Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch
Office of Military Commissions
In the days after the September 11th terrorist attacks, Marine Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch, a veteran military pilot and prosecutor, volunteered to return to active duty to help bring justice for a fellow Marine who had been co-pilot on United 175. Couch was assigned to prosecute Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was imprisoned at Guantanamo and accused of connections to the Hamburg cell that helped plan the terrorist attacks. During his first visit to the prison camp, Colonel Couch witnessed a detainee being subjected to coercive interrogation tactics that he recognized from his own experience in the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training. Nine months later, he concluded that the interrogation of Slahi had been "morally repugnant," and refused to prosecute. In 2007, he was awarded the American Bar Association's "Minister of Justice award" for his commitment to "protecting the innocent as well as convicting the guilty" and "unwavering" commitment to legal and ethical standards. In November of that year, the Pentagon blocked him from testifying before a Congressional committee investigating interrogations. Since 2006, he has been an Appellate Judge for the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals.
Lt. Colonel Stuart Couch on...
Interview: October 9, 2007
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I believe it was a Tuesday morning, and I had stayed up very late the night before, most of the night, actually working on a motion for the -- for a court marshal that was ongoing on Camp Lejeune. And I was living in Morehead City in North Carolina at the time and had been working on that motion during the night. And so I got up the next morning, my youngest son was sick and stayed home from school, and I got on the Internet, to what we call "Shepardize" the cases. You check the cases against a computer database on the Internet to see if the cases you've cited are current. And as I pulled up the Internet, it said something about a terrorist attack in New York City against the World Trade Center. And this was probably about, I'd say around 9:30 or so. And I turned the TV on and both of the airplanes had already collided with the World Trade Center. And it was shortly there after where, I was actually watching live was the -- as the World Trade Center fell down.
You knew that we were going to go to war?
Oh, there's no doubt. I mean, as I'm watching the towers came down, I said, "Well, here it is," you know, "The rest of our life is never going to be the same." And, you know, I got up and, you know, got my clothes on, and uniform on, and headed to Camp Lejeune. And you know, I got there, and it took two hours to get on the base. They had totally locked down the base in a very high-level of alert. And you know, just being Marine and -- I was back in the Marines at that time. I knew, well, this thing's not over yet. And is -- we're going to have a lot of things to do.
The President signed the order.
Right. The President's military order of November 2001.
Tell me about your first visit to Guantanamo.
I checked into the Office of Military Commissions in August of 2003. And shortly after I checked in, all -- at that time everybody was sort of coming in piecemeal. And it was necessary to go and take a trip to Guantanamo to just get the lay of the land, get an idea of what's going on there, review information that they had on the island. Excuse me. So it was in October of 2003, towards the end of the month, I believe. And I went to Guantanamo, and I was given a tour of the, obviously I went and the saw the office that they had made for us, the courtroom that we were going to be using for the commissions, and also went over to the detention area on the other side of the island. I was in a trailer where they would conduct interrogations.
And I was going to sit in and watch the interrogation of one of the cases that I was working on -- this individual. I was going to watch him through a two-way mirror, just to kind of get an idea of what his demeanor was like. And it was while I was waiting for that -- for the detainee to be brought over from his cell that I heard this really loud -- you know, best way to describe it, "head-banger," you know, hardcore rock and roll being played -- Metallica-type rock music, just down the hall. And so I came out of the booth where I was, and I looked down the hall. And I heard this, you know, head-banger music blaring out. And I could see what appeared to be like strobe light coming out of the doorway. And so walked down the hallway and the door was open. And I turned around and I looked inside. And I saw a detainee sitting on the floor. He was in the orange jumpsuit. He was shackled. His hands were shackled, his feet were shackled, and from what I could see, his hands were next to the floor. So I'm assuming it was shackled to the floor. And the room was blacked out with exception of the strobe light. And he was just -- he was rocking back and forth. And I could see that he was praying; his lips were moving. And about that time these two civilian guys, you know, immediately got in the doorway and asked me, "Who are you? What do you want?" And said, "I'm Lieutenant Colonel Couch, and you gotta -- what's going on here? Turn that stuff down." And I was just so shocked by what I was seeing that, you know, I was having a hard time sort of registering. And they stepped out of the door and pulled the door behind them. And then they just said, you know, "Just move along," or words to that effect. And so I went back to this booth and there was a -- there was an Air Force attorney that was accompanying me, giving me the tour. And I just said, "Did you see that?" And he goes, "Well, yeah." And said, "You know, I got a problem with that." And he goes, "Well, that's approved." And, you know, that's when I had some -- I started having some serious misgivings about what was going on.
