Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ignored the serious legal and ethical red flags raised by military lawyers, and granted blanket authority for use of Category I and II of coercive SERE tactics in detainee interrogations. Category III, which includes waterboarding was not included at this time. The secret JTF GTMO ‘SERE’ Interrogation Standard Operating Procedure went into effect on Dec. 10, 2002.
The GTMO SOP mirrored the language of KUBARK; emphasizing “psychological dependence,” and “increased sense of learned helplessness.” The GTMO SOP manual is divided into four categories: “Degradation Tactics,” “Physical Debilitation,” “Isolation and Monopolization of Perception,” and “Demonstrated Omnipotence.” The abusive tactics used include “Slaps,” “forceful stripping,” “stress positions,” “hooding,” “manhandling,” and “walling” which entails grabbing a detainee by the shirt and forcibly hoisting him against a specially constructed wall. It provides details on how to calibrate the infliction of pain and harm to attain submission.
The interrogators who used these brutalizing tactics had little training and were under enormous pressure to get information; some received on-the-job demonstration training during brutal interrogations. Mitchell and Jessen had personally interrogated some of CIA’s most significant detainees using their menu of torture techniques including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and stress positions. John Rizzo, the CIA acting general counsel, met with the psychologists; in his book Company Man, he described some of the enhanced techniques they recommended as “sadistic and terrifying.” One technique he described as “so gruesome that the Justice Department stopped short of approving it.”
Mark Mays, first psychologist at the Air Force school, who later worked as a clinical psychologist and lawyer in Spokane said, “It was clear that this is what we’d expect from our enemies. It was not something I could ever imagine Americans would do.” (Scott Shane. Architects of Harsh Tactics…The New York Times, 2009) In fact, the reverse-engineered GTMO SERE manual was widely used by U.S. interrogators from 2002 to 2008, “it rippled through the entire system like a demented game of telephone in which these tactics were used not just at the CIA black sites, but in Iraq, at Guantanamo, in Afghanistan and wherever CIA and the Pentagon had black sites. The existence of the GTMO interrogation manual was first revealed to the public by Katherine Eban in her investigative report “Rorschach and Awe” in Vanity Fair (2007) which is cited by the Senate Armed Services Report (2009).