The foundation of the “enhanced interrogation” program used by the Bush administration after 9/11 is a torture manual used to train U.S. military personnel to withstand brutal interrogation techniques if captured by the enemy during wartime, as reported by Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye at Truth-out.org.The 37-page document document, called the Pre-Academic Laboratory (PREAL) Operating Instructions, was originally prepared by the Department of defence’s (DOD) Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) and used by instructors in the JPRA’s Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) in role-playing scenarios with U.S. military personnel.
Air Force Col. Steve Kleinman, a career intelligence officer considered one of the DOD’s best interrogators as well as a former SERE instructor and director of intelligence for JPRA’s teaching academy, said that using these teaching techniques in real-life interrogations amounts to torture.
“In SERE courses, we emphatically presented this interrogation paradigm as one that was employed exclusively by nations that were in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions and international treaties against torture,” Kleinman said. “We proudly assured the students that we – the United States – would never resort to such despicable methods.”
After several meetings of top Bush administration officials, seven techniques from the PREAL manual — attention grasp, walling, facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, wall standing and stress positions — ended up in the August 2002 legal opinion of Justice Department attorney John Yoo and Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee that is widely referred to as the “torture memo.”
Administration officials also chose to enhance the intensity of these techniques: the PREAL manual states that “The maximum time allowed for a student to be in cramped confinement in 20 minutes,” but the Yoo memo states that confinement “in the larger space can last up to eighteen hours; for the smaller space confinement lasts no more than two hours.”
They also chose to add three methods of interrogation: insects placed in a confinement box, sleep deprivation and waterboarding.
Waterboarding, the most controversial technique used on 9/11 suspects, was drawn from other SERE documents the CIA and DOD obtained from JPRA, according to an investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee and reported by Truthout.
Khalid Shaik Mohammed — who was officially charged this week with planning the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003, and suspected Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, according to a 2005 Justice Department legal memo.
More than two decades ago, psychologist Bruce Jessen took notes on the PREAL techniques for a SERE survival-training course and wrote that the purpose of such techniques is a way of gaining “total control” over a prisoner and to make the prisoner feel “completely dependent” on his captors so they would “comply with [their] wishes,” according to a previous Truthout investigative report.
The purpose of such dependence, according to Jessen, who worked with [CIA psychologist James] Mitchell in designing Bush’s torture program, was to coerce the prisoner’s cooperation, the better to use the prisoner for “propaganda, special favours, confession, etc.”
The overall effect is called “learned helplessness,” and it is the key difference between experiencing these methods when in training and when captured by an enemy.
The critical distinction, according to Col. Kleinman, is that “detainees have no idea whether interrogators are using to intimidate them or to kill them” whereas SERE students have full confidence that instructors and medical personnel make sure that they won’t be injured during sessions.
So whereas the PREAL manual explicitly states that “Maximum effort will be made to ensure that students do not develop a sense of ‘learned helplessness'” during training, one of the main goals of the Bush administration’s torture program was to induce learned helplessness.
Col. Kleinman has publicly called for a thorough investigation into how and why the savage techniques made it into the interrogation doctrine that guided US-sanctioned operations.
“This is the guidebook to getting false confessions, a system drawn specifically from the communist interrogation model that was used to generate propaganda rather than intelligence,” Kleinman said in an interview. “If your goal is to obtain useful and reliable information this is not the source book you should be using.”
A 2006 memo released this week shows that at least one U.S. state department official strongly disagreed with the Bush administration’s secret legal interpretation that an international treaty against torture did not apply to CIA interrogations in foreign countries, according The Guardian.
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