Reprinted by author from Firedoglake
The great novelist William Faulkner famously wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past."
With all the controversy over the use of Survival, Evasion, Escape, Resistance, or SERE, psychologists in the interrogation of "high-value detainees" -- most recently detailed in a fascinating melange of an article in last Sunday's Washington Post -- everyone seems to assume that terrible chapter is a thing of the past. Recent documentation that has come to my attention suggests otherwise.
The reasons no one until now has noticed the current activities of SERE psychologists in offensive military operations are that, one, no one has cared to look, and two, a specious narrative ending in the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) report, "Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody," released last April, that appeared to conclude the episode was over. In its Executive Summary, the SASC concluded that, in September 2004, "JFCOM [U.S. Joint Forces Command] issued a formal policy stating that support to offensive interrogation operations was outside JPRA's charter." And that, presumably, was that.
JPRA, or Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, operates under U.S. Joint Forces Command, and is responsible for "for shaping and enabling the planning, preparation and coordination of personnel recovery for DoD." Its mission is subordinated to the preparation of U.S. military personnel for capture, and organizing "tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) to assist the services in conducting joint recovery operations." The SERE program is supposed to train personnel for what to expect if they are captured, and prepare them for the onerous rigors of brutal captivity and torture.
The SASC report essentially tells the story of how JPRA and SERE went off the rails after 9/11. It presents a compelling documentary narrative of how Bush administration officials, eager to get information from prisoners newly captured in the "war on terror," for operational needs, or to manufacture intel to back up their plans to invade Iraq, or other nefarious purposes, found in JPRA/SERE an ambitious group of individuals eager to promote themselves and expand the work of their agency. Elsewhere, I have documented that some of these folk also were motivated by money.<!--more-->
The SASC narrative demonstrates, with sundry gaps, how SERE training for captivity was "reverse-engineered" into a torture program that spread throughout the various theatres of U.S. military and intelligence activities, from the CIA to DoD prison operations at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere. The narrative describes both the support, and sometimes resistance, of various officers within the military bureaucracy to the spread of SERE offensive techniques.
But while the Executive Summary concludes with the spanking of JPRA and various officers for allowing JPRA and SERE to operate outside their charter -- indeed, this straining against the mandated charter of JPRA is a central theme of the SASC report -- and concludes SERE was shut out of "offensive" operations --the documentary portion of the report presents a different, more nuanced, ending. To better understand the importance of the latter, we must first consider how we know that SERE psychologists, in 2009, are back in the "offensive operations" business.
SERE Returns to the Battlefield
An extraordinary piece of information lies buried in a June 15, 2009 Air Force Special Operations Command Instruction (48-101) on "Aeromedical Special Operations." This document ostensibly "establishes Mission Qualification and Mission Ready clinical medical training requirements for AFSOC operational medical personnel," and notes "compliance with this publication is mandatory."
While the Instruction appears to apply only to U.S. Air Force support by medical personnel, Section 5.7, in the chapter for "Medical Operations," presents something totally different. This section describes the functions of Special Forces Psychologists (SOFPSY), who are composed of "those SERE and Aviation qualified psychologists assigned to AFSOC operational units." These psychologists are now instructed to provide "psychological oversight of battlefield interrogation and detention," among other functions.
The Instruction details the
functions of Special Operations Psychologists, and it's hard to believe
they are talking about medical issues here. An in-depth look at what
the document actually says is in order (bold emphases added):
22.214.171.124. The primary responsibility of the SOFPSY is to support AFSOC operational units and missions through battlefield interventions and consultation, and in-garrison preparation for, and reconstitution from, combat operations. They do this by providing psychological consultation and services to include:- Advertisement -
126.96.36.199.1. Unit and individual performance enhancement.
188.8.131.52.2. Unit climate assessments.
184.108.40.206.3. Personnel selection programs.