Colonel Steven Kleinman
Senior Intelligence Officer
U.S. Air Force
Air Force Reserve Colonel Steven Kleinman is a veteran military interrogator who has spent his career in human intelligence. He was a senior interrogator in Panama, the first Gulf War, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The former head of the Air Force's strategic interrogation program, Colonel Kleinman has also been an instructor in the Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training. In 2003, he was named the senior intelligence officer for special survival training in the Pentagon, and recently served as a senior advisor to the Intelligence Science Board's 374-page study "Educing Information," which issued recommendations to the government about how to improve interrogation efforts.
Colonel Steven Kleinman on...
Interview: November 2, 2007
You described the topic of the testimony you were getting ready to give in the next couple of days back then as, and I'm quoting you, "How SERE got its ugly little hands into interrogation." How did it?
How did SERE get involved? We're in the middle of a global War on Terror and we're in the middle of an insurgency. Commanders have information needs that need to be answered now; in fact, better yet they should have been answered yesterday. So you have these young interrogators doing the best they can with a skill set that's not supporting their needs; they're not getting the information they need. Now, many if not all of the special operators out there and some of the other military soldiers, airmen, marines, and sailors, have had some degree of SERE-of Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape training-part of which they've learned how to resist interrogation.
That training was based on US government studies of potential adversaries going back to the earliest days of the Cold War. We encountered that methodology in the Korean War. We encountered it to various degrees in the Vietnam War. We saw the show trials in the Soviet Union. It scared a lot of people in the US government. What if our people encounter those types of interrogators? What they saw was people being very well educated, committed people, committed to a cause, suddenly appearing in a trial and making these wild allegations about their role in some insurgent group within the Soviet Union, their role as recruited assets of the CIA while we knew that they weren't. So it scared a lot of people. How -- what method were they using to get people to do these things?
More than false confession it was propaganda. There's a profound difference between compliance and producing propaganda-and cooperation to produce intelligence. They seem very similar and there's a lot of parallels but the difference, the chasm, between the two is so profound yet subtle that a lot of people miss it, and we pay the price for it. So you had these people who were trained in SERE who -- many of them now are commanders, many of them are leading operations and they're saying, "These interrogators aren't getting the information we need. We need to do something better." First of all, the word comes down to the interrogators, "You need to apply more pressure."
From the highest levels of -- highest echelons of command. "We need more pressure because we need better results. We need more information." But without any further detail, how one defines pressure when you're 18-, 19-years-old under a combat situation when you're tired, you're angry, some of your friends have been killed by the individuals or the associates of the individuals who you're talking to, that has a whole different definition than for somebody like me and my peers who have been around doing interrogation, conducting human intelligence ops for a lot of years. We have a variety, a universe of options. But when you're angry, when you're frustrated, when you're tired, and you're getting pressure from the top to apply more pressure, it often ends up going in the direction that includes physicality, some measure of coercion, things that they weren't trained to do.
Now, how did SERE actually get involved?
Many of these people who have been trained -- it's a very profound emotional event. Anybody who's been through SERE training remembers it with great detail because it's very stressful -- to say that is putting it lightly -- but it's supposed to be that way. It's stress inoculation and they're exposed to methods that simulate what we as US government may anticipate they might encounter if they were captured by a foreign government or by a terrorist or insurgent organization. On the government level that specifically included countries that were not signatories to the Geneva Convention.
That's a key point. That is a critical point. But everybody who goes through SERE is a volunteer; nobody is forced to do that. Anybody at any time can say, "I don't want to do it." Now, sometimes it's a requirement for their job and their career will take a major vector change, but nonetheless they're all volunteers. It's under strict training conditions supervised by the clinical psychologists who are certified as SERE psychologists and certified trained instructors. Again, under very specific circumstances they take people to the edge of their physical and emotional and psychological endurance, but never further than that. There's activities that simulate torture because we're not going to torture our own people. But there are things that are done so people understand what it's like to be emotionally more than uncomfortable, to be physically more than uncomfortable, and psychologically more than uncomfortable. It's going to be a very trying circumstance for a limited period of time.
But essentially, SERE was created -- if I am correct, if I'm not please correct me -- to reproduce what we thought to be or knew to be the brutal interrogation methods used on our servicemen in Korea, Vietnam, what might happen in the Soviet Union.
