Since WWII, the United States forces have conducted one or another form or what’s now called SERE, “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape”, training. The obvious intent is to prepare those going in harm’s way, particularly operating in or flying over enemy territory. Aircraft crash, or get shot down; unplanned and unforeseen events occur whenever service people are in enemy territory. Knowing how to shelter, hide, escape, fight back and resist interrogation are teachable skills and our services teach them.
SERE materials were at least one point of departure for the Bush II administration’s immoral and counter-productive “enhanced interrogation technique” debacle. None of the chicken-hawks in the Bush II administration had faced hostile fire or been trained to resist interrogation. But if you looked for experience and systematic application of illegal and immoral treatment to hostile captives, in the US Defense complex, you’d quickly find the Resistance training and the simulated interrogations.
And de-briefing of survivors of real interrogations by the bad guys, of course.
The simulated interrogations in SERE training should have taken in all that they could from real experience. And SERE would have training material explaining to the interrogators: what to do, how to do it, where our “bright lines” are, etc. Also, serious, real, experience of how the training interrogations were applied to our own people, how effective they were, what techniques we taught to oppose interrogation etc.
A number of people would have been derelict in their duty if all the records, training materials, etc, didn’t exist, and it would have been further dereliction if this stuff wasn’t brought out when “W” and Cheney wanted to throw out the rule book and start abusing prisoners. At least I hope so.
But there’s one other thing about SERE that poorly supports being used for enhanced interrogation techniques. Getting “actionable intelligence” is a goal of any interrogation, but North Vietnam, North Korea and Iraq were fighting propaganda wars as well as shooting wars, and they really wanted their captives to confess their “crimes” to the international media. Even after the length of their captivity made any factual revelation of limited value, fake confessions to evil intent and behavior were highly desired. No doubt SERE prepared trainees for this as well. Thus SERE interrogators weren’t just trying to get actionable intelligence, they were also trying to coerce fake confessions. Coercing fake confessions wouldn’t be any benefit if applied to “high value” al-Qaeda or ISIL captives. We wanted to know what they knew, not force them to say what we wanted to hear.
Whether the SERE playbook separated interrogation for facts from “interrogation” to coerce lies, the fact is that the two activities were NOT separated, in practice, by our enemies. How well our nation’s intelligence folks separated before they were tried on random victims isn’t something I expect I’ll ever know. And I’m biased against “enhanced” techniques, I confess that. But I can’t believe that either copying our enemies, or the nastiest people we could ask, or using part of SERE’s play book, would lead to anything additional to what conventional, well-understood, interrogation as practiced, without “enhancement”, would yield.