Saturday, August 23, 2008

Susan Collins: torture of prisoners was "inappropriate"

Original Link:

by: Gerald

Lost in the shuffle yesterday was this news brief by Jonathan Kaplan in the PPH:

The Pentagon's harsh interviewing tactics against detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba cribbed from the U.S. military's resistance training programs were "inappropriate," Republican Sen. Susan Collins said on Tuesday.
The Senate Armed Services Committee revealed at a hearing on Tuesday that top Pentagon lawyers began compiling lists of interrogation methods used by the military's elite Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Schools in July 2002, much earlier than previously had been known.

"It seems that it was more logical for the (Pentagon) to go to the FBI for assistance than to try to figure out how the SERE techniques could be re-engineered for interrogation since that's not at all what the purpose of the SERE techniques were," Collins said during the hearing.

I'm shocked, SHOCKED, that the Senate is just now getting around to investigating how SERE techniques were used on detainees held by our government at Git Mo and other places, since this was first reported in the media nearly three years ago.

From the 11 July 2005 issue of the New Yorker is this:

"I'd be proud to let the media see anything in this camp," Colonel Mike Bumgarner, the commander of the Joint Detention Operations Group, the military unit that oversees the daily handling of detainees, said. "I'd gladly invite the world in to see our guards in action. I'm very proud of what they do. They treat the detainees humanely." Meals, he said, were excellent. "They get honey-glazed chicken and rice pilaf. They get lemon-baked fish." He noted that some detainees don't like to have their vegetables touching their meat: "So we serve them separately, in little Styrofoam clamshells, like the ones you get at a fast-food restaurant." He went on, "We have to be like the parents here. In loco parentis. That's how we look at it. It's like a big family."

From the beginning, however, the Guantánamo Bay prison camp was conceived by the Bush Administration as a place that could operate outside the system of national and international laws that normally govern the treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody. Soon after September 11th, the Administration argued that the Guantánamo site, which America had been leasing from the Cuban government since 1903, was not bound by the Geneva Conventions. Moreover, the Administration claimed that terrorist suspects detained at the site were not ordinary criminals or prisoners of war; rather, they would be classified under a new rubric, "unlawful combatants." This new class of suspects would be tried not in U.S. courts but in military tribunals, the Administration announced. In February, 2002, President Bush issued a broad directive that required American troops to treat detainees "humanely," in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions, within the limits of "military necessity." A year later, he explicitly denounced the use of torture.

The theory behind the sere program is that soldiers who are exposed to nightmarish treatment during training will be better equipped to deal with such terrors should they face them in the real world. Accordingly, the program is a storehouse of knowledge about coercive methods of interrogation. One way to stimulate acute anxiety, sere scientists have learned, is to create an environment of radical uncertainty: trainees are hooded; their sleep patterns are disrupted; they are starved for extended periods; they are stripped of their clothes; they are exposed to extreme temperatures; and they are subjected to harsh interrogations by officials impersonating enemy captors. (Colonel Hans Bush, a spokesman at Fort Bragg, declined to "disclose the details of the specific challenges our students face.") Research in social psychology has shown that a person's capacity for "self-regulation"-the ability to moderate or control his own behavior-can be substantially undermined in situations of high anxiety. If, for instance, a prisoner of war is trying to avoid revealing secrets to enemy interrogators, he is much less likely to succeed if he has been deprived of sleep or is struggling to ignore intense pain.

According to the sere affiliate and two other sources familiar with the program, after September 11th several psychologists versed in sere techniques began advising interrogators at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere. Some of these psychologists essentially "tried to reverse-engineer" the sere program, as the affiliate put it. "They took good knowledge and used it in a bad way," another of the sources said. Interrogators and bsct members at Guantánamo adopted coercive techniques similar to those employed in the sere program. Ideas intended to help Americans resist abuse spread to Americans who used them to perpetrate abuse. Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Virginia, is a scholar of state-sponsored experiments on humans. He says, "If you know how to help people who are stressed, then you also know how to stress people, in order to get them to talk."

Democracy Now! had this interview on 25 June 2007:

AMY GOODMAN: Explain just what the SERE program is.
MARK BENJAMIN: The SERE program is a Cold War era program, where we literally set up mock prisons at places like Fort Bragg, North Carolina, which is where we have sort of the flagship program, where elite soldiers-for example, Special Forces soldiers-are subject to brutal mock interrogations. As I mentioned, waterboarding is just one of the things that they face-isolation in very, very small pens, hooding, that kind of thing, stress positions. And it is intended to teach those soldiers to resist those illegal tactics if they are captured.

And that raises an obvious problem. If you're going to take that training, which is designed to get people to resist illegal interrogations, and flip it around to interrogation tactics, which is now what we're learning the Pentagon and the CIA both did, you're very likely, obviously, to come up with tactics that are violations of the Geneva Conventions. That's a problem for the Bush administration, which has been saying that their tactics are safe, effective and legal. SERE training is not designed to be safe, effective or legal.

Indeed, it seems it was designed to be inappropriate.

(I'll also point to this amazing interview by Amy Goodman of Prof. Alfred McCoy about the history of torture and the CIA.)

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