Christy Hardin SmithCommunity

OLC Relied on SERE Psych Info For “No Long-Term Harm”

Here’s something jumping out at me on my first read through the OLC memos.

In two separate memos, both written at the request of John Rizzo (acting and then Senior Deputy Counsel for the CIA), OLC relied on representations gleaned from SERE psych determinations as a means of assessing and understanding the potential for long-term mental harm or physical risks involved in treatment.

Leaving aside the superficial Fear Factor promo potential of icky bugs in box (imagine using that technique on an arachnophobic or scorpion-stung detainee, which is why it’s been in the interrogation lexicon for quite a while) that media types are likely to latch onto for ratings push, look how the reliance on SERE psych findings colors the OLC judgment in the Bybee memo dated August 1, 2002:

…you have informed us that your proposed interrogation methods have been used and continue to be used in SERE training. It is out understanding that these techniques are not used one by one in isolation, but as a full coarse of conduct to resemble a real interrogation. Thus, the information derived from SERE training bears both upon the impact of the use of individual techniques and upon their use as a course of conduct. You have found that the use of these methods together or separately, including the use of the waterboard, has not resulted in any negative long-term mental health consequences. The continued use of these methods without mental health consequences to the trainees indicates that it is highly improbable that such consequences would result here….

Let’s go to the tape on hearings held discussing how this came to be, shall we?

Note that Haynes name comes up. No shocker there. (For information on the hearing, see Sen. Levin’s opening statement and a compilation of documents referred to therein. (PDF) As well as filed witness statements and the complete hearing transcript.)

During the testimony in the clip here, experts on SERE and survival school — who work directly for and with DOD — testify expressly that there is a vast difference between a survival school class (wherein, for example, safety words and signals are built into the training so the waterboarding or other technique doesn’t go too far) and an intel interrogation where no such safety protocols or oversight is in place.

And yet, that’s what Bybee, then of the OLC and now a sitting federal judge, relied on as his basis of an OLC opinion that allowed those techniques to be used by CIA and other agents as a "good faith" basis for their actions.

Moving on to the May 30, 2005 memo written by Bradbury:

Although there are obvious differences between training exercises and actual interrogations, the fact that the United States uses similar techniques on its own troops for training purposes strongly suggest that these techniques are not categorically beyond the pale.

Although someone between Bybee and Bradbury appears to have bought a clue on the difference between training exercises and interrogations, Bradbury misses the point entirely. And likely deliberately.

The reason these techniques are used with US trooops is that not all nations adhere to the rule of law and international anti-torture agreements.  And troops who do covert ops have to be prepared for the worst possible contingencies lawless states might bring to bear should the need arise during the course of an operation because what they do is very, very dangerous.

The fact that these OLC memoranda allowed the US to join the company of these lawless nations who don’t live up to anti-torture prohibitions? Doesn’t seem to have penetrated either Bybee or Bradbury’s consciousness.

More on these as I read.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com