And what did you understand him to say when he said, "That's approved."
My interpretation of that was that this was not two rogue interrogators, you know, going off the reservation and doing their own thing. That, in fact, this was, you know, this was how -- this was appropriate behavior.
For the interrogators?
For the interrogators. And I guess what - what really got me was it looked, for all the world, like an experience that I had going through SERE School. You know, the strobe lights and the heavy metal music. I mean that was right out of the SERE School playbook.
Tell me about SERE School. This was when you were still -- you were a Marine pilot --
I was a pilot.
When I was - before I became a lawyer, I was a Marine Corps pilot, or Naval Aviator as we refer to ourselves in the Naval service. It's a part of that -- to my knowledge at that time, all Naval Aviators, or at least the vast majority of them, went to SERE School to teach you ways to cope and deal with a situation if you were ever captured by the enemy. The school I went through was in Brunswick, Maine. And we were given some classroom instruction on the first day, and you go through the code of conduct, go all through the psychological effects of captivity, you talk about the physical aspects, emotional, psychological, all of it. And all of this information is gleaned from I'm sure, you know, hundreds and hundreds of hours of debriefing of former prisoners or war.
And prisoners of war who in large part were captured by communist countries, countries that didn't sign on the Geneva Conventions, that sort of thing?
Yes, I mean, it was - my experience with SERE School was it was clear that the fingerprints of Vietnam and the treatment of our Aviators at the hands of the North Vietnamese was the, sort of, the genesis of all the guiding principles, if you will, of, you know, what they were trying to teach.
You said they sat and told you the theories and then what happened?
We were given ample opportunity to put into practice what we've been taught in the classroom. And it was, you know, a mock evasion, and then you were captured. And then we were actually put into a prison or war scenario to include interrogations.
And did they practice, was a part of to try to humiliate you, for example?
Yes. You know, it was clear that humiliation and working on an aviator's sizable ego was definitely part of the effort. When I saw the detainee in that room with the strobe lights going and the heavy metal music blasting, I was familiar with that from my own experience at SERE school. And, you know, it seemed to me that they were running a page out of the SERE school playbook in those interrogations. It seemed to me that what they were trying to get at was complete and total control of the individual. And, you know, they controlled, you know, where you were, what you were wearing, what you were eating, what you're drinking, when you sleep -- total and complete control. And that -- that was the focus of effort. And so in that respect, I think part of their goal is, is that you lose personal autonomy over -- over what's going on. And that's a way of gaining that control.
So it's kind of one big mind game in some ways?
I think it would be a fair - it's a fair characterization that there's a huge, enormous psychological aspect to what was going on.
Did you confess?
I'm not going to go there. I'm not going to go there.
When you came back from Guantanamo, did your wife, did she note, think you were troubled? Did she notice anything?
When I came -- when I came back from Guantanamo, part of the real struggle was I was not able to talk about these things with my family. I'm very much a family guy, and obviously I don't ever, you know, client confidences or things like that I don't discuss. I mean, shortly after my return to Guantanamo my wife could tell that there was something -- something that happened. What I did immediately was sort of seek out the advice of a senior Marine judge advocate at that time. I contacted them and asked if I could come over and see him. And we talked about it. I told him what I had seen. And I knew that he had been the position to know some of the -- some aspects of the Guantanamo operation. And I described for him what I'd saw. I'm sorry. I described for him what I had seen and how I felt about it. And he says, "Nope. You're not imagining things. You're not crazy. This is a real issue. This is a problem. And you need to work this -- you need to work this problem."
