My Photo
Location: United States

Monday, April 20, 2009

Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape

I saw a story today at Slate - Psychology and Torture - that mentions SERE. Here's what Wikipeda says of this, with some good links to stories leading up to where we stand today ....


In the U.S. military, SERE is an acronym for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape for a program that provides personnel, Department of Defense civilians and contractors with training in evading capture, survival skills and the military code of conduct. Established by the Air Force at the end of the Korean War (1950-53), it was extended during the Vietnam War (1959-75) to the Army and Navy. Most higher level SERE students are aircrew and special forces soldiers considered to be at high-risk of enemy capture .....

In July 2005 an article[4] in The New Yorker magazine alleged that psychologists who help direct the SERE curriculum have been advising the military at Guantanamo Bay detainment camp and other sites on interrogation techniques.

The SERE program's chief psychologist, Colonel Morgan Banks, issued guidance in early 2003 for the "behavioral science consultants" who helped to devise Guantánamo's interrogation strategy although he has emphatically denied that he had advocated the use of counter-resistance techniques used by SERE instructors to break down detainees. The New Yorker notes that in November, 2001 Banks was detailed to Afghanistan, where he spent four months at Bagram Air Base, "supporting combat operations against Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters".

In June 2006 an article on, an online magazine, confirmed finding a document obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through the Freedom of Information Act. A March 22, 2005, sworn statement by the former chief of the Interrogation Control Element at Guantánamo said SERE instructors taught their methods to interrogators of the prisoners in Cuba.[5] The article also claims that physical and mental techniques used against some detainees at Abu Ghraib are similar to the ones SERE students are taught to resist.

According to Human Rights First, the interrogation that lead to the death of Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush involved the use of techniques used in SERE training. According to the organization "Internal FBI memos and press reports have pointed to SERE training as the basis for some of the harshest techniques authorized for use on detainees by the Pentagon in 2002 and 2003."[6]

On June 17, 2008, Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times reported that the senior Pentagon lawyer Mark Schiffrin requested information in 2002 from the leaders of the Air Force's captivity-resistance program, referring to one based in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The information was later used on prisoners in military custody.[7] In written testimony to the Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing, Col. Steven Kleinman of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency said that a team of trainers that he was leading in Iraq were asked to demonstrate SERE techniques on uncooperative prisoners. He refused, but his decision was overruled. He was quoted as saying "When presented with the choice of getting smarter or getting tougher, we chose the latter." [8] Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has acknowledged that the use of the SERE program techniques to conduct interrogations in Iraq was discussed by senior White House officials in 2002 and 2003.[9] ....

[4] Mayer, Jane (2005-07-11). [ "THE EXPERIMENT: The military trains people to withstand interrogation. Are those methods being misused at Guantánamo?"]. Retrieved on 2009-04-02.

[5] Benjamin, Mark (2006-06-29). "Torture teachers". Retrieved on 2006-07-19.

[6] Hina Shamsi; Deborah Pearlstein, ed. Command's Responsibility: Detainee Deaths in U.S. Custody in Iraq and Afghanistan: Abed Hamed Mowhoush, Human Rights First, February 2006. Accessed 4 August 2008.

[7] Mazzetti, Mark. "Ex-Pentagon Lawyers Face Inquiry on Interrogation Role". The New York Times, June 17, 2008.

[8] Kleinman, Steven. "Officer: Military Demanded Torture Lessons". CBS News, July 25, 2008.

[9] Rice, Condoleezza "Rice admits Bush officials held White House talks on CIA interrogations" LA Times, September 26, 2008


Here's another link, one to an article by Elaine Scarry ...... The Difficulty of Imagining Other People .... in which she opines that the reason it's so easy to be cruel to others is that we don't see them as real people. With all of this torture stuff coming out in the news, I'm beginning to wonder if that's true or if the theory gives us too much credit.


Blogger Jack said...

Good try. Jack

4:15 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

There's so much about it in the papaers and other blogs like Abdrew Sullivan's so ...

5:17 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

I think growing insensitivity is, in both subject and object, a result of cruelty not the cause. I'm glad the Obama administration seems today to be more open to investigating the events of recent years.

7:29 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Richard,

I think you're right about the insensitivity. I wonder how much of the ability to feel empathy is a physical brain thing and how much is due to experience - not so easy to figure out, given the fact that the brain can actually be phusically changed by experience.

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

Hi Crystal, You've mentioned Krishnamurti a couple of times. I think he spoke to this, about awareness vs thought and experience suggesting that our capacity to just see or observe our fellow humans, animals, earth directly in the moment, without the habitual interference of thought, might somehow cure us of the burden of our experience and allow us to respond in a better more human way, with empathy. Maybe thats what Christ is able to do and teach in his encounters with us.

10:49 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Krishnamurti :)

In the Spiritual Exercises during the last week, there's a place where you're supposed to ask God to give you the grace of compassion and it's thought that people don't have this capacity themselves but that it must be a gift.

I don't know - I think it's complicated and maybe in some ways beyond our control. I saw a story in the news a while ago that said that when bullies hurt others, it gives them pleasure (a brain study). I don't know how people become or can become empathetic but it's creepy to think about all the people who are not.

12:05 PM  
Blogger cowboyangel said...

I just finished reading Jane Mayer's The Dark Side. It's incredibly disturbing on so many levels. Not only the torture, but the institutionalization and bureaucratization of torture.

Two former interrogators talked about losing one's soul. The one from the CIA said, "When you cross over that line of darkness, it's hard to come back. You lose your soul. You can do your best to justify it, but it's well outside the norm. You can't go to that dark a place without it changing you."

Obama wants us to move forward, but we never will until we as a country deal with what we've done. You can't "cross that line of darkness" and expect it not to affect us spiritually as a people.

4:19 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi William,

I think torture does do harm not just to the person tortured by to the torturer too. I think it's good all this stuff is coming out, though I guess many people don't want to examine it or what it means about us too closely.

4:27 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home