Obama Bans Waterboarding Terrorists, But Pentagon Won't Say If It Still Waterboards Military Trainees

April 21, 2009 - 7:18 PM
Although waterboarding is now banned as an interrogation technique for terror suspects, the Defense Department will not say whether U.S. soldiers still undergo waterboarding in their training.

President Barack Obama speaks at the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Va., Monday, April 20, 2009. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

(CNSNews.com) – Although President Obama has prohibited the use of waterboarding in interrogating captured al Qaeda terrorists, the Defense Department will not say whether it has stopped using waterboarding in its training of certain U.S. military personnel, as was discussed in a 2002 government memo made public last week.  
 
One of the previously classified Justice Department memos detailing CIA interrogation techniques that was released by Obama last week revealed that waterboarding was routinely used in the training some U.S. military personnel.

The waterboarding took place in the SERE program, an acronym for “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape.” The formerly classified memos were prepared by the Justicie Department to advise the CIA on the legality of "enhanced techniques" of interrogation that included waterboarding.

An August 2002 memo on CIA interrogation tactics used on some captured al Qaeda terrorists  said the “same techniques" continued to be used on some U.S. military personnel during SERE training.
 
Those “same techniques” included waterboarding, according to the memo. The memo further stated that waterboarding had a “near 100 percent” effectiveness rate in extracting information from trainees, while no soldiers were harmed physically or psychologically by it.

Other techniques included slapping, dietary limitations, sleep deprivation and confinement in small rooms. Critics of the interrogation techniques, including President Barack Obama, have called such techniques torture.
 
“The mission [of SERE] is to train military members to survive an isolation event,” said Kathleen Jabs, spokeswoman for the U.S. Joint Forces Command, the division of the Defense Department that oversees the SERE program. “It could be a full range of things.”
 
When asked whether the training techniques have changed to eliminate waterboarding since the 2002 memo was written, Jabs told CNSNews.com: “The training model they use, they base on scientific research and sound training principles. You have to adequately prepare military personnel for what could happen if they are captured.”
 
However, she would not specify whether waterboarding is still used on troops during training.
 
“If we start going down a road of specifics--is this training used, is that training used--there’s just a lot of things due to classification they don’t talk about,” she said.
 
Jabs said she did not know specifically whether training techniques were classified information.
 
“Still, it’s singling out one particular type of training,” she said. “If we answer one question, it sort of starts chipping away. So to be consistent with what we do, we don’t talk about specifics. Anything that anybody can read to know what we are doing or not doing, could potentially jeopardize the training they are doing.”

The 2002 memo specifically said the U.S. Navy still uses waterboarding during SERE training but that other military branches have stopped using the technique.
 
“You have informed us that your on-site psychologists, who have extensive experience with the use of the waterboard in Navy training, have not encountered any significant long-term mental health consequences from its use,” the 2002 memo said.
 
“You have informed us that other services ceased use of the waterboard because it was so successful as an interrogation technique but not because of any concerns over any harm, physical or mental, caused by it,” the memo reads. “It was also reported to be almost 100 percent effective in producing cooperation among trainees.”
 
A SERE trainer of three-and-a-half years cited in the memo said that he trained 10,000 students. “Of those students, only two dropped out of the training following the use of these techniques. Although, on rare occasions some students temporarily postponed the remainder of their training and received psychological counseling, those students were able to finish the program without any indication of subsequent mental health effects.”
 
Another trainer of 10 years, cited in the memo, said none of his trainees experienced mental health problems, except “one person who did not complete the training. That person experienced an adverse mental health reaction that lasted only two hours.”
 
“Of the 26,829 students trained from 1992 through 2001 in the Air Force SERE training, 4.3 percent of these students had contact with psychology services,” the memo states. “Of those 4.3 percent, only 3.2 percent were pulled from the program for psychological reasons.”
 
On the sleep deprivation that SERE trainees endured, the memo said, “[I]t is not uncommon for someone to be deprived for 72 hours and still perform excellent on visual-spatial motor tasks and short-term memory tasks.”
 
President Obama has banned the use of the interrogation techniques described in the memos. The White House did not respond to inquiries Monday and Tuesday on whether the president would ban the use of waterboarding during military training as well.
 
A Justice Department memo of May 30, 2005, released by the Obama administration, revealed that the CIA, in waterboarding al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheik Mohammed, was able to gather information that allowed the U.S. government to stop a 9/11-type attack on Los Angeles.