Pentagon ‘Migrated’ Soviet Cold War Torture Techniques to Guantanamo, Iraq

Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) is a program designed to train U.S. soldiers to withstand torture if they are ever captured as prisoners of war. Developed during the Cold War, U.S. solders are subjected to techniques based “on how the Soviet Union and its allies were believed to treat prisoners,” including “prolonged use of stress positions, exposure to heat and cold, sleep deprivation and even waterboarding.”

A recently declassified investigation from the Department of Defense’s Inspector General confirms “how the military training was ‘reverse engineered’ for use by American interrogators,” training interrogators on more “effective” ways to elicit information:


Counterresistance techniques were introduced because personnel believed that interrogation methods used were no longer effective in obtaining useful information from some detainees. … On at least two occasions, the JTF-170 (interrogators) requested that Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (the agency conducting SERE training) instructors be sent to Guantanamo to instruct interrogators in SERE counterresistance interrogation techniques.

Those “counterresistance” techniques also migrated to Iraq, again at the orders of military officials:

The Joint Personnel Recovery Agency was also responsible for the migration of counterresistance interrogation techniques into the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility. In September 2003, at the request of the Commander. … Joint Personnel Recovery Agency sent an interrogation assessment team to Iraq to provide advice and assistance to the task force interrogation mission.

Because the techniques were so extreme, several intelligence officers “vehemently objected to the use of the techniques, but their protests were ignored.” The report notes:

SERE team members and TF-20 staff disagreed about whether SERE techniques were in compliance with the Geneva Conventions. When it became apparent that friction was developing, the decision was made to pull the team out before more damage was done to the relationship between the two organizations. The SERE team members prepared After Action Reports that detailed the confusion and allegations of abuse that took place during the deployment. These reports were not forwarded to the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said he found the Pentagon report “very troubling” would hold hearings on how the SERE training methods “migrated” into Iraq and Guantanamo as the basis for interrogation. “They were put to a purpose that was never intended,” he said.