Major New Torture Archive Gives 1st Peek at SERE SOP

(7:00PM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

The National Security Archive and Washington Media Associates have introduced a major new research resource, as part of their new website, The Torture Archive, which appears at the site along with timelines related to torture, a discussion guide, various interviews, and the documentary, “Torturing Democracy” itself, is described as “the online institutional memory for essential evidence on torture.”

Drawing upon work already done by the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), and various journalists, the Archive intends to “bring together all these materials in digital formats, organize and catalog them for maximum utility and access, and publish them online in multiple packages including a comprehensive searchable database.” NSA/WMA describe their intentions thusly:

The idea is to present the documents online in a way that is fully searchable and also includes brief commentary of certain highlighted documents as well as background information in each topic area (such as in the Archive’s series of online “electronic briefing books”). The Web site will ultimately allow a user to browse chronologies of events and related documents, and search the entire body of documents or a limited group of documents for information related to a particular individual, location, or government body. By combining released executive branch policy memoranda, legal documents from U.S. and foreign courts, and on-the-ground information about actual practices by the U.S. military and intelligence personnel, we hope to present a comprehensive view of the war on terrorism, its foundations and its implications….

The initial catalog of torture-related documents cited in the documentary film is published here together with PDF images of the documents themselves. Subsequent postings will build the Torture Archive and ultimately include more than 7,000 original documents totaling more than 100,000 pages.

SERE SOP Posted for First Time

The first real gem to be uncovered by the TD archive is the previously classified Standard Operating Procedure at Guantanamo introduced by personnel from the military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE, program. The SOP introduced torture techniques to Guantanamo that were specifically meant to “break” prisoners. How do we know this? From the December 2002 memo that accompanied the SERE SOP, which was released by the SASC last June. The memo’s author was quite specific (emphasis added):


The premise behind this is that the interrogation tactics used at U.S. military SERE schools are appropriate for use in real-world interrogations. These tactics and techniques are used at SERE school to “break” SERE detainees. The same tactics and techniques can by used to break real detainees during interrogation operations.

At the time of this initial release of the memo, the SOP itself was classified. But now, thanks to TD, we have the full SOP for the first time, reproduced here to facilitate discussion and understanding of the issues. The SOP’s author is Chief of Interrogation Control Element (ICE) at Guantanamo, Lt. Col. Ted Moss. The text below, based upon the PDF of the document, is taken from Stephen Soldz’s transcription at his blog, and includes his editorial preface (and thanks to you, Stephen, for taking this trouble for all of us). I will only add that I have quietly corrected some of Dr. Soldz’s typos, by comparison with the original document, and added some formatting to match emphases in the original, e.g. underlinings, bolded text.

Here is the document. It is also available in pdf. [as this was a draft, the formatting was inconsistent. I have corrected some formatting. I have not corrected any typos. Thus, presumably, the word “NOT” is missing after “DO” from the sentence “IT IS CRITICAL THAT INTERROGATORS DO “CROSS THE LINE” WHEN UTILIZING THE TACTICS DESCRIBED BELOW..” Obviously, despite my best efforts at accuracy, this text should be checked against the pdf before citing.]



   10 DECEMBER 2002




   1. Purpose. This SOP document promulgates procedures to be followed by JTF-GTMO personnel engaged in interrogation operations on detained persons. The premise behind this is that the interrogation tactics used at U.S. military SERE schools are appropriate for use in real-world interrogations. These tactics and techniques are used at SERE school to “break” SERE detainees. The same tactics and techniques can be used to break real detainees during interrogation operations.

   The basis for this document is the SOP used at the U.S. Navy SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) school in Brunswick, Maine and is defined by reference (a).

   Note that all tactics are strictly non-lethal.


   2. Training. All interrogators will undergo training by certified SERE instructors prior to being approved for use of any of the techniques described in this document.

   3. Scope. Applicable to military and civilian interrogators assigned to JTF-GTMO, Cuba.


   LtCol, USAF



   a. This document describes in detail the interrogation tactics authorized for use in detainee interrogation operations at JTF_GTMO and the safety precautions that must be used to prevent injuries. The tactics are the same as those used in U.S. military SERE schools.




   a. Approved interrogation tactics are found in Sections 3-6.

   b. Additional safeguards are as follows:

   1. Detainee behavior and reactions are continuously observed and evaluated by the interrogator.

   2. Both the detainee’s and the interrogators behavior are monitored by the Watch Officer.

   3. IT IS CRITICAL THAT INTERROGATORS DO “CROSS THE LINE” WHEN UTILIZING THE TACTICS DESCRIBED BELOW. Therefore, verbal coded messages or nonverbal signals will be used by the Watch Officer (or other interrogators) when giving instructions to adjust interrogation procedure. For example, two kicks on the door indicated the interrogator should discontinue the current approach and move on to another approach. The statement, “Stop wasting time with this pig,” means to discontinue the current training tactic and take a break.


   a. SHOULDER SLAP. The shoulder slap is a moderate to hard, glancing blow to the back of the shoulder with an open hand. It is used as an irritant.

   b. INSULT SLAP. *****

   (1) The insult slap is used to shock and intimidate the detainee. The slap is aimed at the detainee’s cheek only. Contact will be made only with the fingers in the open hand position and the fingers will be slightly spread and relaxed. The slap will be initiated no more than 12-14 inches (or one shoulder width) from the detainee’s face.