You're very close. Not reproduced because we're not going to do exactly what was done to these people but it's adapted for a training situation where things that are beyond the pale of what one can reasonably do in a training situation, simulations or adaptations were made. Thus the idea of stress positions, although the Soviets use that as well. But rather than putting somebody in a situation that could cause them real physical harm, you can put somebody on their knees with their hands behind their head for an extended period of time and while that sounds very benign, on a concrete floor for an extended period of time in a very austere setting when you don't know it's going to end, it can be very, very painful.
But we did look at what they, the Soviets and the bloc countries, were doing and elsewhere in the world where we thought we might have operations and might therefore be vulnerable to capture. We looked at that, studied it, and a lot of money, a lot of time was spent in understanding this. And then this SERE model was created, which has been used successfully for many, many years. And again, I've probably never worked with a more dedicated group of people than during my time involved with SERE training. I mean, these people, they live for it. Their motto is that they may return with honor and the idea is to help people deal with the most trying circumstances and come home with their honor intact, doing the right thing by their own moral code and also as representatives of the United States government and the United States military. So it's not a 9-to-5 job. These people are absolutely invested wholly into it.
So it's training our military personnel to resist these interrogation methods that they wouldn't otherwise know about?
Correct. The key is those SERE instructors in addition to lecturing, in addition to a variety of practical exercises, they do play the role of the adversary interrogator. Now, that's important to keep in mind -- they play the role. Their sum total of their experience is in a trained environment and they do it superbly well. I've seen them. I mean it is incredible. No wonder it leaves such a lasting impression on soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines who have completed it. They do a terrific job. But as one mentor of mine used to say all the time who was a senior SERE instructor for many years, he said that they are 51 percent SERE instructors and 49 percent interrogators. They need to do it well but the whole time they're watching the student, they're evolving their approach so that they can take this person to the edge but not any further. It's very difficult.
But what they're not doing is collecting intelligence. It's a self-contained environment. They do not ask questions, they the SERE instructors, they don't ask questions the answers to which they don't already know. You know, if they're interrogating a SEAL they can call the SEAL's unit and say, "When did he go to BUD/S training? When was he certified? When did he come in the Navy?" et cetera, et cetera. An interrogator under field conditions does not have that option to call the adversary's headquarters and say, "By the way, can you tell me a little bit more about this individual." So there's no element of detecting deception, there's no element of extended questioning to go into depth, I mean, it's very superficial. These are very short vignettes that they run.
So while it looks like an interrogation and it sounds like an interrogation and it even smells like an interrogation, it is not an interrogation. Those who have actually seen interrogations, and I've conducted many, many, many myself, it is the cliché; it's like watching paint dry in some respects because it can go on for hours. A lot of time is spent trying to develop some sort of bridge between you and the source. Plus you never know on the surface whether the person's lying to you. In addition to asking questions, very concrete, very precise questions, hiding your agenda so that they don't know the intelligence that you want, you're always having to test for veracity. You know, you want to make sure that your physical being, your non-verbal match with your verbals. It's an incredibly complex approach.
But back to why SERE is involved. So you have people overseas, commanders, they're not getting what they want out of these interrogators. I would love to find the person, track it down to the original source. But I bet you it wasn't just one person, but somebody finally -- the light bulb went on and said, "Wait a second. I can remember when I was." you know, and they can name which service's SERE school they attended. Those guys were pretty damn good. And they are. I mean, they are damn good at portraying interrogators. But they're not intelligence officers and they're not skilled and experienced at eliciting information for intelligence purposes.
If our purpose was, as interrogators, to do what the KGB was doing much of, during the show trials, and that is to force somebody to comply and create propaganda, then they're great. They'd be perfect. But that's not what we're after; we're after intelligence information, which is true. So you had these people coming out and they're informing the special operators. They're even trying to get involved themselves. And they don't understand -- they being the SERE instructors -- don't understand where their skill set, their experience, their understanding, and their expertise ends. And they've entered a new lane that they should -- never should have entered. Because again, the model that they're very experienced in using was one that could create compliance in a source, not cooperation.
And intelligence, exactly.
Tell me what the difference is between true and truth.
At one point in the evolution of our civilization, it was considered truth that the world was flat and everybody -- just about everybody except for a few dynamic and risk-taking souls thought it was flat. At another time we thought that the earth was the center of the universe. And those -- those were truth. I mean, people lived their lives by it. But as we now know, that wasn't true. If I interrogate using coercive methods to get somebody to answer a question in a way that I've already transmitted by my leading questions, then that is my truth; that is what I want to believe to be true and they're going to corroborate it and make that truth even larger and more insurmountable.
