My Experience With Abusive Interrogation Tactics

[AmericanProgress recently launched, a campaign to support the McCain anti-torture legislation now being held up by conservatives in Congress. Our guest blogger, Peter Bauer, is a former U.S. Army military intelligence interrogator who served during the Gulf War with the 3rd Armored Division.]

During the latter days of the Cold War and the quite warm days of the first Gulf War, I served in the United States Army as an Interrogator (MOS 97E). As a graduate of the Interrogation program at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School, Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, I received comprehensive training on acceptable interrogation techniques, as well as training in adherence to the Geneva Conventions.

But it’s not that training that produced my firm conviction that torture and “coercive interrogation techniques” are ineffective intelligence gathering techniques. It is my experience using such techniques myself, as an instructor in resistance to interrogation.

Working with US and NATO troops as part of a program called “Survival Evasion Resistance Escape” (SERE), I used these techniques on our own and allied troops. SERE training prepares soldiers, airmen, and commandos most likely to be captured for a worst-case scenario. It helps them learn how to avoid jeopardizing missions (and the lives of their brothers in arms) by resisting abusive treatment and harsh interrogations.


As a quid pro quo for providing this training, the interrogators involved were also allowed to hone their own skills, using doctrinally-approved interrogation techniques as well. Even when working with such elite troops as the US Special Forces and the British SAS, we found that the standard interrogation techniques found in the US Army Field Manual 34–52 were far more effective than such abusive behavior as stress positions, sensory deprivation, and humiliation. We obtained more information — and more reliable information — with our basic skills than we did with even days of harsh treatment.

As an interrogator, it was also critical to keep in mind the reliability of the information being obtained from a source. When the subject was convinced (or even tricked) into cooperating, the intelligence gathered proved to be reliable. On the other hand, it quickly became evident, even in my early days of resistance training, that when subjected to harsh treatment, the tendency is indeed to say whatever the subject believes will make the abuse stop. And that, I learned, is generally not the truth.

— Peter Bauer