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Interrogation methods

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"......What I'am against is lying about it. I believe in war times extreme messures are necassary."

But not lying?  Does that make sense to you?

G M:

SERE in Transition

The Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape school at Camp Mackall, N.C., is undergoing some broad changes to make the SERE course an integral part of the Special Forces Qualification Course.

By Major Brian Hankinson

The Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school at Camp Mackall, N.C., is undergoing some broad changes to make the SERE course an integral part of the Special Forces Qualification Course (SFQC) to ensure that all Special Forces soldiers are SERE Level-C qualified; and to ensure that SERE remains relevant to the current operational environment. Under the direction of Major General James Parker, commanding general of the United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, SERE has integrated training in peacetime government detention and hostage detention (PGD/HD) into its curriculum and has adopted a new core captivity curriculum (CCC) that will greatly enhance and update resistance training. SERE has also significantly increased its student output and has moved from being taught at the end of the SFQC to becoming part of Phase II of the pipeline.
SERE has always existed as training in support of the Military Code of Conduct. The relationship between SERE training and the Code of Conduct has been formalized in a number of studies and documents since the 1970s. Of importance to Army SERE training is Army Regulation 350-30, Code of Conduct, Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Training, originally published in 1985 and updated in 2002. The current AR 350-30 supports Department of Defense level requirements as outlined in Department of Defense Directive 1300.7, Training and Education to Support the Code of Conduct, and Department of Defense Instruction 1300.21, Code of Conduct Training and Education. All of these documents establish three levels of Code of Conduct training.

Level-A is initial-entry-level training that all soldiers, enlisted and officers receive upon entering the service. It provides a minimum level of understanding of the Code of Conduct.

Level-B is designed for personnel whose “jobs, specialties or assignments entail moderate risk of capture and exploitation.” DoD 1300.21 lists as examples, “members of ground combat units, security forces for high threat targets and anyone in the immediate vicinity of the forward edge of the battle area or the forward line of troops.” Current operations in Iraq have shown that practically everyone deployed in theater falls under this category. Consequently, demand for Level-B training has proliferated exponentially, and it has become mandatory for most deploying forces. Level-B is conducted at the unit level, through the use of training-support packets containing a series of standardized lesson plans and videos.

Level-C is designed for personnel whose “jobs, specialties or assignments entail a significant or high risk of capture and exploitation.” AR 350-30 supports DoD 1300.21’s mandate: “As a minimum, the following categories of personnel shall receive formal Level-C training at least once in their careers: combat aircrews, special operations forces (e.g., Navy special warfare combat swimmers and special boat units, Army Special Forces and Rangers, Marine Corps force reconnaissance units, Air Force special tactics teams, and psychological operations units) and military attaché.” The SERE Level-C training facility at Camp Mackall is one of only four facilities within the DoD that is authorized to conduct Level-C training. The Air Force conducts training at Fairchild AFB, Wash., and the Navy has facilities in Brunswick, Maine, and at North Island, Calif. The Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., is in the process of building another Level-C facility.

With the exception of minor periodic adjustments in content and length, SERE instruction at Camp Mackall has changed little since Lieutenant Colonel Nick Rowe conducted the first Level-C course in 1986. The course spans three weeks with three phases of instruction, with the first phase consisting of approximately 10 days of academic instruction on the Code of Conduct and in SERE techniques that incorporate both classroom learning and hands-on field craft.

The second phase is a five-day field training exercise in which the students practice their survival and evasion skills by procuring food and water, constructing evasion fires and shelters and evading tracker dogs and aggressor forces for long distances. The final phase takes place in the resistance training laboratory, a mock prisoner-of-war camp, where students are tested on their individual and collective abilities to resist interrogation and exploitation and to properly apply the six articles of the Code of Conduct in a realistic captivity scenario. The course culminates with a day of debriefings in which the students receive individual and group feedback from the instructors. These constructive critiques help students process everything they have been through to solidify the skills they applied properly and to correct areas that need adjustment.

SERE Ramp-up

Over the past year, SERE has begun a transformation that will bring it on line with the transitioning SFQC, as well as make training more relevant to a broader spectrum of captivity environments. This transformation in SERE consists of three major changes: moving the course from its current position in the pipeline, increasing student output and incorporating new resistance-training techniques in PGD/HD.

Since its inception, SERE has been a stand-alone course, separate from, but working in conjunction with, the pipeline. Slots were primarily allocated to students in the SFQC but were also offered to other Army special operations forces, or ARSOF, such as Rangers, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment pilots and civil affairs and psychological operations personnel. The course also slotted students from other Army components, primarily aviators, airborne infantrymen and long-range-surveillance soldiers. Even though AR 350-30 mandates that all SF soldiers require SERE Level-C training, because the SFQC and SERE have been run separately, and because of limited space in the SERE course, not all SF soldiers have received SERE training in the past.