That I needed to, above all things, do the right thing when it came down to what was going to work for me. In other words that -- this is not one of those kinds of things you just -- you just check your morals at the door. You know, I describe myself as an evangelical Christian. I'm an Anglican by faith, but you know, a Christian by belief. And a very, you know, the very cornerstone of the faith, one of the essentials of the faith -- the Christian faith is the dignity of human beings, the dignity of human life. And we believe that because as it says in the Bible, I mean, we were created in God's image. And there's -- there's, you know, it's a tough rub with these individuals. It's a tough thing to consider from that Christian perspective what to do with someone who has allegedly, themselves, taken human life in such a way that we saw demonstrated on September the 11th. And so that's difficult. You know, you get that human visceral reaction of vengeance or revenge or payback or whatever, and you also have that reaction of wanting to get information so that we can avoid this from happening again. I think those are very understandable human reactions. But there's another aspect to it, too, and is -- is that what God expects us to be doing to our fellow human being? That is, somebody that's been detained, they're off the battlefield, we are responsible for their care and feeding and their welfare, is it appropriate to treat them in a cruel and humane or degrading manner to get the information?
And your answer?
And my answer, it's not my answer, but you know, it's informed by faith. And that is, God means what he says. And we were created in his image, and we owe each other a certain level of dignity -- a certain level of respect. And that's just a line we can't cross. And my belief is that the Bible is the inspired word of God, and all of the words are there for a reason. There's -- there's no throwaway words in the Bible. And, you know, the Scripture talks a lot about human dignity and the sanctity of human life. And it's there for a reason. That's a big issue for God, it seems. And if it's a big issue for him, then we better have it as a big issue for us. Slahi just jumped off the pages. He was the first one, I said, you know, this is -- this guy is one of the most serious guys that we've got in Guantanamo. And then you got remember at this time, you know, none of the high-value detainees were at Guantanamo. So, you know, he had obviously brought a lot of attention to himself by what he, you know, about what he knew.
So as a prosecutor you were eager, more than happy to take on this case?
I was. I was assigned to -- we had the office split into four sections. And by what types of -- of charges or what types of activity that we believe the detainees had been involved in. The section of the cases that I was working with were what we called "planners and financiers." And from what I could see of the case file he would fit into a facilitator or a planner type -- type case.
And at some point, you began to hear rumors about his interrogation that concerned you as a prosecutor, first of all.
I would say initially I heard about certain detainees that were having special projects. And people always sort of refer to it in those terms, "special project." And I was later to learn that that basically meant enhanced interrogation techniques. There's all kinds of sort of buzzwords they have that we were utilizing for these things. And Slahi was one of the detainees that I learned was subject to special interrogation tactics or special projects.
And did you have any idea what that meant?
I really didn't. I really didn't. All we heard, all we knew was sort of rumor. I mean, here we were, the prosecutors, and we were going off of a rumor that we were hearing from other law, you know, other law enforcement agents and their communications with some of the intelligence folks as to what actually these enhanced interrogation techniques entailed. But we -- I never saw any formal -- in other words, I didn't have a situation where I could go look up what was the approved interrogation plan. We -- all of the stuff that I ever saw that gave an indication of what was approved was what my law enforcement agent found "under the table."
As the prosecutor, were concerned about how the evidence presented to you had been obtained.
