice it to say that we've learned A LOT from our former communist adversaries.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"
by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 03:07:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not to open the can of worms, but IMHO "American exceptionalism" is the only "ideology" with the potential  to underpin a totalitarian regime in the US. Every other single ideology appeals to too small a fraction of the population, and American exceptionalism permeates even civics classes in school.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 03:37:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Wow, yes this can be a can of worms.  Nevertheless, I suscribe to Louis Althussar's definition of ideology in his essay "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" when a person goes against the stream of things then they are part of a "bad" ideology according to the state.  But everyone is subjected to an ideology since birth, since they recieced their first name.  But that is an argument in critical theory, not in my anecdoctal experience that can be taken apart by logic and reasoning.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"
by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 03:54:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
JD, what can you tell us about Hanns Joachim Scharff?
Hanns Scharff - Master Interrogator
Hanns Scharff was primarily an American 8th and 9th Air Force Fighter pilot interrogator.  He was considered the best of the interrogators at Dulag Luft. He gained the reputation of magically getting all the answers he needed from the prisoners of war, often with the prisoners never realizing that their words, small talk or otherwise, were important pieces of the mosaic.  It is said he always treated his prisoners with respect and dignity and by using psychic not physical techniques, he was able to make them drop their guard and converse with him even though they were conditioned to remain silent.    One POW commented that "Hanns could probably get a confession of infidelity from a nun."   Hanns personally stepped into search for information that saved the lives of six US POWs when the SS wanted to execute them.  Many acts of kindness by Scharff to sick and dying American POWs are documented.  He would regularly visit some of the more seriously ill  POWs and arrange to make their accommodations more humane.  At one time the Luftwaffe was investigating him.  After the war, he was invited by the USAF to make speeches about his methods to military audiences in the US and he eventually moved to the United States.  General Jimmy Doolittle was one of the first to extend the hand of friendship to Hanns after the war, inviting him to a luncheon where they compared notes.  Later he was invited to the home of Col. Hub Zemke who thereafter would send Hanns what he called a "Red Cross Parcel" every Christmas.  And 38 years after he was Hanns "guest" at Dulag Luft - Oberursel, Col. Francis "Gabby" Gabreski was a guest of honor at Hanns 75th birthday party.  In the United States Scharff worked as a mosaic artist.  His works are on display in Cinderella's castle at Disney World.

Of course we must remember that Hanns was the exception at Dulag Luft and there were other interrogators that were nothing at all like Hanns, whose treatment of the prisoners was more of a physical and threatening nature.

 There is an excellent book written about Hanns called "The Interrogator" by Raymond F. Toliver.



A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 04:49:42 PM EST
I really cannot comment since this is the first I've heard about the man.  What I can say is there is ahuge difference between WWII and the current day situation that I can comment on.  There have been lots of great discusions on WWII on this site, and I know that is a non-answer, but really, I can only discuss things with any credibility from my own experience, which is mostly based in Latin America.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"
by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 05:04:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Silly question: what does SERE stand for?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Dec 9th, 2005 at 06:12:39 PM EST
Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape.  It is a military school that sets out to train and prepare an individual to evade pursuers and if caught, how to deal with being a POW.  Not a silly question, sometimes I forget that it is military-speak.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"
by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Sat Dec 10th, 2005 at 03:16:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks. I expected something like this, but had not seen that particular acronym.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Dec 10th, 2005 at 05:56:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a damn shame, to put it mildly, that these techniques were developed by our Communist "enemies" and now we're the ones using them.

Hm... are you sure? For example, what about the SOA? Weren't these techniques already taught there at the same time?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Dec 10th, 2005 at 02:19:25 PM EST
I apologize DoDo, for not getting back to you, I missed this comment.  Sure, the US used torture before - I think waterboarding started for the US in the early 1900's if I am not mistaken.  Nevertheless, what I am referring too are the psychological, rather than physical, torture methods that came about in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.  Physical pain is one thing but the psychological is another animal in itself and highly effective - not for information, but rather to exploit and break the human soul.

"Schiller sprach zu Goethe, Steck in dem Arsch die Flöte! Goethe sagte zu Schiller, Mein Arsch ist kein Triller!"
by Jeffersonian Democrat (rzg6f@virginia.edu) on Tue Dec 13th, 2005 at 12:29:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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