Wednesday, May 20, 2009

SERE was exposure to brainwashing, not interrogation techniques

Over the past week it has become ever clearer that the Bush administration torture program took place during the time that Cheney was searching for 'evidence' of an Iraq-Al Qaeda link.

Now consider what a friend who works as a defense analyst just pointed out to me: The principle objective of SERE was to expose troops to the techniques used for brainwashing, not defense against interrogation.

The military has long understood that the best way to protect military secrets is not to reveal any information that is not strictly necessary to any personnel who might be captured. Torture is not an effective means of interrogating POWs, any information is almost certainly worthless by the time the victim is finally broken.

The Vietnamese objective was to break the US airmen to extract 'confessions' and 'denunciations' for propaganda. The Pentagon began the SERE program in an attempt to avoid or at least mitigate similar embarrassments in future conflicts.

It is not just the timing of the torture that is suspicious therefore, the techniques themselves are suspicious. At a time when Cheney is known to be looking for any evidence that might be used to support a claim of an Iraq-Al Qaeda link the Pentagon stops using the techniques known to be most effective for interrogation on their prime Al Qaeda prisoners and instead begins to use techniques known to be most effective for brainwashing.

The timing and the techniques provide two pieces of the puzzle. The destruction of the torture tapes provide a third. The fact that the administration had employed torture was already known at the time that the tapes were destroyed. The surviving records will almost certainly reveal the names of the staff involved. Destruction of the tapes clearly served no intelligence purpose and was clearly not going to be sufficient to derail the investigation into the use of torture during interrogations that had already begun. The only reason to destroy the tapes would be if it demonstrated that the purpose of the torture was for something other than interrogation, such as brainwashing the prisoner into confessing to the existence of a fictious Iraq-Al Qaeda relationship.

If the purpose of the torture is in fact proved to have been brainwashing rather than interrogation it changes the game entirely. The infamous Yoo and Bybee memos do not provide immunity for the use of torture in a brainwashing program, nor does the immunity provided by Congress.

All of which makes the current GOP attacks on Pelosi more understandable. The GOP can probably survive a truth commission into the use of torture for interrogations, but it knows that even its bedrock support in the heartlands is not going to forgive it if the scope of the commission expands to considering the fabrication of evidence used to make the case for a disastrous war.

(also posted to Talking Points Memo Cafe)

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