Well, my first trip to Guantanamo when I had seen the detainee that had strobe lights and heavy metal music being blared and immediately I thought these were SERE techniques being applied. Then in my mind, having been through SERE school I said, okay, we've got a have a concern as to the statements that we see that are coming out in the form of intelligence reports: how were they obtained? Because if they were obtained, using that kind of interrogation techniques then we're going to have an issue. The defense is going to be able to raise an issue that those statements were coerced. And an attack -- and they will always attack the credibility of your evidence. But when the bulk of your evidence is what the detainees says, that he was involved in -- with al-Qaeda, then the circumstances upon which he gave that information is -- I mean, that's your case. That's your case. What I had seen originally indicated that he had some sort of connections with other known al-Qaeda operatives. Really the one that really jumped off the table was Ahmed Ressam, who was responsible for the Millennium bomb plot. So that was a whole -- a whole set of circumstances that I had to look at. And also for the fact that he had spent a significant amount of time living in Germany, I mean, that was kind of a flag. I did see information from other -- from a high-value detainee that indicated he knew at least three of the hijackers that were integral to the 9/11 attack. So that's what -- that's what got my attention. That's what got the attention of just anybody that was familiar with Slahi's case noted. And it just jumped out at you as amongst the other cases.
But then he started -- then the information started pouring in so fast you couldn't keep up with it?
At some point -- at that time we did access to some intelligence databases where we could see the reporting. That is, you see how many intelligence reports are coming out that are the results of interrogations. With Slahi I noted, as we went on into the fall of 2003, he was being very prolific with what he what he was saying. And there were a lot of reports coming out. And just the volume -- I got to the point where I just couldn't keep up with what everything he was saying. I've got in the back of my mind what I had seen on that first trip. And I've also been told that Slahi is under special project. All of that's kind of coming together. And I'm thinking, okay, why is he being this prolific? What's going on? Are they -- are they, you know, is it physical coercion? Have they promised him things? You know, what's going on? And the reason, you know, from a -- from a trial lawyer's perspective that you want to know that is because it always goes back to the credibility of the evidence. It goes back to the credibility of the statements that he's making. And so the lead agent, the law enforcement agent that was working on this case, he was an agent from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS, and unfortunately I've got to leave him nameless.
But with my NCIS agent that was working the case, we talked about these things. And he understood where I was coming from. He had the same concerns. And it was at that time I said, okay, we need to find out what techniques are being used, what is making this Slahi guy talk like he's talking. And the frustrating thing for me was, you know, we were asking for any and all information related to Slahi. I mean, I was asking that information from, you know, several different intelligence agencies to get all the information. And we just were not being provided the information. I had a top-secret clearance. I -- in my view, I clearly had a need to know, as the prosecutor for the case. So what was the impediment for me to find out why he was being as talkative as he was?
And what do you think it was -- the impediment?
All -- the only assumption that I can make was the nature of the interrogation techniques that were being utilized in this case. The NCIS investigator that was working with me on the case, he's real gregarious, outgoing guy; he knows a lot of people. And he's really good at his job. And he was able to go out and start getting a hold of some documents and stuff that we were able to piece together. It was like a great, big jigsaw puzzle that we were able to sort of put together and get a picture. You know, it's like you can -- you can be putting together a jigsaw puzzle, you don't have all of the pieces, but you got enough of the pieces there, they give you an indication of what's going on and what it's going to look -- what it would look like if you had all the pieces. And that's where we were. He was finding enough information by talking to different people and getting these documents that I was able to put together a picture. This was an individual they had used some -- these enhanced techniques that I felt like were clearly coercive, and that ultimately he had broken and was giving up a lot of information.
But you didn't know if it was true or not true.
From a trial attorney's perspective, at least my view was and is today: It's one thing if the information is true, but that's not the end of the inquiry as to whether we can use it in a criminal prosecution. And whether we can use it is informed by, you know, the rules that we were actually going under at the time. And also there were some elements of international treaties that we had signed, the United States had signed and we were bound to, that could inhibit our ability to use information that was obtained with coercive means. By coercive means I mean information that this individual might not otherwise give to you. That is, something we did with his environment, something we did with his psychological makeup. You know, whether he was under physical duress or pain. You know, in Slahi's case, whether we had threatened his family. All of those things go towards what I perceive to be coercive means. It wasn't until the spring of 2004 I started seeing some documents that my NCIS agent had found that -- they were bigger and bigger jigsaw puzzle pieces, if you will. I mean, they were telling a lot more of the story. And we knew the he had broken at some point back in mid to late 2003 because of the volume of information that he was giving, but we didn't have a very good idea of what had been used to get him to break. It was in spring of 2004 that the NCIS agent on the case found a document that was basically a letter on what appeared to be State Department letterhead. And it was like a discussion between different parts of the US government discussing that Slahi's mother and brother had been taken into custody. That his mother was going to be brought to Guantanamo. That she was going to be the only female at Guantanamo. And in the letter it was stating concerns about her -- her personal safety. I mean, the inference being, you know, we can't -- you know, we can't insure she's going to be protected from all those other men that are on Guantanamo. It was a clear implication that she was going to be harmed or could be harmed. And I took that in conjunction with other statements that I seen that indicated that was one of the interrogation techniques they were using with Slahi was that, you know, we've got your family. And, you know, we took them into custody, and they started crying. You know, you better start telling us what -- telling us what you know.