As an intelligence officer, I don't have the luxury of having an ego or an opinion. I'm after what is true even if it's not what I want to hear. For instance, if I interrogate somebody, a terrorist, and they tell me that the reason they did something was because -- they tell me that their motivation was American foreign policy in the Middle East, the average American doesn't like to hear that. As an interrogator you don't have the -- you have to check your ego at the door just like a gunslinger checks his six-gun. I have to be completely open-minded. If they explain to me that they had no other choice, that terrorism was the only option for dealing with a superpower, now I can't argue with them that, "Oh, if you were courageous you would come out on the plains against our A1 Abrams main battle tank with your assault rifles." No, I have to understand, "Okay, maybe -- maybe if I was born in Yemen or I was born in Iraq or I was born in Iran and I was presented with a superpower, maybe I would respond that way."
An interrogator needs to be able to project into the shoes of the other person, without opinion, open-mindedly, understanding their culture, and not being blinded or becoming near-sighted by looking through the prism of my own cultural experience so that I understand what this person's all about, what their interests are, what their outcomes that they want to achieve. What is it that drives them? I keep asking the why question. If I keep asking the why question deep enough I'll find out what motivates people and if I find out what motivates -- what they really care about I can usually align that with my interests and we can make some progress together. That requires patience, it requires a very systematic, long-term plan.
It requires time. Time is so important to understand. Things aren't wrapped up in 30 minutes like on television. You know, there's a number of television shows out there that literally, and I mean literally, have informed people who have a say in this debate. That's Hollywood's version of interrogation. Most interrogators find it entertaining at best because it just doesn't work like that. I've had some situations where I've sat down with somebody and they've already in their mind decided that resistance was not in their best interest. During Desert Storm, there were a number of senior officers who would have loved nothing better than the United States to remove Saddam at that time in 1991. And so, you know, those are rare cases but sometimes interrogation is nothing more than just asking questions and writing answers -- writing -- taking notes, writing the answers down as quickly as you can. That's, again, that's rare; it's mostly spending time understanding the individual.
You were puzzled about how it was that the CIA, looking around for how it could improve its interrogations, hired a couple of clinical psychologists.
As a professional intelligence officer I have some great concerns about how we've approached this. I had a commander when I was serving in the Air Force, at the time I was the director of the Air Force combat interrogation course, and I'd been involved either the director or senior instructor for many years, and he decided we weren't going to teach that anymore and I asked him respectfully, why would that be?" And he said that, and this is a quote that will last for all time, "Interrogation would be irrelevant in the 21st century." His argument being that either we would provide all -- or satisfy our information needs through technical intelligence or the nature of warfare would be so violent that there would be nobody left to interrogate. As we've seen, that projection was slightly incorrect.
So, I keep wondering, CIA is by all measures the preeminent human intelligence agency for the United States of America. I would argue that interrogation is a key subset of that human intelligence complement of key skills. So at some point when we realized interrogation was going to be very important after 9/11, the agency apparently looked within its capabilities, its personnel, and found that they didn't have a real formal structured interrogation capability. And I've talked to a number of very senior officers there, former case officers and none of them see themselves as interrogators. You know, they dealt with -- some of it -- some of the older gentleman who operated during the Cold War, they interrogated defectors and so forth but they even see that as different.
So I kind of have a problem that they didn't have that capability. But okay, so they didn't, that was a fact. So they did the right thing, they started to look for that capability elsewhere, outside the confines of Langley. But the question I struggle with is allegedly they had hired two clinical psychologists who had extensive experience in SERE, in fact, whose contributions to the SERE community are, I'm not sure you'd say legendary, but certainly long-lasting. And they -- in my view, they could have retired and looked back upon a wonderful career of serving their country with nobility; they definitely made a positive and lasting impact.
But somewhere, somehow the CIA hired these two individuals to take the lead on their interrogation capabilities. Now these two individuals had the sum total of zero foreign intelligence experience, the sum total of zero interrogation experience outside the very rigidly controlled training environment, the sum total of zero experience interrogating foreign nationals. And I thought, did the CIA not understand the difference between SERE resistance training and interrogation for intelligence purposes? And if they didn't, I can't -- I find that shocking. So, good on them that they saw that they didn't have the capability; bad that they didn't have it, good on them that they saw they didn't. And they took a very aggressive -- took very aggressive measures to resolve that shortfall; bad on them how they chose to do it.
