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Roadmap to Torture

Wednesday 18 June 2008

by: Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent

Testimony reveals how torture resistance training, "SERE," became Pentagon's "enhanced" interrogations.

In August 2004, a Defense Dept. panel convened to investigate detainee abuse after the Abu Ghraib scandal issued its much-anticipated report. Interrogation techniques designed for use at Guantanamo Bay, which President George W. Bush had decreed outside the scope of the Geneva Conventions, had "migrated" to Iraq, which Bush recognized was under Geneva, concluded panel chairman James Schlesinger, a former defense secretary. Schlesinger's panel, however, did not explain which officials ordered the abusive techniques to transfer across continents - or how and why they became Pentagon policy in the first place.

Tuesday the Senate Armed Services Committee answered those questions. In a marathon hearing spanning eight hours and three separate panels, the committee revealed, in painstaking detail, how senior Pentagon officials transformed a program for Special Forces troops to resist torture - known as Survival Evasion Resistance Escape, or SERE - into a blueprint for torturing terrorism detainees.

(Matt Mahurin) The committee, chaired by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), released numerous classified documents from the crucial period of mid-2002 to early 2003, when the policies of abuse took shape inside the Defense Dept. "Senior officials in the United States government sought information on aggressive techniques, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality and authorized their use against detainees," Levin said. "In the process, they damaged our ability to collect intelligence that could save lives."

The SERE program - first introduced to many by a 2005 article by the New Yorker's Jane Mayer - is not an interrogation program. Nor is it an intelligence-collection program. Instead, it's an obscure program across the different military services' special-forces wings that teaches troops how to withstand torture if captured. Instructors subject students - under the rigorous watch of psychologists and physicians - to various torture techniques, including waterboarding, prolonged stress positions, sleep deprivation and sensory manipulation. Waterboarding "is an overwhelming experience that induces horror, triggers a frantic survival instinct," Malcolm Nance, a former Navy SERE instructor who was himself waterboarded, testified to Congress in November. "As the event unfolded, I was fully conscious of what was happening: I was being tortured."

On July 25, 2002, the Defense agency that oversees the SERE program, known as the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, or JPRA, was contacted by a representative of Pentagon General Counsel William Haynes for information about SERE practices for the "exploitation process" - that is, getting detainees to cooperate with their interrogators. The next day, JPRA's chief of staff, Air Force Lt. Col. Daniel Baumgartner, sent Haynes a lengthy memorandum explaining how the program worked.

Before the Senate panel, Baumgartner said he did not realize that Haynes wanted to use SERE techniques on enemy combatants. "I had no idea how it would be used," he testified. "When tasked by my higher headquarters... I can't really turn around and tell the flag officers and the senior executive service people no."

Haynes, who retired from the Pentagon in April, after his nomination to the federal judiciary foundered, pled ignorance. "No, sir, I don't remember it at the time," Haynes said when asked if he had received Baumgartner's memorandum. "But I saw it a long time ago... it's possible I saw it at the time."

Pressed by Levin on how he could not have seen a memorandum concerning terrorism detentions and interrogations, Hayes replied, "the recipient is the Office of the Secretary of Defense General Counsel, which [was] not my precise title."

Baumgartner's memorandum was not the last time SERE techniques were introduced into the interrogation bloodstream. On the week of Sept. 16, 2002, JPRA officials invited a contingent of senior Guantanamo-based officers to a briefing session at Ft. Bragg, N.C. Haynes and his legal counterparts at the Central Intelligence Agency, Justice Dept. and the vice president's office visited Guantanamo the following week for an update on interrogations. The minutes of that meeting record that the commander of the detention facility "did take Mr. Haynes and a few others aside for private conversations."

Just the week after that, a senior CIA lawyer, Jonathan Fredman, instructed Guantanamo officers on various SERE-pedigreed torture methods, including waterboarding. "If the detainee dies," Fredman said, "you're doing it wrong." In response, the chief Guantanamo Bay attorney, Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, said, "We will need documentation to protect us."

It would be a fateful decision. On Oct. 11, 2002, Beaver's boss,

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    I have no doubt that this is true. And I'm sure it came from the very top.

  • 1 decade ago

    they crash planes into buildings killing many instantly and causing hundreds, possibly thousands to suffer a slow and painful death, and we make them have the feeling that they are drowing (which is said to be one of the least painful ways to die)....hmmm, we're sooo in the wrong on this one (sarcasm if u didn't catch it).

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