   To ensure this distance is not exceeded and to preclude any tendency to wind up or uppercut, the slap will be initiated with the slap hand contacting the detainee’s body on the top of the shoulder. The target area is slightly below the cheekbone, away from the eyes and ears. Extreme care must be taken not to strike the lower jaw. Slaps aimed at the ears, mouth, nose eyes or throat are prohibited.

   (2) Uninterrupted or consecutive slaps are prohibited because the detainee will duck or dodge the slap, creating possibility for an injury. Experience has shown that after a second slap, the effectiveness of the slap tactic is significantly reduced. Interrogators will cease using the slap if detainee begins ducking. At this point, a threatened slap with the hand will achieve the same purpose as a slap. Blows with the back of the hand, fists, elbows, feet and knees are prohibited. Insult slaps are only to be used by those interrogators designated in writing by the ICE CHIEF.

   C. STOMACH SLAP. ******

   (1) As with the insult slap, the stomach slap is used to shock and intimidate the detainee. The tactic is delivered with the back of the bare hand. The slap will be directed towards the center of the abdomen. The detainee will not be struck in the solar plexus, ribs, sides, and kidneys or below the navel. The slap will not be performed against the bare skin. Slaps will be initiated with the interrogator’s upper arm parallel to his/her body, extending the striking hand in a swinging motion to the target area. Detainees will be either facing or to the side of the interrogator when the slap is administered.

   (2) Uninterrupted or consecutive slaps are prohibited. Blows to the stomach with the palm of the hand fist, knees, or elbows are prohibited.


   (1) Stripping consists of forceful removal of detainees’ clothing. In addition to degradation of the detainee, shipping can be used to demonstrate the omnipotence of the captor or to debilitate the detainee. Interrogator personnel tear clothing from detainees by firmly pulling downward against buttoned buttons and seams. Tearing motions shall be downward to prevent pulling the detainee off balance.


   a. STRESS POSITIONS. Stress positions are used to punish detainees. ALL STRESS POSITIONS ARE RESTRICTED TO A MAXIMUM TIME OF TEN MINUTES AND A LOGBOOK ENTRY IS REQURED [sic]. An interrogator/guard will remain with detainees during use of stress positions. The authorized positions are:

   (1) Head Rest/Index Finger position – Detainee is placed with forehead or fingers against the wall, then the detainee’s legs are backed out to the point that the detainee’s leaning weight is brought to bear on fingers or head.

   (2) Kneeling position – Administered by placing detainee on knees and having him lean backward on heels and hold hands extended to the sides or front, palms upward. Light weights such as small rocks, may be placed in the detainee’s upturned palms. The detainee will not be placed in a position facing the sun or floodlights.

   (3) Worship-the-Gods – The detainee is placed on knees with head and torso arched back, with arms either folded across the chest or extended to the side or front. The detainee will not be placed in a position facing the sun or floodlights.

   (4) Sitting Position – the detainee is placed with his back against a wall, tree or post; thighs are horizontal, lower legs are vertical with feet flat on floor or ground as though sitting in a chair. Arms may be extended to sides horizontally, palms up and boots on.

   (5) Standing position – While standing, the detainee is required to extend arms either to the sides or front with palms up. Light weights such as small rocks may be placed in upturned palms.



   (1) Hoods are lightweight fabric sacks large enough to fit loosely over a detainee’s head and permit unrestricted breathing.