Had I only been an interrogator not having been trained as a -- and certified as a SERE instructor, I think I would have been -- had enough professional sense if they would have come to me to say, "We need a resistance training program at the agency, you're an interrogator so you probably understand resistance," I'd say, "Yes, I was an interrogator, but I can point to a number of people who have far more experience in the resistance side." But that's not what happened. And so, you know, these two individuals had very strong opinions about how interrogation should be conducted. I don't agree with them. There's probably maybe ten percent area that we have common agreement.
But you have some knowledge about their views about how interrogation should be conducted.
Their model is an adaptation of the high-pressure, emotionally and psychologically undermining approach that was used very effectively for producing propaganda by countries that were not signatories of the Geneva Convention. But there is no evidence, there's not a shred of scientific evidence that suggests that that method, this learned helplessness cycle, will lead somebody to provide useful information. I'm not a psychologist, but I understand enough about psychology and about the mind. And I've had the great fortune to work with a number of eminent clinical and social psychologists, especially in the last couple years, who have reminded me of the fragility of memory.
If you want to distill interrogation down to its absolute core, it is -- it's designing a method to win somebody's cooperation so that they want to answer questions, but do it -- conduct it in a way that they're able to answer questions truthfully. One need only look at the literature about eyewitness testimony and find that there's false memories, there's -- we're influenced by so many factors -- and just the physical nature of memory. If you were to think about a meeting you had a week ago and I was going to ask you very detailed questions, but a very polite exchange, you know, we're having a cup of tea, a cup of coffee and I say, "Well, who was there? What was proposed? Who agreed? Who disagreed? What were the alternatives?" I could ask a lot of questions and you'd find that there are gaps in your memory or, even worse, you said, "Well it was Alice who proposed this," but then I talked to other people, no it was actually Joe who proposed it. And again, that's under perfect circumstances.
Now imagine if I asked you a question about that meeting, but it took place six months ago, and I've had you in isolation for several days under very threatening circumstances. I'm the adversary; you don't know when your freedom is going to be restored or even if it ever will be. You have been exposed to white noise, all sorts of things to disrupt your emotional and psychological equilibrium and now I'm going to ask you those same questions and suddenly your memory is going to be enhanced by that? No, my psychological colleagues have assured me that your memory will be degraded by it. So remember, the key is -- is to win somebody's cooperation that they'll willfully give me that information, but I won that cooperation in a way that they still can access that memory accurately.
Several authors have explained the fundamental nature of torture and the fundamental emotion attached to it and it's humiliation. And I do a lecture on the effect of coercion and I talk about the half-life of emotions and anger. The half-life of emotion, of anger, is about, you know, a couple hours. Fear has a half-life of days, maybe a few weeks. But the half-life of humiliation can be generations where people will not -- long after they die it lives on in their children and their grandchildren because they've described it and they saw the look in their grandparents' eyes or their father's eyes or their mother's eyes when they talk about being held in an Egyptian jail or something and tortured.
I think the reason why that is so often the handmaiden of poor interrogators, the use of humiliation, is there's this belief that interrogation is based on force and it's -- in my view it's not based on force. I mean, you're not going to get the full spectrum of an individual's knowledge. Rather than force it's finesse and, like for instance, I used to teach young interrogators if you walk out the room and the source thinks you're the dumbest person they've ever encountered, the most incompetent interrogator they've ever seen, but you have the information, that's all that we're asking you to do. You don't -- again, check your ego at the door; you don't need to impress them. You don't need to -- you can be in control without being overtly in control.
The example I use is Muhammad Ali when he fought George Forman in Zaire. For seven rounds everybody thought he was being pummeled, that he was not in control of the fight. Well now we know he was in control the entire time; he was leaning back against the rope, George Forman was just flailing away until he had not an ounce of energy left, and once Muhammad Ali saw his opportunity, he acted. He was in control the whole time. It wasn't until afterwards the people praised him as a genius. You know, for the first seven rounds they thought he was washed up.