Beginning in 1998, with a directive from the commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) SERE Level-C became mandatory for all SFQC graduates before their assignment to an SF group. Furthermore, with AR 350-30 and DoD 1300.21 mandating SERE Level-C for all ARSOF, the demand for SERE increased substantially to accommodate all pipeline students, the backlog of SF Soldiers without SERE, and other slots needed for ARSOF and Army-component students. Also contributing to the growing demand for SERE Level-C training is the substantial number of Special Forces recruits, the “18 X-Rays,” who are joining the ranks, succeeding in assessment and selection and entering the SFQC. By fiscal year 2004, the steady state for SERE was 20 classes per year, with an average of 48 students per class, or 960 graduates per year. Even with this substantial output of students, SERE’s placement at the end of the pipeline contributed to a bottleneck effect that the transformation aims to correct.

To eliminate the bottleneck effect and to contribute to a more efficient pipeline, SERE has moved into Phase II of the SFQC. As students finish the fifth and final module of small-unit tactics, or SUT, they will immediately begin a SERE course. Until recently, each module of Phase II SUT was designed for 75-man classes. Now each module is training 90 students. SERE has had to ramp-up its capacity substantially to accommodate Phase II students and to continue to address students at the end of the pipeline, the backlog of SF Soldiers without SERE, and other ARSOF slots.

In April 2005, SERE began training 78 students per class. In October 2005, SERE again increased its student load by in-processing 100 students, the largest class in SERE history. To further accommodate the demand, SERE also increased its number of classes per year from 20 to 22, beginning in fiscal year 2005. At the end of FY 2005, SERE had graduated 1,287 students, a 34-percent increase over the FY 2004 average of 960. At the current rate of 22 classes of 90 to 100 students per class, SERE will have produced between 1,968 and 2,178 graduates by the end of FY 2006, an increase of between 100 percent and 127 percent of that average. The future steady state for SERE is to have the backlog worked off and to conduct 20 classes per year with the number of seats per class sufficient to accommodate the 20 Phase II SUT classes and slots for other ARSOF soldiers.

Peacetime Government/Hostage Detention

In 2002, the commander of SWCS tasked the Directorate of Training and Doctrine to establish a PGD/HD course to offer another high-risk Level-C capability that would focus on a broad spectrum of current captivity environments. The DOTD created a five-day curriculum, modeled after an existing course offered by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, to teach current DoD policy for the application of the Code of Conduct in a much broader range of captivity scenarios than offered in the traditional, or wartime SERE course. PGD/HD provides students with the situational awareness needed to resist exploitation in a number of unpredictable environments common in the current operational arena, from friendly government detentions to highly volatile hostage and terrorist captivities. PGD/HD incorporates a unique learning tool, the academic role-play laboratory, in which students benefit from observing and critiquing each other in role-play scenarios with the instructors. The course was originally created to instruct 300 students per year in 20 classes of 15.

PGD/HD was short-lived as a stand-alone course. As part of the transformation, Parker also tasked SERE to combine its traditional wartime SERE course with the new PGD/HD (or peacetime) course to ensure that all SF soldiers received the benefits of both. The SERE company merged the PGD/HD cadre and the resistance-training detachment of the wartime course and combined the PGD/HD curriculum with the academic portion of the wartime course to create a 19-day combined SERE program that would fit into the Phase II calendar. August 1, 2005, marked the beginning of the first combined SERE course. Class 16-05 graduated on August 19 with more training in resistance skills than any class in SERE history.

Currently, SERE is successfully operating 90- to 100-man classes in the combined course that have a fairly even mix of Phase II students, end-of-pipeline students and SF backlog. By the end of December 2005, nine classes of the combined course will have graduated, and student and cadre feedback has been positive. A student from Class 16-05 who had just finished Phase II commented, “I hope the rest of the SF pipeline lives up to the experience I have had in SERE. Thank you.”

Core Captivity Curriculum

By instituting the combined wartime and peacetime SERE course, the SERE company created a “bridge plan” to posture itself for the assumption of the core captivity curriculum (CCC). The CCC is a joint effort among the sister-service SERE schools and the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency to create a curriculum that officially merges wartime and peacetime resistance training into an updated curriculum of resistance training that better replicates the ambiguities of the modern global environment. It will effectively eliminate the potential for confusion created by the current state of resistance training, which teaches three separate captivity environments (wartime, peacetime government/operations other than war and hostage). The CCC consolidates resistance techniques across the spectrum of captivity and focuses on producing smarter resisters who have very keen situational awareness. It is important to note that the CCC applies only to resistance training in SERE. It has no effect on the instruction of survival, evasion and escape skills, except for refocusing the field-training exercise scenarios to better replicate appropriate captivity environments.

