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My Thoughts and Perspective as a SERE Graduate, Part I

by Jeffersonian Democrat Wed May 6th, 2009 at 03:39:49 PM EST

On Fri Dec 09, 2005 at 04:03:27 PM CET, I published a diary in response to the release of the Abu Graib photos SERE training and torture.  SERE - Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape.  I was one of the first here to scream SERE when I saw those images.  Since then, Valtin especially, has done outstanding work in his effort to familiarize the non-military American citizen with the SERE program.  He has also caused me great shame and anguish that an institution to which I once belonged and revered engages in these techniques now as an operational, rather than a training, procedure.

[Note, this is a reprint from Kos.  Neveertheless, I thought that maybe I would share it with my European friends since I live here in Europe and hope to be able to soon call myself European as far as immigration goes, anyway, these are my thoughts.  And this is a first in a series, if there is interest, I will post more of the series]


I wanted to weigh in with my own personal thoughts.  There was a lot of debate on legal amnesty for CIA officers, and Phil in Denver wrote an excellent diary on Moral Equivalency.  He wrote the diary I wanted to write last weekend until in trying to write a good diary, I ran into problems with internet research, my own experience, my knowledge of the military and limited knowledge of the CIA through that military experience as well as the interview process with the CIA itself (I made it up to the third interview and polygraph but didn't get called in and didn't make the cut in May 2001 and I now am greatful to the favor they did me by not hiring me because they spoke of assigning me to the paramilitary division of the Clandestine Service) and I could not reconcile myself to the argument I wanted to make.  Namely, that by twisting SERE techniques of interrogation into lawful orders, a lower person in the chain of command has no choice but to follow them because one can only challenge unlawful orders without legal jeapordy; the insidiousness of the OLC made those things lawful.

So I wish to write this diary with something in mind that I wrote in December, 2005, and at the bottom of my diary I said:

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.

First, I am going to refer to Senator Levin's comments today:

In SERE training, U.S. troops are briefly exposed, in a highly controlled setting, to abusive interrogation techniques used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions. The techniques are based on tactics used by Chinese Communists against American soldiers during the Korean War for the purpose of eliciting false confessions for propaganda purposes.

I am also going to rely heavily on MCPO Malcom Nance, a Navy SEAL and a former Master Instructor and Chief of Training at the US Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) in San Diego, California in his article Waterboarding is Torture... Period in which he states:

It has been reported that both the Army and Navy SERE school's interrogation manuals were used to form the interrogation techniques used by the US army and the CIA for its terror suspects. What was not mentioned in most articles was that SERE was designed to show how an evil totalitarian, enemy would use torture at the slightest whim. If this is the case, then waterboarding is unquestionably being used as torture technique.

Now for me personally, I supposed one could say that I have myself been tortured as a training exercise.  However, I wish to stress that what I went through was relatively low intensity compared to the high or even moderate intensity, and equally important duration, that detainees go through.  Because of my low-intensity exposure to this experience, I have a grudging respect for the detainees who have been able to resist, and they are worthy of study and inclusion into the SERE training program as examples of resistors.

Senator Levin listed these techniques as:

*stripping trainees of their clothing,
*placing them in stress positions,
*putting hoods over their heads,
*subjecting them to face and body slaps,
*depriving them of sleep,
*throwing them up against a wall,
*confining them in a small box,
*treating them like animals,
*subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights,
*and exposing them to extreme temperatures.
*Until recently, the Navy SERE school also used waterboarding

The only procedure that I DID NOT endure was waterboarding.  I went through Army SERE and at the time, they did not use that method.

Nevertheless, a procedure he does not mention is the exploitation of phobia.  My weakness and since that first day until now, is ice cold water and being submerged in it.  I can no longer swim in lakes or streams, not to mention the California Pacific.  It freaks me out, I have an irrational fear and reaction to cold water.  Cold water is what broke me.

Anyone of you could use cold water and break me.  SERE school taught me that, it taught me what my unique and human weaknesses were.  Bugs in the box would not affect me, cold water will.  Every person has their own "Winston" weakness and most of the time it is subconscious and unknown. SERE taught me to confront it, face it, and accept it, and most importantly, how to deal with it after the fact if it is used against me.

I wanted that to lead into two things.  One, is the principle that you never allow a person to go through something that you could not endure yourself.  It is a good principle.  There have been historic interrogation incidents where the person interrogated is not the person threatened.  Rather, they take the senior ranking officer and show him the most junior member captive, point a gun to their head, and say if you do not give us the information, we will blow their brains out.