And I have conducted interrogations and demonstrated some interrogations but also conducted in the real world where afterwards taking a break people say, you know, "Gosh, you've got to take control in there." I said, "I'm absolutely in control. Everything that's going on in there I'm orchestrating, I promise you." An interrogator needs to have spider senses, you know, it's like you're doing eight or nine different things at once but you don't look like you're doing anything and you're setting up for the next step and the next step trying to get these little breakthroughs -- not breaking the source because that's a -- that's a poor term to describe a phenomenon that doesn't occur.
You know, you don't break a source as if it's a TV version, you say the right things or you use some -- enough force, you yell, or the right comment at the right time and they just completely capitulate, "Okay, I'll answer your questions." That doesn't happen.
You get little breakthroughs where maybe somebody who's resistant is less so; somebody who wouldn't answer a question about this area now answers one or two, just a series of breakthroughs. And you don't rub it back in their face. I mean, that's the other part where you've got to check the ego. Build a golden bridge, negotiators talk about that all the time. Let them save face, let them be able to answer your questions in a way that makes them feel good about themselves not feel like they've been broken. You know, that doesn't make any sense at all.
In coercive interrogations, at what point is the prisoner just going to start telling you what you want to hear to get the pain, whether it's physical or mental, to stop?
That's the important argument -- that's the key argument, one of two arguments about why coercion doesn't work. One goes back to memory and the ability to access somebody's viable memory not undermined memory. But the other thing is, why does somebody want to provide the answers? If they're going to provide the answers to your questions just to make the pain stop you have no idea, are they finally answering truthfully or are they answering based on what you have let them know you want to hear? And poor interrogators can be identified not necessarily because of their poor approach, their poor technique, but by their poor questioning.
Leading questions, loaded questions, you're going to get -- the quality of the information you get is directly proportional or directly related to the quality of the questions. So if I'm asking leading questions and I'm also applying some sort of physical, psychological, or emotional pressure then I'm making it very clear, "This is what you need to do to make it stop. Say 'yes.' Say 'no.' Say 'high, low.' Say 'blue or red.'" But those are going to be all my truths that I want them to repeat. I don't want them to repeat truths and I don't want to create propaganda. I want true. I want facts, I want informed speculation based on their personal expertise and direct access to information, and I want accurate recall. That leads to intelligence.
The former prisoners that we spoke to, every single one of them recounted interrogations in which they were just pummeled -- I don't mean that physically -- again and again and again with a piece of information that the interrogator was looking for them to confirm.
Right. Right. That's such poor form by every stretch. Number one, if you have somebody who's resistant you've given them a great resistance posture, a great resistance strategy. "Oh, I was going to lie to these people, but I didn't know what to say. They've told me. I'm going to just say, 'Yeah, what you say -- whatever you said, that's true.'" But they'll say it in a way that, "Yes, yes. Osama? He was absolutely meeting with Saddam for tea at 3:00 at the palace outside Baghdad. That's what you want? Fine. You got it." And everybody, "Oh boy." Well, that's not what you want. You want what is true and -- you know, coercion just from an operation perspective has no place. It has absolutely no place in intelligence collection because here's the other part that people need to understand about interrogation. It is an intelligence collection platform, if you will.
If one is using coercive tactics against a detainee, a prisoner, how do you figure out if this person really has nothing to say?
That's an excellent question. The answer is, you cannot. If you're using coercion, you can never really truly have an objective sense of the scope of their knowledgeability, the depth of their knowledgeability, or their veracity, whether they're telling you the truth. You cannot do that. There's a lot of nonverbals involved but there's also such things as undeniable knowledge, meaning if somebody claims to be a pharmacist, to be a pharmacist you have to know at least basic chemistry. You know, if you're a nuclear physicist, you need to understand certain engineering principles. But if I'm coercing people, they're not even going to be able answer that. There not going to be willing to explore -- I mean, can you imagine coercing somebody, you know, "Tell me what's the difference between covalent and ionic bonding," or something. You know? It makes no sense.
A lot of times, too, the whole idea of detecting deception is not unlike a polygraph. I mean, I'm not a fan of the science behind polygraph, but one thing that's fundamental to it, and any polygrapher will tell you this, is the average person would say, "I don't want to take a polygraph, I'll look like I'm deceptive because I'm so nervous." Well the first thing a polygraph does is take a baseline for you; they don't have this average, the average blood pressure, the average galvanic skin response, the average heart rate is this. No, what is yours, you know, ask them questions, how do you respond. And then they start exploring areas of interest.