   (2) Hooding us [sic] used to isolate detainees. Individually hooded detainees may be moved provided an interrogator/guard leads the detainee. Detainees may not be left standing alone with the hood on. They must be placed either on their stomachs, kneeling, or sitting. Detainee medical limitations must be considered.


   a. MANHANDLING. Manhandling consists of pulling or pushing a detainee. It is used as an irritant and to direct the detainee to specific locations. Detainees must be handcuffed and must grasp their trousers near mid-thigh with both hands. The interrogator firmly grasps detainee’s clothing and then moves the detainee at a walking pace. The interrogator must maintain positive control of the detainee. The detainee is not released until the interrogator is positive the detainee has regained balance.

   b. WALLING. ***** Walling consists of placing a detainee forcibly against a specially constructed wall. Walling will only be performed in designated areas where specially constructed walls have been built. Walling is used to physically intimidate a detainee. The interrogator must ensure the wall is smooth, firm, and free of any projections. If conducted outside, footing area must be solid and free of objects that could cause detainee or interrogator to lose their balance. A detainee can be taken to the wall a maximum of three times per shift. Walling is done by firmly grasping the front of the detainee’s clothing high on each side of the collar ensuring the top of the clothing is open. Care should be taken to ensure detainees with long hair do not get their hair tangled into the folds of clothes being grasped by the interrogator. To avoid bruising the detainee, roll hands under folds of clothing material and ensure only the backs of the hands contact detainee’s chest. Maintain this grip throughout, never allowing the detainee to be propelled uncontrollably. Ensure only the broad part of the shoulders contact the surface of the wall. Grip the detainee’s clothing firmly enough so the collar acts as a restrictive constraint to preclude the detainee’s head from contacting the wall does this. If the detainee’s head inadvertently touches the wall, walling will be ceased immediately. Walling is to be used by those interrogators designated in writing by the ICE CHIEF.


“Stop wasting time with this pig”

The brutality and inhumanity of the U.S. military’s torture program is mind-boggling. The tender mercies of SERE instructions indicating that certain damage or harm should not come to prisoners when utilizing certain techniques is not an example of humanitarianism, but a blatant attempt to cover-up the physical marks of torture, or to avoid the embarrassment and evidence of tortured corpses.

Readers should compare the above SOP with the use of Albert Biderman’s “Chart of Coercion,” which SERE instructors used to teach Guantanamo interrogators, including behavioral “scientists” in the “BSCT” teams, i.e., psychologists, psychiatrists, and others, how to torture.

The Biderman chart adds some other techniques which are implicit in the Guantanamo terms of incarceration, and therefore didn’t need to be part of the SERE SOP. Such techniques of psychological torture, as practiced in conjunction with the SERE SOP brutality include use of isolation, beyond the practice of hooding, as explained in the Camp Delta Guantanamo camp-wide SOP, declassified some months ago. Here, isolation is described as a tactic meant “to enhance and exploit the disorientation and disorganization felt by a newly arrived detainee” by isolating him or her in a Maximum Security cell, without even access to Red Cross or religious personnel, for at least the first four weeks upon arrival. Such isolation is meant, via Biderman/SERE’s rational to deprive the prisoner of all social support and “ability to resist.”

The other primary technique, only partly addressed in the SERE SOP, is degradation, which is meant to damage prisoner self esteem, via prevention of personal hygiene, insults, taunts, “demeaning punishments” and “denial of privacy,” which “reduces the prisoner to ‘animal level’ concerns”. “Stripping” detainees of all clothing is described in the SERE document. But degradation of prisoners permeates the entire Guantanamo regime. Camp Delta SOP’s “behavioral management” program for detainees makes even toilet paper a “privilege” for detainees.

Make no mistake, we are living in a totally lawless world, where there is no accountability for great crimes, whether those crimes be the torture of countless thousands, the aggressive bombing and devastation of non-attacking countries, violations of privacy against ordinary citizens, or the rape and pillage of the economies of the world for the benefit of a privileged few.

The website Torturing Democracy, with its attempts to bring vital information forward, and other such efforts by civil society to reign in the excesses of the U.S. military, will go for naught if the state apparatus remains in the hands of the clique who has ruled this country for decades now. The current economic crisis has shaken their confidence, and they certainly understand that if the genie of engaged popular dissent and action is let out of the bottle, they can quickly lose everything they have built their apparatus of oppression to contain.

Even the accession of a mere liberal like Barack Obama to the presidency frightens them, as they believe that in this world, the “dream” and “hope” Obama has inspired in millions can not be achieved under their class rule, and they fret over what might happen if the disappointment runs too deep. The desperation of the masses has played a crucial role in history, and not always for the good. But when it is let loose, it carves out new terrain in the body politic like a flash flood running through a naked arroyo. History is littered with the names of forgotten royal families, political parties, and common wisdom homilies to the status quo.

This rotten regime deserves to go the way of all flesh, and it will, sooner or later.

Also posted at Invictus


    • Valtin on October 12, 2008 at 23:42

    Yes, this post includes the full text of the SERE SOP. I hope readers bookmark the Torture Democracy website, as it looks to be a central stopping place for anyone looking to understand or research the torture issue and its history.

    I have a few issues with their early timeline discussion (i.e., from the early 1950s), and hope to be in dialogue with them soon on this. But otherwise, the vast majority of the sites materials are astounding and build on the work of many organizations.

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