And for me, that was it. That was it. When I had seen in writing what was clearly, I mean, it was -- and it was false. I mean, you know, it was -- the letter was just -- I mean, I could tell there was no way that the US government would be putting that in writing, and it was an interrogation tactic. But in my view it still violated the UN Torture Convention is -- that's sort of a short name for it. To me, it was violative [sic] of that. There is a provision in the treaty under Article 15 that says, you know, if you've got information that's obtained by torture that you can't use it against him in any proceeding brought by the signatory country.
Did you ever imagine that these kinds of things would in fact be done at the hands of the US government?
I did not. I did not. And that's when I got -when I really kind of came to that conclusion, it was a real mix of emotions. I would say they ranged from utter frustration, that something that the interrogation of this individual, of Slahi, had ruined a case. A potential, you know, -- potentially a case involving somebody that had a relation to 9/11. I was frustrated about that. I was outraged, is the best word I can come up with, that these types of things were being done by the United States. And one of the reason it was, you know, when we're going through SERE school, when just being in the military, you know, we always think of ourselves as "we're the good guys." You know, the United States has always stood for, you know, goodness in fair play. That's a good way -- I think is a good way to look at it. And that we have always been -- we've been outraged, as a nation, when other countries were using coercive methods and methodology on their prisoners. And I -- I just -- at the time I was like, okay, so how are we different? When I was in high school, I read several accounts of the prisoners of war that were held by the North Vietnamese and what they endured at their in hands in the Hanoi Hilton. And so I've always had the utmost respect for them, and frankly, a lot of outrage against the Vietnamese, the North Vietnamese, for their treatment. And in those accounts there's a lot of discussion about the Geneva Conventions. And, you know, how these men that were being held in the prisoner of war camps always had that hope that somehow, using the Geneva Conventions as a backdrop, the world would be able to see what was wrong with what was being done to them and that they would get justice. And, you know, that Vietnamese experience had a profound impact on, you know, the interpretations of the code of conduct. And it was directly attributable to even having SERE school to begin with. It's because that kind of behavior was out there. And so for me, that was part of the backdrop for when I started seeing what was being done with Slahi. And I was just outraged because, you know, if stooped -- if we stoop and we compromise on our ideals as a nation, then these guys have accomplished much more than driving airplanes into the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon.
What role did your deeply felt evangelical Christian beliefs play in your decision to decline to prosecute the Slahi case?