And so I need to sit with somebody for a while and ask them a question and I watch how they respond. If they kind of sit quietly with their hands folded through all my questions but then I ask about a certain area, let's say about something that went on in Fallujah and they start -- they start performing what is called stereotypies or body grooming, you know, a lot of scratching or playing with their clothes or so forth. Does that mean they're lying? No. What it does say is keep an eye on that. When I go to other areas of questions they're back to their hands folded and eye contact and they're very relaxed and then I -- later on I talk about Fallujah again and I see the same sort of -- that deviation from that baseline. Then I have to start asking myself, you know, "Is this operationally meaningful?"
Tell me when you first began to hear that interrogation tactics were being put to use in Guantanamo that sounded to you like they were SERE or reverse-SERE.
Certainly within the first year that it opened. And the question I had is, I know what the curriculum is at Fort Huachuca, I know what the curriculum is at Dam Neck, Virginia. Every graduate is steeped in the law of armed conflict. They are not taught things like stress positions. They are not taught things like isolation. They're not taught things like use of white noise. There's no sanctioned interrogation course within the United States military that teaches this or even suggests that under extreme circumstances you can use them.
This stuff was ad hoc, it was borrowed from the SERE schools by people who'd either attended or they'd heard about it. But not understanding once again that resistance to interrogation training can look a lot like interrogation, but it's not. I didn't think it was a sophisticated understanding, but apparently it is. To understand the difference people crossed the firewall. There should be a firewall between those two. And they -- they were able to move across that firewall and introduce these SERE tactics because they weren't getting the results they wanted because they wanted information quickly.
There's a lot of information -- there's a source we could get today who -- let's say it takes a year to win their cooperation. A year from now it could be very, very, very useful information, it is still strategically relevant. The problem is we keep being presented with this ticking time bomb scenario and that seems to be the focus of our debate, the focus of arguments for and against coercion. Well, every day there's hundreds if not -- in some cases thousands of opportunities to apply very systematic, thoughtful interrogation methods that reflect that enlightened cultural finesse.
And, you know, to use something that was designed to help people understand how you could be pulled towards compliance and propaganda and think that that same methodology is going win somebody's cooperation and induce them to provide intelligent information is pure folly. It's illogical, it's unreasonable, and operationally it's simply ineffective.
SERE instructors were recruited to become interrogators?
That's what people are suggesting occurred. And we're going to go into some areas I simply can't address because it's classified. But that's the whole problem is the idea that you could not just have these people teach others how to interrogate but actually bring them in to do it because they were the so-called pros. People didn't understand the difference between being a SERE instructor and being an interrogator.
There was also an SOP, standing operating procedure, issued by General Miller and we've seen a copy of it that says -- that went out to Guantanamo that said, interrogation tactics used at US military SERE schools are appropriate for use in real world interrogations. They're used to -- at SERE schools to "break SERE detainees. The same tactics and techniques can be used to break real detainees during interrogation operations."
The refutation of that statement is contained within the statement. Anybody who would buy into the concept of breaking doesn't understand interrogation. So if he says they use to "break" SERE students can also be used to "break" real world detainees, they're missing -- they're making a connection that doesn't exist; they're talking about a phenomenon that doesn't exist. And God bless General Miller, he's served his country nobly for several decades. He's not an intelligence officer nor is he an interrogator. I would venture to say that prior to his taking over responsibility for Guantanamo he'd probably never seen an interrogation.
It makes absolutely no sense to take an intelligence officer and put him in charge of an infantry or artillery unit, but somehow it makes all the sense in the world to take a combat arms officer and put him in charge of an intelligence operation of vital necessity and of great sensitivity. So I appreciate his intention to try to respond to the direction he was given to make things work, but I respectfully suggest he had no clue how to go about it.
In this SOP memo that he issued it also says the approved tactics, include slaps, forceful removal of detainees' clothing, hooding, manhandling, walling, which I guess is hoisting them up against some kind of wall.
No, it's slamming people against the wall.
Slamming people against the wall. All of those kinds of things are -- the tactics that he is issuing as approved tactics are derived from SERE schools?
That's correct. That's correct. Why is that? Because you need to prepare people, our people, to understand the shocking nature of that stress inoculation. Once they've experienced it they realize, you know what? They can get through it. And once they experience it they realize, you know "I was given strategies for dealing with it." And so they need -- they can't just talk about it theoretically. People need to experience it. But again, that was not designed as a means to induce somebody to provide useful intelligence. At the very best -- when he used methods like that, at the very best, you're going to get people to answer precisely the questions you pose to them, not anything more, not an inch more.
