The Jury Talks Back


Why SERE Training is Essentially Different Than Torture

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fritz @ 10:13 am

From “Harm School: Rape, S&M, and the Bush torture program” by William Saletan of Slate:

Fifth and most important, SERE is voluntary. “Students can withdraw from training,” Ogrisseg noted. In a report issued four months ago, the Armed Services Committee added that in SERE, “students are even given a special phrase they can use to immediately stop” any ordeal. The report concluded:

The SERE schools employ strict controls to reduce the risk of physical and psychological harm to students during training. Those controls include medical and psychological screening for students, interventions by trained psychologists during training, and code words to ensure that students can stop the application of a technique at any time should the need arise. Those same controls are not present in real world interrogations.


  1. Umm… the phrase “I’ll talk” comes to mind.

    Comment by Stashiu3 — 4/23/2009 @ 7:16 pm

  2. As I read the documents that have been released, medical and psychological screening and interventions were employed in the “real world” interrogations.

    Comment by Marv — 4/24/2009 @ 9:28 am

  3. Saletan is … something I am not allowed to say at Patterico’s. If he told me it was daylight outside, I’d check.

    Comment by nk — 4/24/2009 @ 10:06 am

  4. The point of the post is that regarding the question of whether waterboarding is torture or not, the response, as way of offering a kind of justification, “Well, we do it to our own troops,” is demonstrated to be flawed.

    And waterboarding may not be torture for other reasons.

    And, even if it is torture, it may be justified for still other reasons.

    But, comparing it to SERE training is a non-starter.

    My position is that even if waterboarding as torture is justified, it still requires punishment, i.e., the recognition that it is outside the law and that no law which aims at any decent standard of justice, e.g., the preservation of natural rights, can ever allow torture without undertaking a fatal self-contradiction.

    Comment by Fritz — 4/24/2009 @ 4:31 pm

  5. It can be compared to SERE training because all the protections during training are in place during an actual interrogation.

    1. SERE students can withdraw from training; jihadis can stop participating in terrorism.
    2. SERE students have a safety phrase; jihadis can say, “I’ll talk”.
    3. SERE students are medically and psychologically monitored during waterboarding; jihadis are medically and psychologically monitored during waterboarding (dead jihadis don’t give information).

    The primary differences spoken of in the article are features, not bugs. Uncertainty in the mind of a jihadi on how long or intense things will become makes it more effective. But we should know how long and how intense to make it, just as we do with SERE trainees. Supposition about whether interrogating a non-American results in harsher treatment is unproven and irrelevant because proper guidelines and oversight will prevent it from becoming a systemic problem. Might someone cross the line? Absolutely possible… when I was in Basic Training a Drill Sergeant was relieved for putting trainees at risk in training. He went outside the established policies and guidelines, but the oversight of senior drills and officers put an end to it and corrected the problem.

    Waterboarding is not, and should never be, a routine interrogation tactic. There should be strict oversight over when it is used. But to say that comparing SERE training is a non-starter is just saying that “I’m right, you’re wrong, so just shut up.” They’re not identical, that doesn’t mean they’re not comparable. Also, I don’t believe that either one is torture. If you want to avoid it, don’t go to SERE training or engage in terrorism.

    Comment by Stashiu3 — 4/24/2009 @ 5:20 pm

  6. There is still the question, “Will I die?” SERE trainees are pretty confident that they will not. Prisoners are not that they will not.

    Saletan is still an idiot.

    Comment by nk — 4/24/2009 @ 6:00 pm

  7. There is still the question, “Will I die?” SERE trainees are pretty confident that they will not. Prisoners are not that they will not.

    Saletan is still an idiot.

    Comment by nk — 4/24/2009 @ 6:00 pm

    But we are pretty confident they will not die. The fact jihadis are not confident is a positive, making it more likely they’ll say the magic phrase “I’ll talk”. Again, we’re not talking routine interrogations without oversight. Nor are we talking about lawful combatants subject to the Geneva Conventions. We are talking about evil people who murder innocents to advance a political/theological agenda. If they refuse to recognize limits, the only limits we should follow ourselves are the ones we knowingly choose not to go beyond. Waterboarding is not something I would choose to put off-limits in dealing with terrorists. To borrow a phrase from another debate, it should be “rare, safe, and legal”.

    Comment by Stashiu3 — 4/24/2009 @ 7:09 pm

  8. a fatal self-contradiction

    I agree that to a very large degree AG’s Justice Department tried to deny American justice within a framework of American Justice. An impossible task, in my opinion. I think that this should have been left entirely in the hands of our military with no civilian involvement. Certainly the DOJ and the FBI should have been kept away from it, and maybe even the CIA. A chimera, which is what Gitmo became, is a non-viable beast.

    Comment by nk — 4/25/2009 @ 7:38 am

  9. P.S. I still don’t like Saletan.

    Comment by nk — 4/25/2009 @ 7:39 am

  10. re: SERE school being voluntary.

    I suspect that it’s “voluntary” for certain MOS such as Naval Aviator in that if you really don’t care if you ever get a combat assignment, you don’t have to attend SERE.

    Comment by Phil Smith — 4/27/2009 @ 8:31 am

  11. Err, no, astroturfing pickle-biter, I doan theenk SERE ees watchou theenk eet ees.

    Comment by nk — 4/27/2009 @ 7:27 pm

  12. Fritz, could I get you to delete my Comment #11? It was totally uncalled for and I apologize to Phil Smith and everyone else here, for it. (Not as an excuse but as an explanation, I had been up for eighteen hours with a lot of things going on when I posted it.)

    Comment by nk — 4/28/2009 @ 5:43 am

  13. The worst thing is that “sundowning” is one symptom of a stage of Alzheimers. 😉

    Comment by nk — 4/28/2009 @ 5:47 am

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  15. Stashiu3,

    Excellent analysis, and I’m not saying that just because I agree with you. In fact, I hadn’t previously given much thought to a comparison of the waterboarding of SERE trainees with terrorism detainees, but your analysis strikes me as spot on.

    Comment by DRJ — 5/20/2009 @ 5:49 pm

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