Ex-trainer: Government officials think interrogation is like TV's '24'
The US military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance anmd Escape (SERE) training -- designed to prepared captured soldiers to resist abusive interrogation -- has recently drawn attention as the direct source of the torture techniques used by the CIA and US military on detainees.
Former SERE trainer and military interrogator Colonel Steven Kleinman is angered by what he sees as the way SERE techniques have been misused. He told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Wednesday, "The SERE program is a very, very noble program. It's designed and run by some of the most incredible patriots you'd ever want to encounter. But it's designed for one purpose -- and that is to help our military personnel who should find themselves in harm's way, allow them to return with honor by introducing them to the worst possible scenarios."
Kleinman was scathing in his criticism of the Bush administration officials who, in his opinion, misapplied SERE techniques because of a fundamental misunderstand of their purpose. "At the very senior levels of government," he stated, "the understanding of the complexities of interrogation is rare, it really is. It's probably shaped more by the television show 24 than by practitioners of the art."
Kleinman said he realized that SERE was being misused when he was sent to Iraq in 2003 to offer advice to young and inexperienced interrogators. He testified last fall before the Senate Intelligence Committee that he had witnessed detainees under interrogation being repeatedly slapped hard across the face after every response and subjected to sleep deprivation and stress positions. Eventually he "told the task force commander that the methods were unlawful and were in violation of the Geneva Conventions."
During a 2007 interview, Kleinman explained how the SERE techniques first came to be adapted to detainee interrogation:
"When we realized interrogation was going to be very important after 9/11, the [CIA] apparently looked within its capabilities, its personnel, and found that they didn't have a real formal structured interrogation capability," Kleinman stated. "So they did the right thing, they started to look for that capability elsewhere, outside the confines of Langley. But the question I struggle with is allegedly they had hired two clinical psychologists who had extensive experience in SERE. ... And I thought, did the CIA not understand the difference between SERE resistance training and interrogation for intelligence purposes? And if they didn't, I can't -- I find that shocking."
"There's a lot of people," Kleinman concluded in speaking with Maddow, "who don't understand the difference between a model that would train people to resist harsh interrogation ... to compel people to produce propaganda, and intelligence interrogation, which is designed to elicit cooperation, and therefore timely, accurate, and comprehensive intelligence. ... They appear almost similar on the surface, but there's very, very profound differences, and those two cannot be crossed."
This video is from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, broadcast Apr. 22, 2009.
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