One of the key takeaway’s of the Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee treatment is the extent to which administration and military officials were warned that a). some SERE techniques amounted to torture and b). that they would be extremely ineffective at acquiring intelligence from prisoners. They were, after all, based on techniques used by Chinese Communists to elicit false confessions.
But the people who nonetheless approved of or supported the techniques weren’t swayed.
On September 16, 2003, a lawyer at U.S. Central Command named Major Carrie Ricci warned that the techniques being employed at Abu Ghraib—techniques like “dietary manipulation, environmental manipulation, sleep adjustment, sleep management, yelling, loud music, light control, stress positions” with origins in military resistance training—“appear to violate the [Geneva Convention] III, Article 17” To wit:
No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuses to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.
Ricci recommended that Combined Joint Task Force 7—the military formation that directed U.S. efforts in Iraq including, of course, Abu Ghraib—stick to the Army Field Manual except in the cases of “detainees who are not entitled to [Geneva Convention] protections,” or else to “seek SECDEF approval,” though she warned she was “doubtful some of these techniques will be approved.”
Interestingly, the Bush administration had acknowledged that the Geneva Conventions applied in Iraq—so it’s not clear which detainees would not have been entitled to protections—but nonetheless the policy wasn’t rescinded for another month.
Almost a full year before, though, a senior Army SERE psychologist named Lieutenant Colonel Morgan Banks had warned an Army behavioral scientist named Major Paul Burney that “the likelihood that the use of physical pressures will increase the delivery of accurate information from a detainee is very low. The likelihood that the use of physical pressures will increase the level of resistance in a detainee is very high.”
And right around that time, Mark Fallon, the Deputy Commander of the Pentagon’s Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF) tasked with investigating War on Terrorism detainees objected to the use of SERE techniques at Guantanamo on the grounds that he “was troubled with the rationale that techniques used to harden resistance to interrogations would be the basis for the utilization of techniques to obtain information.”
Unfortunately, Lieutenant Colonal Jerald Phifer, the Director for Intelligence at Guantanamo, was not swayed. “[H]arsh techniques used on our service members have worked and will work on some,” he said at a Counter Resistance Strategy Meeting in Guantanamo in October 2002, “what about those?”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.