Among the few press sources that covered the recent bombshell revelations about SERE techniques being translated into abusive interrogation tactics at Guantanamo and elsewhere is this article in the Fayetteville Observer:
Memo: Interrogators learned from SERE
By Kevin Maurer
A declassified Defense Department investigation of detainee abuse released this week outlines how Fort Bragg survival instructors shared techniques with American interrogators at Guantanamo Bay.
The Guantanamo interrogation techniques then made their way to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where they eventually contributed to a prisoner-abuse scandal that severely damaged U.S. credibility in the Arab world.
But, Army officials argue — in a letter that accompanies the 131-page investigation — that information provided to interrogators from Army survival school trainers did not play a role in the harsher interrogation techniques. The survival program — called SERE for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape — is at Fort Bragg.
“It is important to understand that the United States Army Special Operations Command has neither used SERE instructors nor condoned SERE techniques for interrogation purposes,” said Lt. Col. Tim Nye, a spokesman for the command.
Marc Garlasco, a senior military analyst with Human Rights Watch, said the investigation shows a conscious decision by the U.S. military to violate the Geneva Convention, international rules governing the treatment of war prisoners.
“SERE is designed to replicate detention by an enemy that is violating the laws of armed conflict,” he said. “The decision to use these methods in Gitmo (Guantanamo Bay) and Abu Ghraib was a decision to break the law and the long tradition of lawful interrogation by U.S. Army interrogators.”
According to the investigation, in 2002 interrogators at Guantanamo Bay believed their techniques were no longer effective because the al-Qaida and Taliban detainees were familiar with the Army’s interrogation manual and trained to resist.
“As a result, interrogation techniques and procedures used exceeded the guidelines established in the Army FM 34-52,” the investigation says.
Army Field Manual 34-52 was the old interrogation manual published in 1992.
In September 2006, the Army released a new interrogation manual — FM 2-22.3 — in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal.
On Sept. 16, 2002, the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency — which oversees the SERE program — held a conference at Fort Bragg for the Guantanamo Bay interrogators, according to the investigation.
“USASOC initiated this conference in order to establish guidelines and formalize training consistent with U.S. law and the ethical guidelines for psychologists,” Nye said. “The conference did not train interrogation personnel in the use of SERE techniques.”
The Army’s 19-day SERE course was created in 1986 and is based on the experiences of Nick Rowe, who was captured by the Viet Cong in 1963 when he was a lieutenant. The purpose of the course is to train special operations soldiers to live up to the Military Code of Conduct and to survive and resist abuse in captivity. The course does not train soldiers to be interrogators.
At the 2002 conference, according to the investigation, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency showed the interrogators “exploitation techniques and methods used in resistance (to interrogation) training at SERE schools,” according to the investigation. The interrogators were told to determine which techniques might be used at Guantanamo Bay.
Nye said the conference led to a policy on the use of mental health professionals in interrogations.
A few days after the conference, a Joint Personnel Recovery Agency representative recommended to his commander that the SERE program not get involved with interrogation operations.
“The memorandum states that the agency had no actual experience in real world prisoner handling, developed concepts based on past enemies, and assumes that procedures we use to exploit our personnel will be effective against the current detainees,” the representative wrote.
Mike Ritz, who was a SERE instructor at Fort Bragg in the 1990s, said he knew when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke that interrogators had used SERE techniques on detainees.
“Anybody who looks at the pictures can start to see when it happened,” he said.
Ritz now is the chief executive officer of Team Delta, a private company that teaches interrogation techniques.
According to the investigation, the commander at Guantanamo Bay filed a investigation in October 2002 that set loose guidelines for the use of SERE techniques, but only by trained interrogators.
At least twice, SERE instructors from Fort Bragg went to Guantanamo Bay to instruct interrogators on SERE counter-resistance techniques, the investigation says. Nye said Friday that the Special Operations Command could find no evidence of SERE instructors going to Guantanamo.
Charles “Cully” Stimson, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, disagreed with the investigation’s conclusions.
Stimson resigned in February after making controversial statements about lawyers who represent detainees.
“I believe the historical record supports the opposite conclusion — that SERE did not play a determinative role in the development of counterresistance interrogation tactics,” Stimson wrote in comments included in the investigation.
Stimson points to several other detainee abuse investigations that concluded that the conference at Fort Bragg and the briefs by the SERE instructors to Army interrogators were brainstorming exercises and did not lead to a shift in policy.
Stimson points to Vice Adm. Albert T. Church’s investigation of detainee abuse, which found no policy “that condoned or in any way encouraged abuse of detainees.”
When the war in Iraq started, interrogators that served at Guantanamo Bay took the harsher methods to Iraq.
“Counterresistance interrogation techniques migrated to Iraq because operations personnel believed that traditional interrogation techniques were no longer effective for all detainees,” the investigation says.
The use of these techniques at Abu Ghraib and other prisons prompted Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona to draft an anti-torture amendment, which President Bush signed into law in January 2006.
It also led to major revisions in the Army’s interrogation field manual. The new manual bans many of the practices covered in the investigation — including waterboarding, an interrogation technique that simulates drowning. Interrogators also are prohibited from depriving detainees of food, water and medical care.
Psychological techniques are always better than muscle, Ritz said, but the Army has few talented interrogators.
Only about 5 percent of military interrogators are any good, Ritz said.
“You’re talking about only 40 to 100 interrogators that really get human behavior,” he said. “Interrogation is about charisma, observation skills and intuition.”
June 13th, 2007