Ultimately, my Christian belief is what motivated me to finally get off the fence and to take a stand. And I didn't it's not like I wanted to be I didn't want to make myself out to be better than anybody else or a martyr or anything like that. I just had this abiding sense that God's not going to honor this. And I'm not honoring God by prosecuting a man with this type of evidence. That's ultimately where I came down. And it was sort of that realization was what finally brought me to the point of, "Okay, it's time to it's time to take a stand in what way I could." Really, how it all came together, how it ultimately came together was I was we attend the Falls Church over here in Falls Church, Virginia. And it's an Anglican church and when we have a baptism, there is a liturgy that the congregation repeats responsibly with the you know, with the rector who is conducting the service. And right in the middle of this time, when I had received this information from the NCIS agent -- the documents, stuff about the State Department letterhead -- and it was at the end of this, hearing all of this information, reading all this information, months and months and months of sort of wrangling with the issue, that I was in church this Sunday, and we had a baptism. And we got to the part of the liturgy that says and all of the congregation repeats this. And I'm paraphrasing here, but it's to the essence of, you know, that we respect the human dignity of every human being, and seek for and seek peace and justice on the earth. And when we spoke those words that morning, there was a lot of people in that church, I could have been the only one there. I mean I just felt this incredible just, all right, there it is. You can't come in here on Sunday, and as a Christian, subscribe to this belief, you know, of dignity to every human being, and that I will seek justice and peace on the earth, and continue to go with the prosecution of using that kind of evidence. The two came together. And at that point, I just -- I knew what I had to do. And it was kind of like, you know, you got to get off the fence. I got to get off the fence. And I mean I knew that people some would say, well, you know what? That's a cop out. That's a cop out. You know. You just refused to do that because it got too tough. And, you know, there is that very human that human phenomenon of pride. Pride of doing a good job, of going the extra mile, willing to do the hard things, and so forth, and I really had to wrestle with that. And I just I went back and forth and ultimately came down, you know what? I'm just not I'm just not doing what I'm supposed to be doing on this earth, at least what God tells me I'm supposed to be doing as a Christian, if I don't if I don't say something about it and take a stand. And it wasn't easy.
Doesn't sound like it was easy.
No. It wasn't easy because it is not it's definitely not that I didn't want to prosecute the guy. It's not that I didn't want to see him suffer whatever penalty that he would suffer if he was convicted.
Do you -- I know that you make a distinction of sorts, well, and other people do as well, between torture and cruel and inhumane. Do you consider what you learned about Guantanamo to be torture?
Well, that's -- that is one of the quintessential gray areas of this issue, and that is that, you know, what is torture? Where does torture pick up, you know -- and -- you know, where do you cross over that line? Cruel, degrading, inhuman treatment, and when does it cross that line over into torture? And I think that's almost like a that's almost like a strike zone for an empire in baseball. What is that empire's strike zone? And I think that's an issue that's going to be debated to the end of time.
All I know is, for me, I had a strike zone. What I thought to be permissible and what I thought had to be impermissible. And whether I can be part of a system, part of a process that utilizes that kind of information or not. And me, it just went outside the strike zone. And it was I mean it's informed by a lot of by several different aspects. Clearly my Christian faith informed everything I was doing, but it was informed by, you know, what what's the international treaty obligation that we have here? Am I going to be able to provide this information to the defense? So that they can they can give him a his rights under the process? Can they appropriately defend him? And so ultimately, when I made the decision, and I discussed it with the chief prosecutor, I ultimately broke it down to there's ethical I started, I thought from the easiest explaining to the toughest, and it was there is legal reasons, ethical reasons, and then there's moral reasons. You know, the legal reasons being I thought that the evidence could be prohibited under the international treaty obligation. The ethical dilemma of being able to provide information to the defense counsel for the detainee, so that they could avail themselves of the legal protections. So I felt like I had an ethical duty to be able to provide him with what I knew so that he could do his job. And ultimately, it did come down to the third, and most important thing for me was the moral position. And as I stated in a document that I gave the chief prosecutor, I find the techniques that were used with this detainee to be morally repugnant, and for that reason alone, I'm not going to have any further participation in his prosecution.
It is the classic slippery slope. I believe when, as a government, we adopt a policy that allows for the degradation and dehumanization of another human being, whoever they may be, whatever they may be charged with or alleged to have done, I believe when we adopt that as an acceptable and authorized method of interrogation with that individual, we have now embarked on a slippery slope that we can easily slip down ourselves. And why is that? Well, it's just one thing you see in the military. It's there is an order given at the top end, and sometimes the order given is not the order that's carried out. Because there is other people that have to get involved, to get involved in that, that chain between where the order is given and where the order is carried out. And, you know and another thing, too, and I go back to my Christian belief. We are inherently human beings are just inherently sinful. We are. I mean we just take a real good look around us in the world, there is a lot of good in the world, but there is a lot of evil, too, that's committed against each other. We are inherently sinful beings, and that if we get if we embark on a policy that allows us, by sanction of government, basically, to mistreat another human being, then that can quickly get out of control, when it's carried out by sinful human beings.