And I'll give you an example of why that is a dangerous way to go. I interrogated a colonel during Desert Storm, an Iraqi colonel, and based on my understanding of his background he knew a lot about order of battle of his infantry division. And so I won his cooperation, we spent a lot of time talking about life in Iraq. There was a great deal of rapport that we developed. And at the end of asking all of the questions that I had, like a good interrogator you're disciplined to ask at the very end, "Is there anything else that you know about that I haven't asked you?"
And at that point we were very interested in the location of the Scud missiles, which, you know, were a concern especially as they were launched on Israel at the time, which could have broken up the coalition. And so -- but I didn't ask that because based on his background we had no -- we couldn't even speculate that he would know anything about it. But because of the relationship, because I'd actually won his cooperation as I stood up putting my papers together, has asked, "Don't you want to know about the Scud missiles?"
Now, had I spent the last three hours walling him or slapping him or poking him in the chest or doing these things that you just described, he would have said, "We're done. I'm not going to -- I don't want to prolong this. I'm not going to offer anything more. You know, he's going to question me more in the same way." So, you could only speculate based on the best information you have in terms of the scope of someone's knowledgeability.
But sometimes there -- as one friend of mine describes it well -- serendipity, a journey into an area that you could not possibly imagine they knew. But let's say, oh yes, in addition to a career as an infantry officer, they worked as an executive officer to somebody very senior, they knew about chemical weapons policy but based on what you knew about them you would never ask them about that. But you win somebody's cooperation and they offer those things up or at least there's a higher probability that that'll occur. But you completely eliminate that probability when you use coercive methods.
There are obviously parallels, and they don't seem to be accidental, between the tactics used as training at SERE schools and the tactics that were used in interrogation at Guantanamo. But there are also some differences, being in SERE schools it's volunteer, it's of limited duration and everything is monitored.
Absolutely. Yes, the differences you've mentioned, one is time. They are short duration, enough to expose somebody to it but not long enough to -- like if somebody is exposed to white noise for an hour, that's very disturbing. Exposed to white noise for 24 hours straight, that's potentially harmful. But we don't do that to people because again these are our own people, we don't want to hurt them. To expose somebody to cold for a short period of time drives home the idea of how uncomfortable that can be and you need to start coming up with some strategies for dealing with it.
But, you know, for hours or days -- and plus the fact, remember in SERE training you know, even though sometimes it's very realistic, you know you're in the hands of your comrades and at any time if you encounter some emotional or physical or psychological distress you can stop. You can say, "Hey, we need to stop," and a doctor or a psychologist or a medic will be right on the scene.
Detainees don't have that option. So what does that mean? It means that one can endure almost anything if you say it's going to be for an hour or for two hours, for a day. What really disturbing and what's disconcerting is when you don't know when something's going to end. Time becomes very difficult to fathom especially when time is purposefully disrupted by, you know, feeding patterns and lights and so forth. So when people say that, "Well we're not doing anything more than we've done to our own people," well first of all you're comparing apples and oranges. Secondly yes it is because they're in hands -- in their view, the prisoner -- they're in the hands of the enemy. That introduces an overlay of fear, of concern that has a deep emotional impact.
Former Secretary Rumsfeld I thought a comment he made was so indicative of the lack of understanding at the highest levels of the true nature of interrogation and they're being poorly advised and they need to better understand it. When a comment came out about the approved methods and talked about prolonged standing, he said, "Four hours? What, I stand eight hours a day at my desk." Former Secretary Rumsfeld did not understand the fact that he could go lunch any time he wants, he was not only surrounded by people "on the same side," people who worked for him. He knew, even if he didn't want to, he could sit down any time he wants. He could move around his table. He wasn't hooded. He wasn't shackled at the feet and at the ankles. He wasn't surrounded by the enemy. He wasn't left alone where he could -- you know, lacking any visual cues -- could fall over at any moment.
