The Corner

SERE, Ctd.

Reader J.P. weighs in:

Regarding the differences in SERE and actual interrogation, your second correspondent and William Saletan make a very similar mistake. They both insist that key difference is that interrogation is an involuntary exercise while SERE is voluntary. On the contrary, all the suspect has to do is cooperate with his interrogators and the ordeal will be over.

Saletan puts it this way: “Fifth and most important, SERE is voluntary. ‘Students can withdraw from training,’ Ogrisseg noted. In a report issued four months ago, the Armed Services Committee added that in SERE, ’students are even given a special phrase they can use to immediately stop’ any ordeal.” Terrorists under interrogation have a similar phrase: It’s called, “I’ll talk.”

Similarly, your second correspondent says, “These are profound differences from the situation of a prisoner, who can’t opt out, and for whom the whole experience is counter-instrumental to their goals.” The first part of this is incorrect, the target can opt out at any point he wants by providing the information. And while he is correct that the experience is “counter-instrumental to [the target’s] goals” does the target really have an absolute right to withhold information that may kill Americans?

Now, obviously the target of interrogation does not want to be there and there is coercion involved, but he is most certainly making a decision to withhold information (as long as the interrogators are correct in there beliefs that the target has useful information). This what is so horrible about Saletan’s comparing interrogation to rape and SERE to S&M. An actual rape victim can do nothing to stop the attack. The rapist’s goal is the act itself. She can’t give him money or anything else since he is there to rape. On the contrary, a target of interrogation can make it stop since the goal of the interrogator is not the act itself.

To be honest, this shouldn’t have to be pointed out, but I thought Saletan’s analogy so disgusting that I had to e-mail.

Thanks. I agree with most of this, but I still think that the trainee’s greater confidence he will survive the exercise makes a big difference.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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