How did the -- the methods of governments that we consider unethical, methods that we consider and have prosecuted, in fact, in the past as torture, how did that become the policy of the United States?
That's -- that's what I'd like to know myself. I've got my own personal theory about it, and it goes something along the lines like this. And I'd like to see if this was ever borne out, if somebody could prove my theory correct. My theory on it is this: is that you start with the techniques and the tactics of the North Vietnamese of Soviet block countries and so forth, and how they treated detainees. And in response to that, the United States government developed SERE school, that is, to train its own servicemen and women is to how to resist these types of tactics, how to deal with it, if it ever happened to us.
And then in those intervening years, we had all we had these intelligence operatives, basically trained interrogators. And the most real world experience that they had, say, you know, from 1975 all the way up to, you know, give it 1991, for the Gulf War, which was a fairly brief war, and then on up to 2001, for really that period of time, between 1975 and 2001, with the exception of the Gulf War. The only real world -- consistent "real world experience" that they were getting was some of them were going through SERE school.
It was the closest approximation to basically having real subjects, you know, real detainees to interrogate. And what were they seeing? They were seeing servicemen and women, you know, Marines, Army, Air Force, Navy, you know, Navy seals, special operations type folks in these environments, and some of them were breaking. Some of them were giving information as a result of these coercive techniques that were being utilized. So now, having that knowledge, fast forward to 2001. United States has been attacked in a way unprecedented in our history. They don't know when the next attack is coming. And they've got to get the information and get it fast. And so maybe from the perspective of nothing more than expediency was why these techniques were adopted. And they felt okay about adopting these techniques, because, you know, the mantra is we have been doing it against our own people. We have been utilizing these same techniques with our own people.
But in my view, what gets dropped out of that of that analysis is but when we go to SERE school, we're volunteers. We're volunteers. We go there we know that we're going to be trained, and, you know, that form of discipline, that form of harsh treatment is ultimately for our good. And we know that it's going to be over in a week. Not so, an individual that who doesn't know that they're going to be released from captivity after a week, who has not volunteered to be there. And does not have what's risen to the level of customary international law in the nature of treatment and expectations of a detaining power to its detainees. I do want to note here, I was not the only one in the office that had concerns about these interrogation techniques. You know, there were two other senior prosecutors, Navy commander and another Marine, lieutenant colonel that were there with me, and there were other prosecutors in the office, that had a concern. And we were looking into, okay, what was the nature of the treatment of these detainees, you know, from the moment we picked them up off the battlefield until today, so that we could again, it was going back to that, what is this going to look like in a court room? What is this going to look like when we're standing in front of the military commission members and trying to convince them that this evidence is good evidence? You know, it was discussed in the office. And there were concerns raised. I was not the only one that had a concern. I think for me, the tipping point came, just the nature of the interrogations that had gone on with Slahi and my own Christian belief. I don't know that the other prosecutors ever actually got down to the point of having the evidence staring them in the face, like I did. I mean I had I had documents that I was looking at that said right here, it spells it out.
Do you worry about how history will judge the behavior of the United States during this period of time?
Absolutely. Absolutely. When I left Camp Lejeune to go to military commissions, the chief judge at Camp Lejeune is a Marine colonel. He's since retired, and he's a great guy. And he asked me to come over and see him on my way out the door, just so we could say our goodbyes. And I remember him saying to me, he said, you know, my sense of this is I mean this was him saying his sense was, what's going to be important is not whether we get a conviction. Not whether, you know -- what kind of punishment is ever meted out with these people, but did we do it in such a way that when history looks at us, 20, 30, 40, 50 years on, did we do the right thing. And he said, I think that's going to be your challenge in this job. And so that that was my mindset going into it. That was definitely my mindset going into it.