Transitioning to the CCC was not an overnight process. It entailed a significant paradigm shift among instructors who have been immersed in a wartime scenario for a long time. The bridge plan gave the SERE company the opportunity to cross-train and familiarize the cadre with the coming changes. The SERE Company worked closely with the SERE training developer in the SWCS Directorate of Training and Doctrine to ensure a smooth transition to the new CCC program of instruction. As an integrated part of the pipeline, SERE is also working with the other phases to ensure that SERE scenarios flow logically with the rest of the SFQC training experience. The CCC offers the SERE company a great opportunity to rethink its old ways of doing business, with imagination being the only limitation in creating realistic training scenarios to prepare soldiers for the ambiguous and volatile world in which they will operate.


In his book, In the Company of Heroes, retired 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment pilot CW4 Mike Durant reflected on the SERE training he received at Camp Mackall in the winter of 1988 and the strength it gave him during his 11-day captivity in Somalia in October 1993: “I came away [from SERE] with tools that I never believed I would ever really need, but even in those first seconds of capture at the crash site in Mogadishu, those lessons would come rushing back at me. Throughout my captivity, I would summon them nearly every hour … I thanked [Nick Rowe] silently every day in Mogadishu, and I asked that God bless him, as I tried to plan my next move.” Durant’s words are a resounding testimony to the enduring reputation and efficacy of the SERE course.

SERE remains rooted in the past and takes great pride in recognizing and using the sacrifices of heroes like Rowe and Durant as learning points for future generations of SERE students. The SERE cadre turned out en-masse last November to honor the memory of America’s longest held POW, Colonel Floyd J. Thompson, held in Vietnam for nine years, at the dedication of a street bearing his name on Fort Bragg. In the crowd were the Son Tay raiders who risked their lives in a POW-rescue mission into North Vietnam in 1970. SERE maintains a brotherhood with the Fayetteville Chapter of Ex-POWs, and it invites members of the group of former POWs to speak to every graduating class. The students absorb the tales told by these heroes, and the POWs thrive on sharing the hard-learned lessons of their experiences. Through these efforts, the SERE company draws on the lessons of the past that can truly mean the difference between life and death in the future.

While nourishing its connections to the past, SERE is future-oriented and is successfully transforming to meet the needs of the global war on terrorism by staying relevant in the unstable post-Cold War world of the 21st century. In an operational arena characterized by nationalistic movements, radical religious fundamentalism, rampant terrorism and anti-Western sentiment fueled by globalization and economic disfranchisement, our soldiers will face a broad spectrum of isolation and captivity that has produced unimaginable episodes of horrific violence. SERE remains dedicated to training our soldiers to face this world with every skill they will need to survive and return with honor.

Major Brian D. Hankinson is the commander of Company D (SERE), 1st Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group. He was previously the chief of the Personnel Recovery Branch, Special Forces Doctrine Division, Directorate of Training and Doctrine, JFK Special Warfare Center and School. His previous assignments include: artillery officer, 82nd Airborne Division; detachment commander of ODA 584, 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group; and assistant professor of American history at the United States Military Academy. Hankinson holds a bachelor’s degree from the U.S. Military Academy and a master’s degree from the University of Maryland.

Howling Dog:
Woof Guro Crafty, I guess ,my thought was if your going to do crappy things, at least be willing to take responsibility for your actions?
Does that make sense?
Are you saying? ......If we torture people, we should also lie about it? :|

This is an area of considerable dis-ease for me.  I can think of scenarios wherein torture is justifiable e.g. stopping an attack, but the slippery slope aspects of this are considerable. 

There is the separate question of where the line is to be drawn.  I'd have no problem bathing someone in pig fat precisely because of the emotional distress it would trigger even as there would be no physical harm-- yet as I understand it this is not allowed.  Likewise ploys that seek to exploit Islamo-fascist neuroses about women.  I do not understand why the BGs in Guantanamo are provided Korans. 

I also think the Bush-Rumbo team has badly mishandled all this at the cost of considerable damage to the fighting pride of the American people and our good name in the world see e.g. the Bybee memo referenced in one of GM's posts.  (BTW kudos here to GM for typically stellar job in providing in extremely short order pertinent and precise data on the questions being raised)  Yes, the MSM and the liberal left have done their best to get the interrogation story distorted and lied about, but IMHO the Bush-Rumbo team have plenty of responsibility for how really fcuked up things have gotten.

Crafty, would you care to explain how you think Bush & Rumbo should have handled the torture issue?

I agree fully with Tom in that if we are going to torture people, the president should be honest in that we are doing it and make a case for why we should be doing it instead of

1) pretending we aren't doing it
2) admitting it happened but hanging a few low-level soldiers out to dry for it
3) arguing that what we're doing isn't really torture


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