Many of the controversial interrogation tactics used against terror suspects in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo were modeled on techniques the U.S. feared that the Communists themselves might use against captured American troops during the Cold War, according to a little-noticed, highly classified Pentagon report released several days ago. Originally developed as training for elite special forces at Fort Bragg under the "Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape" program, otherwise known as SERE, tactics such as sleep deprivation, isolation, sexual humiliation, nudity, exposure to extremes of cold and stress positions were part of a carefully monitored survival training program for personnel at risk of capture by Soviet or Chinese forces, all carried out under the supervision of military psychologists.This conclusion may not exactly qualify as "news" to my regular readers.
This troubling disclosure was made in the blandly titled report, "Review of DoD-Directed Investigations of Detainee Abuse", which for the first time sets forth the origins as well as new details of many of the abusive interrogation techniques that led to scandals at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere — techniques that some critics contend the Pentagon still has not gone far enough in explicitly banning.
The report, completed last August but only declassified and made public on May 18, suggests that the abusive techniques stemmed from a much more formal process than the Defense Department has previously acknowledged.
And the explanation we're given smells a lot like a limited hangout -- a lie intended to fix a bit of blame and draw a bit of fire while leaving the real story untold.
But seeing it in a mainstream publication is still a mildly pleasant surprise.
In response to fallout over the well-documented cases of prisoner abuse — which included prolonged isolation, sensory deprivation (visual and auditory), forced removal of clothing, exploiting prisoners phobias (notably fear of dogs), and threats against family members — the Pentagon began scaling back the use of SERE tactics in 2002 and eventually banned them altogether.Or did they?
The Army Field Manual, which serves as a primary guide for U.S. military interrogation, now specifically rules out the use of a variety of SERE-founded techniques including water-boarding, a form of simulated drowning, as well as the use of dogs.Fortunately nobody connected with the Pentagon or with the current administration would ever use ambiguity and doubt to their advantage. Would they?
But critics remain concerned that the Pentagon's clean-up has not gone far enough. In the letter to Secretary Gates, dated May 31, 2007, the non-profit Physicians for Human Rights cites an appendix of the current Army Field Manual that "explicitly permits what amounts to isolation, along with sleep and sensory deprivation." The letter, signed by retired Army General Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and former senior medical commander, and Leonard Rubenstein, the organization's executive director, also points out that the current Field Manual remains "silent on a number of other SERE-based methods (including sensory overload and deprivation) creating ambiguity and doubt over their place in interrogation doctrine."
In 2006, the Pentagon issued revised guidelines reducing the role of psychiatrists as members of U.S. military interrogation teams, partly in response to critics who contend that doctors, who take an oath as caregivers, should not be involved in non-therapeutic or abusive treatment. But the Physicians for Human Rights letter says that even the Pentagon's new and revised guidelines continue to call on military psychologists to play a central part in interrogations, which the group calls "dangerous" and inappropriate. The Pentagon says it has fully investigated all abuses and taken appropriate measures to prevent any kind of recurrence.Yeah, sure. The fox locks the henhouse every night, too.
Even assuming that Pentagon reforms have succeeded in cleaning up the worst excesses of U.S. interrogations, a number of experts have grave doubts that current policies are either workable or effective. Members of the Intelligence Science Board, many of whom serve as consultants to the Pentagon, have recently argued that U.S. interrogation policy involves a grab-bag of outmoded techniques, many dating from the 1950s, that ignore lessons learned from law enforcement and lack cultural sensitivity to Arab and other foreign prisoners. The kind of insensitivity, critics might now add, that we once assumed only our worst enemies would show their foreign prisoners.Except we wouldn't have called it "insensitivity", would we? We would have called it by its proper name, but we can't use that word anymore, can we?
No! and there are a lot of other things we can barely hint at, if we want to reach readers in the quantities that only the mainstream media -- and the most brain-damaged of "progressive blogs" -- can provide.
All this should have been in the mainstream news ages ago, but better late than never, I suppose. So here's a tip of the frozen cap to Adam Zagorin and TIME Magazine for helping to move the story along, even if it's only a single drop in the bucket, and even if it comes several years too late.
All those drops add up. And even in Bushzarro World, something is better than nothing.