Tuesday, August 21, 2007

SERE and American Torture: A Speech Given at the 8/18/07 San Francisco Protest of the American Psychological Association

The military’s "sear" or "seary" program is S-E-R-E: Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. It is a school designed to teach officers and special forces--particularly pilots and special forces--how to survive behind enemy lines, evade the enemy, resist interrogation and torture, and escape from a POW camp. The resistance portion of the training simulates the experience of being held prisoner and interrogated and tortured by enemy forces who do not observe the Geneva conventions. Since SERE interrogation techniques do not follow the Geneva conventions, since they are torture, they are only appropriately applied to SERE training. To apply these techniques outside of SERE would be a war crime.

In May 2004 I wrote a blog entry as a response to the Abu Ghraib atrocities. A couple lines from this blog entry were quoted by Stephen Soldz in his important article, "Shrinks and the SERE Technique at Guantanimo,” where he makes it clear what I had suspected back in 2004: that the resistance training I got during SERE could be and has been "reverse engineered" to teach torture rather than just teaching resistance to torture.

What is crucial about this revised, reverse-engineered SERE is that we have a government-sponsored, tax-payer-supported program that we know teaches US citizens to be torturers, and which has lead to the atrocities of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and more.

What is NOT new here is that Americans are using and teaching torture. US torture does not start with the Bush administration. What is new with Bush is the openness of his administration’s torture policy, and what Naomi Klein calls the “in-sourcing” of that policy. In-sourcing means US citizens are being taught to be torturers.

In Vietnam the US out-sourced much of the torture of the Phoenix Project, a complex of forty interrogations centers around South Vietnam, built and run by the CIA and the US military, but manned mostly with US-trained south Vietnamese interrogators. This complex of torture centers was responsible for the deaths of at least twenty thousand Vietnamese, and it tortured many thousands more. The training textbook for the Phoenix Project was the CIA’s 1963 training manual, the KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual, which has a whole chapter on “coercive techniques” and was the textbook for Phoenix Project training.

The CIA’s second interrogation manual also has a whole chapter on “coercive techniques”: The 1983 Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual. Both manuals “recommend arresting suspects early in the morning by surprise, blindfolding them, and stripping them naked. Suspects should be held incommunicado and should be deprived of any kind of normal routine in eating and sleeping. Interrogation rooms should be windowless, soundproof, dark and without toilets” (see “US Army and CIA Interrogation Manuals”). The manuals describe coercive techniques to be used "to induce psychological regression in the subject by bringing a superior outside force to bear on his will to resist."

The 1983 manual was the product of the US Army Foreign Intelligence Assistance Program, also called Project X. Both manuals were presented as evidence during the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1988. These hearings were the response to abuses by the CIA-trained death squads in Honduras. These death squads, and many others like them, trained in Panama at the US-run School of the Americas, also know as “the School of the Assassins,” and “the School of Coups.” Since the rise of Castro, the School of the Americas has been an anti-communist counterinsurgency training school taught by CIA and US military, and taught solely in Spanish. The curriculum included torture and other tools of counterinsurgency. In 2000, the School of the Americas was given the new Orwellian name, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, and moved out of Panama to the US. The name and location has changed, but it is doubtful that the curriculum has.

When it comes to teaching torture, SERE seems to me like elementary school when compared to the graduate programs of the Phoenix Project, the School of the Americas, and the myriad CIA programs throughout the coldwar. The CIA has had torture expertise since its inception during WWII. Again, what is new is that US citizens are being taught to torture rather than out-sourcing to citizens of Latin America or South Vietnam, and that this administration is relatively open about torturing. What is old is that the US continues to produce world-class torturers and to be guilty of world-class war crimes. The CIA and US military learned from the Nazis and Japanese during and after WWII, and then field-tested in Vietnam and Latin America their pseudo-scientific and criminal research of the 1950s done on psychiatric patients and prisoners (See "Prisoner Abuse" below). What is new is that after 9/11 the Bush administration has basically demanded the right to torture openly and so far the American Psychological Association, congress, and much of the country has gone right along with it.

After Abu Ghraib, Bush had to choose a venue to make his ridiculous “We do not torture” speech. He chose Panama City, about an hour from the former home of the School of the Americas. Even if the “we” goes beyond his administration to the US in general, my basic point here is that “we do torture.” US torture doesn’t start with Bush and 9/11. It goes beyond SERE, and beyond Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. WE DO torture - WE DO secret prisons - WE DO rendition - WE DO abolish habeas corpus.

We need to come to terms with who WE are and what WE DO.

Thank you.

See also:

Prisoner Abuse: Patterns from the Past, U.S. National Security Archive, May 12, 2004:
"Throughout the 1950s and early ’60s, the CIA -- the lead agency doing interrogations at Abu Ghraib -- financed and conducted secret research on coercion and human consciousness, McCoy said. 'The scale of that research should not be minimized. By the late ’50s, it reached a billion dollars a year. The agency was providing the majority of the funding for a half-dozen leading psychology departments.'”

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