How do you in that position try to keep information that may costs lives of soldiers while witnessing the life of another immediately threatened?  Well, you have to judge if they are bluffing or not, and if you are wrong, you have to wake up facing the mirror every morning.  Jessica Lynch reminded us that non-high risk personnel are vulnerable to capture as well.  High-risk means Aviators, Pilots, USAF Pararescue, Navy SEALS, Army SF and Rangers, all non-female units.  But what if you are threatened with give us info or we rape your soldier?  Actually, this can happen to male soldiers as well.

You have to make a judgement whether you could endure it yourself.

Now this leads to thoughts on torture and specifically waterboarding.  It is not well known that almost every class cycle of Navy SEAL training and Army Combat Diver School, someone drowns in the pool.  The corpsmen and medics are there to "kickstart" you , as we call it, with CPR and immediately throw you back into the pool for cross-over exercises so that the fear of drowning does not fester.  I have personaly noticed, and it could be bravado, Combat Divers and SEALs brush off the fear of drowning.  Admittedly, it could be the beers and strippers during conversations at JB's Gallery of Girls in Virginia Beach.

However, this waterboarding gave me a concern that someone who has drowned before may not look at waterboarding as a big deal as they may endure drowning themselves.  Thankfully this was unfounded.  In fact, what I found from the MCPO, say a lot about the effectiveness of waterboarding.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration -usually the person goes into hysterics on the board.

Keep in mind, the MCPO has waterboarded hundreds of people.  But also keep in mind who he was waterboarding - that's right, big tough Navy SEALs going through training.  Some of whom, statistically, have already drowned in BUDs.  They nevertheless go into hysterics.

Don't buy the snarky "if it was so effective why did they do it 183 times".  It is good for snark to illustrate the real problem, but I don't want people to get lost in "it's not effective".  It's very effective for the actually purpose of totally eliminating a persons willpower and personality.  I think Rachel does a disservice in this respect.

At this point, the diary is getting too long.  A good place to stop for part one, consider part one as Wittgestein's Ladder and giving the information for an argument before the argument is made.  Part two I wish to explore the actual argument, this is merely background information for it.

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Don't buy the snarky "if it was so effective why did they do it 183 times".  It is good for snark to illustrate the real problem, but I don't want people to get lost in "it's not effective".  It's very effective for the actually purpose of totally eliminating a persons willpower and personality.

...Which implies to my mind that it was never really about gaining information.

This is a totally new perspective for me. I hope you post the follow-up diaries as well.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman

by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Wed May 6th, 2009 at 04:28:45 PM EST
used for gaining information.  And this is the danger in the US that they think it is so from watching programs like 24.

But anyone of our Spanish colleagues here could confirm if they experienced Franco, or Argentinian members can confirm,

Torture is used by an belligerent regime to terrorize a population or sub-population into submission and it only takes a few and a whisper campaign of what is going on.  Stasi were masters of this.  They only had to turn a few to convince the population to go along.

Torture is not effective for information, it's very effective for authoritarian control.

"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 Wed May 6th, 2009 at 04:38:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There was torture under Franco - it is not talked about, though. And I was born the day after he died.

There are also allegations of torture since then. They are also not talked about much.

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 7th, 2009 at 06:16:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
used for gaining information.  And this is the danger in the US that they think it is so from watching programs like 24.

But anyone of our Spanish colleagues here could confirm if they experienced Franco, or Argentinian members can confirm,

Torture is used by an belligerent regime to terrorize a population or sub-population into submission and it only takes a few and a whisper campaign of what is going on.  Stasi were masters of this.  They only had to turn a few to convince the population to go along.

Torture is not effective for information, it's very effective for authoritarian control.

"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 Wed May 6th, 2009 at 04:41:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jeffersonian Democrat:
Torture is not effective for information, it's very effective for authoritarian control.

And for obtaining false confessions for propaganda purposes - thus "proving" that torture "works".

Great Diary, JD.  Perphaps you could explain the acronyms a bit more - they are not familiar to a non US military reader....

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 7th, 2009 at 05:48:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape.  The words are in that order as those are the phases.

First, if you are a pilot and are shot down, the first thing you need to do is survive off of the land.  If you are in bad guy territory, then you need to evade those searching for you.  If you are caught, then you need to resist as best you can and finally, if the opportunity ever presents itself, you need to escape.

The resistance phase of training is to innoculate one, to introduce at a minimum level of intensity and duration, what may be done to you in captivity.  But still an intense program any way.  This is horribly ironic that the methods used in training in a mock POW camp came from not only historical records but from Vietnam and Korean era POWs themselves.  Treatment considered horrible, immoral, and illegal.

