The Bush Administration initially decided to begin torturing enemy combatants based on the SERE program because, since we've been doing it to our own military personnel, it couldn't be that bad.
"If this is torture, we've been torturing our own soldiers for years," a former Republican Justice Department official tells the Los Angeles Times. "Why is it that we are all of a sudden revolted and aghast?"
One answer is that SERE has indeed been torturing our own soldiers and that this practice must end.
Others — including graduates of the program — disagree. But Saletan points out the differences between the SERE training and real torture, including SERE's use of all volunteer recruit and safe words to end the torture; the psychological monitoring; the fact that it is designed to encourage resistance in soldiers; and the fact that it has a start and end date. He then breaks out the SAT analogy.
The difference between SERE and the Bush interrogation program is the difference between S&M and rape. There is no consent. There are no mutually understood boundaries. There are no magic words.
I would say that S&M is far broader than rape fantasies, so perhaps a more apt pairing would be S&M and "sexual violence," but it's a small quibble.
Susie Bright, however, has some first-hand experience of what the "torture training" can wreak on even its willing students.
In addition to the group beatings, waterboarding, electric shock, sleep deprivation, sound/noise torture, starvation, dehydration, he was also forced to eat human feces and vomit, in accompaniment with the beatings. They had replicas of "tiger cages' they kept him in. He wrote me that after awhile of knowing it was all a training, he couldn't hold the frame anymore and it became nothing but his reality. His sense of time and self evaporated.
Although his captors were supposed to be Vietcong, they were largely white kids who'd been instructed to scream everything in "fake" Oriental accents that would have been absurd if they weren't so sadistic. They were supposed to target his vulnerabilities, which in his case, meant humiliating him for being African-American. It was more racist and sexual abuse than he'd ever face from the Vietcong, that's for sure.
His father was Air Force- and I think even he was taken aback by the SERE training. Afterward, as far as I could tell, Robbie had a psychological breakdown. He wasn't the same guy. I was afraid of him.
So even "fake" torture had negative psychological effects on (at least) one guy who signed up for it. Who knows what it's doing to the real victims of the U.S. government's torture programs — and what they'll end up doing to us or their own countrymen and women if they're ever set free. In fact, who knows how many more lives they'll destroy in the future in exchange for 10 pieces of supposedly actionable intelligence we might have obtained in another way.
Harm School [Slate]
SERE Training Turned My Boyfriend From Dr. Jekyll To Mr. Hyde [Susie Bright]
Related: Marcy Wheeler: 83 Waterboardings, 10 Pieces Of Intel [Huffington Post]
Cheney Wants CIA Files For Memoir [Politico]