General Hayden just recently, an accomplished intelligence officer obviously, making four star rank, is the current director of Central Intelligence, he is of course on the line being asked questions about interrogation. And he was trying to make the point recently that the type of stress that's being introduced is not unlike, for instance -- well, he used this analogy, talking to the interviewer who's also let's say in his 50s, he said, "Imagine you and I going through marine boot camp at this point in our lives." That would be torturous. You know, getting up early, running, the pushups, the physicality of it is designed for somebody, 18-, 19-, 20-year-old in great shape not for a 50-year-old who -- less so. Well, okay. I agree with that. So let's take that a step further. When we decide that walling doesn't hurt, that slapping doesn't hurt, that exposure to cold and white noise doesn't hurt, well how do we know that? I mean, our experience in a controlled environment has been short duration, monitored by physicians and by psychologists.
This whole debate I think overlooks one key consideration and that is the application, if you will, of the Hippocratic Oath to intelligence and military service. Instead of do no harm, our oath should be don't create any more enemies because our business is to reduce the threat to the United States. You do that either by reducing the number of enemies or at the very best at the end of the day you have not a single -- not even a single more enemy than you had the day before. If your interrogation methods are broadcast around the world and are seen as inhuman, as unlawful, then it's hard for me to fathom the nature of the information that could be so valuable that would offset the fact that your process has created a theme for recruiting terrorists across Europe.
Every former prisoner that I interviewed told me that they were essentially terrified of being killed for at least the first two years or so of being in custody. Now that's different from SERE School. They have a very real fear of being killed.
Right. The fear of being killed is substantially different than the fear of being thrown against a wall, clearly. Interrogation -- you know, a lot of people don't understand strategy. It requires long-range thinking. It requires being strategic and understanding that nothing, and I mean nothing in this world, happens in a vacuum. You can never do just one thing.
With interrogation that is certainly true. You cannot just ask a question because when you ask that question you could be doing a lot of things. You could be revealing your intelligence shortcomings, the tonality in which you offer it can be either building a bridge or pressing somebody into a corner, how I react to you, the setting that I've designed for us to interact in. All these things have multiple messages and multiple consequences.
You can't just use coercion to interrogate somebody and not expect that to have long-range implications. For every family member of somebody held in Guantanamo for years and years without any contact, they think they're dead or never coming home. People aren't just going to let that story stop. It's going to go on. And again, in a culture that has lived for thousands of years on storytelling and that's their legacies are maintained, people are going to understand this for generations.
And is it necessary to get intelligence? Is it required that we use these methods because there's no other way to get it? The 24-plus years of interrogation experience that as an intelligence officer in the same period of time, I'm suggesting very strongly that absolutely not. We don't need to do that.
When I asked the former prisoners what was worse -- the physical abuse or the mental abuse that they had been describing to me. To a man, they said the mental abuse.
Absolutely. Now going back to strategy, Napoleon said that the moral is to the physical as three is to one. That always needs to be kept in mind. Because with very few exceptions, once somebody has been exposed to physical pressure whether it be the Spanish Inquisition and the use of the strappado where somebody's arms were bent backwards behind them, thus the term the third degree. Once they realize, you know what, I can live through it and if the pain gets too bad, I often become unconscious.
And you look at people like Senator McCain as -- and his peers. As gruesome as an experience that they've had, they emerged. It was the fact that they could never be broken mentally. If you can break somebody mentally, where they do things that they'll always be ashamed of, that you've humiliated, that they're a shell of a person.
If somebody could come through a period of extended abuse, whether it be psychological, emotional, or physical, and not be somehow profoundly changed in a negative fashion then their strength is beyond what I could conceive. I feel mentally, emotionally, and physically a strong individual. I've been tested in my life. But I also know, like Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry, "a man's got to know his limitations."
It goes back to three elements of the debate here. We have the legal. We have the moral and we have the operational. And this is -- if I can stress one point that anybody listening to this remembers it's this.
What is legally right, what is morally correct, and what is operationally useful all fall in the same confluential circle. What I've learned is very effective and most useful as an interrogator falls well within my personal moral compass, and I would suggest that the moral compass of practically any reasonable individual. And it certainly falls within the legal framework of the Geneva Convention or the Constitution of the United States. So I've never found a need to even press those boundaries.
When did we get to the point where people, our allies, not just our adversaries, would assume that America tortures? And what do we need to do to get back exalted place, that wonderful glorious place where a Khalid Sheikh Mohammed of the future has been interrogated by US forces, and when revelations of what he did comes forward and the world says that is ghastly? But he must have done it, because, of all the countries in the world, America would never, ever torture anybody.