Saturday, April 18, 2009

Call the ACLU...

....I'm a past victim of U.S. government torture.

Of course, I never made that connection until the other day, when the Obama Administration released memos on that subject from the Bush White House. Reviewing various media accounts of the documents--including this one from the Washington Times--I discovered that I was subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques." Of course, no one used that term at the time; we called it "survival school."

Back in the day, your humble correspondent was a military aircrew member. Part of my training included a 17-day course at the U.S. Air Force Survival School, located at Fairchild AFB, Washington. The school provides detailed instruction in Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) techniques, essential information for anyone who might find themselves on the lam in bad-guy territory, or even worse, in enemy hands.

We learned resistance measures in a realistic training environment; a mock POW camp, complete with guards, barbed wire and interrogators. I haven't been back to Fairchild in more than a decade, but during my time as a student (the early 1990s), we endured two stays in the camp--and exposure to those interrogation techniques, the same ones used on captured terrorists.

Being placed in a confinement box? Yep, been there, done that. In fact, virtually everyone in my group at Fairchild enjoyed that experience. According to the Times, senior Al Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah, spent a little time in the box, with an added treat: insects. Apparently, interrogators discovered that Mr. Zubaydah had a fear of bugs, so they placed a few in the box to make him talk. But, as the memos cautioned, the insects placed inside the confinement box could not be "harmful."

The other techniques approved by the Bush Administration would also be familiar to anyone who's been through a DoD SERE course: conditioning techniques (such as sleep deprivation and dietary manipulation); "corrective" measures (including facial and abdominal slaps; facial holds and attention grabs, and "coercive" steps that were considered the most effective.

Approved techniques in that latter category ranged from water-boarding; cramped confinement, dousing with cold water and stress position. I never saw anyone water-boarded during my SERE class, but the other tactics were common-place.

During one stay in the mock POW camp, I spent more than twelve hours in a pitch-black isolation box, unable to fully stand or lay down. After 10 hours or so, I began to experience hallucinations. So did my classmates. Again, we didn't consider it torture. It was training--training that one day, might have saved our lives.

Mr. Obama's decision to release the memos has been rightly criticized. Former CIA Director General Mike Hayden believes the disclosures jeopardize national security, providing new details on how far the U.S. is willing to go during terrorist interrogations.

Making matters worse, the administration has suspended use of these "harsh" techniques, which have been described as torture by various politicians and human rights groups. But the memos actually reveal that such measures were used carefully, in a controlled environment. Guidelines contained in the documents mandate the presence of medical personnel and psychologists when the interrogation tactics were employed (emphasis ours).

The Bush memos affirm what we've said all along; the kerfuffle over alleged "torture" at Gitmo (and other interrogation sites) is more about politics that legitimate human rights issues. Most of the techniques used on captured terrorists are identical to those found in military training. Even the most coercive measure--the dreaded water boarding--was used on only a handful of high-value prisoners, and for only the briefest periods of time. Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the Al Qaida ops chief, broke down after only 30 seconds of water boarding.

And, did we mention that information derived through these measures saved countless American lives? Will President Obama reconsider his ban when interrogators can't obtain the right information and a terror plan succeeds? Mr. Obama--and his supporters in the media--have been rather quiet on that one.

The commander-in-chief has vowed not to prosecute intelligence officers who used the "torture" methods on suspected terrorists. But that won't stop the ACLU. A spokesman suggested that his organization may consider lawsuits against current and former interrogators. I'm still waiting to hear if they will take my case.

Oh that's right. I signed that waiver at survival school, releasing the government from any liability. Makes me wonder if Mr. Obama will prepare an executive order, absolving himself of any responsibility, just in case that "ban on torture" backfires.


opus said...

I was under the impression that all the things discussed in the memos hadn't been used, like the bug in a box. So people are crying about things that were never even done.

Brian Chabot said...

I wouldn't consider the things in the memos torture. I consider them what I'd call "stress techniques".

For torture, think more along the lines of hanging by wrist shackles, rubber hoses, hat pins through thumb joints, etc.

Although I'm not in the know, I've read what has been available to me on the subject and from what I gather, actual torture has little positive effect. The great effect is the *threat* of torture... Knowing (or believing) that loved ones will be tortured seems to be just as effective.

I'll grant that my primary source is rather old, being the 1963 "Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation" paper that was declassified in 1997. Section IX talks clearly about coercive techniques. If there is a better unclassified source out there, I'd be interesting in reading it.

DangerGirl said...

Bugs in a box, slapping, simulating drowning, placing detainees in close proximity to an animal they find intimidating...this is torture? Sounds more like episodes of "Fear Factor" where stunts, meant to challenge the contestants mentally involved ingesting a revolting animal, such as a cockroach, or being covered in tarantulas. It could also involve getting close to an animal which many people would find intimidating.

Can we indite NBC, the host Joe Rogan, and the sponsors of the show?

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 04/21/2009 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

Rivrdog said...

I had that course, in 1981, IIRC. No, we didn't have a "waiver" to sign. Navy participants had it worse than us Wind Force types: under THEIR R.O.E., they could suffer a broken bone as part of training. Our R.O.E. said we had to end our tour in one piece, physically, at least.

Unknown said...

Rivrdog--Was that "broken bone" waiver for Navy folks in the "basic" USAF survival course (SVA 80-A), or a more advanced program? Drop me an e-mail at icspook86@hotmail.colm

NG said...

Well, I too went through the USAF Survival School, way back when. I had everything done to me that you say, and more. Had my knees bruised up, had the hallucinations, had the verbal abuse...the works.

Are you seriously comparing that 10 hours in "the box", which you knew would end, to what was done to Zubaydah? Any bugs in your box? Could you have taken it for, oh say...*forever* (as far as you knew)?

Which other tactics did you experience or see that compared with partial downing 83 times?

You are a braggart, and purposely pumping up your experience to downplay what was done to American servicemaen in order make a political point. And we both know it.

You say, "information derived through these measures saved countless American lives". Pure, unadulterated propaganda.
Totally unproven.

Worse, you hide the essential point of the USAF Training; as Americans we demand that our troops never be mistreated because we never do it to others.

The Bush Admin now has guaranteed that our guys will get tortured or killed from now on.

You are a sad, low person to use the Air Force Survival School, whose main purpose was to protect GIs, for you petty...and false...political points.