Now we, the US, are the ones employing such techniques

"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 Thu May 7th, 2009 at 07:35:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks.   I meant more:

OLC - Office of Legal Counsel etc.
MCPO
BUDs
SEAL

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 7th, 2009 at 05:05:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
BUDs Basic Underwater Demolition  SEAL school
MCPO Master Chief Petty Officer - Navy
SEAL - Sea Air Land, US Naval commandos

"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 May 9th, 2009 at 11:58:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - My Thoughts and Perspective as a SERE Graduate, Part I
Namely, that by twisting SERE techniques of interrogation into lawful orders, a lower person in the chain of command has no choice but to follow them because one can only challenge unlawful orders without legal jeapordy; the insidiousness of the OLC made those things lawful.
Lawful under US law but unlawful under international law and the treaties that the US has signed and ratified?

In other words, it would have to take a courageous person to be willing to refuse and then to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court?

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 7th, 2009 at 06:00:37 AM EST
Yes, it would have taken a courageous person, with plenty of legal and historical knowledge. (Of which you would have thought there would be plenty in the military) who would have had to have stood up against the whole republican media culture which you know would be calling them traitor.

You  have to ask where was the situations Hugh Thompson Jr. and where were the senior officers who would stand up for what was morally right?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Thu May 7th, 2009 at 06:37:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Or someone on the inside with an incredible sense of right and wrong within social pressures of groupthink.

Particularly like the brave young Specialist Darby who leaked a CD of photos to the press and to the world because he new as a low level enlisted he could never fight the institutionalized system.

"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 Thu May 7th, 2009 at 07:38:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Or someone on the inside with an incredible sense of right and wrong within social pressures of groupthink.

And military discipline is expressly designed to repress this impulse.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Thu May 7th, 2009 at 10:26:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Has the USA ever allowed its Courts to be over-ruled by an international Court enforcing international Law?  Empires don't do this, and a President who allowed an International Court to over-rule SCOTUS would be branded a traitor, probably impeached, and certainly hounded out of office.  The US does not defer to dem yurpians....

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 7th, 2009 at 05:09:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What I mean is that the legislative/administrative/executive actions making torture lawful in the sense of making a CIA operative refusing to carry it out liable for insubordination would have to be deemed unconstitutional but only the SCOTUS can do that, and you can only get to the SCOTUS after exhausting all the ladder of appeals (unlike in Spain where an unconstitutionality complaint can be lodged as soon as the law is published in the official journal).

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 7th, 2009 at 06:09:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yea but in other countries, even Supreme Court judgements can be appealed to an International Court - and have been many times.  I am not aware of SCOTUS ever having been over-ruled by an international court.  I am not even aware if it such an appeal has ever been allowed to proceed.  Effectively the USA is above international law even where (as in the Geneva Conventions) it has signed up to the International Law in question.

The question of whether waterboarding is torture, and whether those who justified and practised it are guilty of a war crime is ultimately for an International Court to decide - not SCOTUS or US radio talk show hosts.  

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu May 7th, 2009 at 06:25:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But I wasn't going that far - I was only going up to the point where the SCOTUS has to rule on whether the US Preznit has the constitutional authority to overrule the Geneva Conventions.

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 8th, 2009 at 04:30:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When a Sovereign State signs an international Treaty, it agrees to be bound by it and by the judicial processes provided for in that Treaty.  Thus it is not for SCOTUS to be the final arbiter on whether the USA or its servants commited torture.

The immediate problem  may be in finding a victim and a prosecutor in a position to take such a case in the first place.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri May 8th, 2009 at 08:11:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - My Thoughts and Perspective as a SERE Graduate, Part I
Nevertheless, a procedure he does not mention is the exploitation of phobia.
Did they get that one from the Chinese in Korea, or from reading 1984?

The brainless should not be in banking. — Willem Buitler
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 7th, 2009 at 06:07:47 AM EST
I've never seen you post here before, JD. You're very welcome here sir.

I read this, and Part II, already on dkos, and recommend it highly to anyone here on ET who hasn't already seen this.

Good diary.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Thu May 7th, 2009 at 10:23:10 AM EST
The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan
Here we have it in broad daylight: the New York Times' cowardice in the face of its own government. In an obit today, the editors manage to use the word "torture". It's in an obit. The obit runs:

<snip>

You will notice how the NYT defines torture when it comes to foreign governments - isolation, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation. Much milder than anything the US did to one of its own citizens, Jose Padilla. But the parallel is almost perfect: these are, after all, the exact Chinese Communist techniques that were reverse engineered from the SERE program. So you have a perfect demonstration of the NYT's double-standard. If Chinese do it to Americans, it's torture; if Americans do it to an American, it's "harsh interrogation." Does Jill Abramson really expect us to take this lying down?



Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Fri May 8th, 2009 at 11:05:41 AM EST


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