Former Navy SEAL: Waterboarding, Sleep Deprivation: Just Another Day at the Office
The recent attacks on the president’s nominee, Gina Haspel, for the top spot in the CIA due to her involvement in the use of enhanced interrogation techniques by our DOD after 9/11 have me confused.
As a member of the U.S. military, I myself had to endure many of these same techniques. For the record, I am far from the only one.
This is a very controversial topic. Many senators, like former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), stand in opposition to Haspel’s nomination, stating that “Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying.” Democrats like Kamala Harris were very displeased that they could not get Gina Haspel to agree that the enhanced interrogations utilized in the past were immoral and unethical.
Yet many of my fellow veterans of all branches have undergone these “torture” techniques and worse in preparation to deploy into combat zones. This criticism of Haspel by both parties has me asking: If they did this to us and we don’t have a problem with it, why are we so concerned about doing this to terrorists to extract vital intelligence to save lives?
Yes, that is correct: many of the veterans you know as fathers, mothers, husbands, cousins, and family friends have endured waterboarding, sleep deprivation, starvation, and much, much more to prepare them for the very real possibility that we might get captured behind enemy lines. Please understand that this training is very well done and takes place in a controlled environment with all of the necessary safety measures. I will never forget my time in SERE (survival, evasion, resistance, escape) school. Although I am very thankful for the lessons I learned there and believe it is one hundred percent necessary to prepare those of us destined to operate in war zones, I will never volunteer to go back. Quite frankly, it sucked!
I was the only SEAL in my SERE class. The rest of my classmates were RECON marines, pilots, and air crew members who would shortly be headed downrange into combat zones. Due to my specialty, I had a target on my back and received some “extra attention” from the heavy accented Russian prison guards played by fellow U.S. service members. We spent most of our time in what looked like cement dog houses that were not tall enough to sit upright in and dark prison cells that blasted the most annoying audio tracks imaginable over loudspeakers. Thankfully, one of the many lessons that I learned was that if I tore off scraps of my t-shirt and stuck them in my ears, it made the noise bearable. The fact that we were required to sit on a four-by-four wooden beam inside our concrete shelters did not increase the comfort level of our accommodations. We spent our time practicing Morse code, a method of communications with each other by tapping on the walls that we had been taught the previous week and waiting for our turn to test our fortitude and newly learned avoidance and deflection skills during interrogations.
The more courageous members of the class took turns catching a little bit of shut-eye while other members acted as lookouts for the guards. I will never forget one of my interrogations or the man who carried it out. He was a very stocky, bald, white man who hit me so hard with an open hand that I actually lost consciousness for a split second and barely caught myself from hitting the floor.
Though I felt instant rage and wanted nothing more than to give it right back to him, it was a great opportunity to practice the restraint that I may need someday to save my own life or the lives of fellow captives. On the upside, I did lose at least 15 pounds due to the fact that we were not being fed to increase our stress and expose us to another likely outcome should we ever be captured.
When I hear our bureaucrats and politicians lecturing appointees and the cameras about taking the moral high ground and being above reproach in our handling of prisoners, I cannot help but question their understanding of the methods used or the big picture. I also do not believe they would feel the same way if a piece of extractable information that could protect one of their close friends or family members was available if they were willing to put the subject through a little discomfort.
We are not talking about pulling out fingernails or people’s teeth here. We aren’t talking about playing Russian roulette or chopping off hands or other extremities. We are talking about relatively mild interrogation techniques that I know to be relatively safe and effective because I have experienced many of them.
Their effects are temporary and attack the psyche rather than inflicting intense pain and permanent injury or death. They have not scarred me or my brothers for life and every one of them I spoke to before writing this piece said we should continue to expose our military personnel to these types of techniques and trainings to prepare them for a very possible outcome. More importantly, they also unanimously agreed that we should be able to continue to use these tactics and interrogations to extract valuable information from terrorists.
I was a supporter of Mrs. Haspel before these hearings. I am not so sure now after hearing her state that she would not restart these programs if she took charge. She also stated that she does not believe that torture works. I do not remember everything from SERE school but I do remember them telling us that, over a long enough timeline, everyone eventually breaks and that it was our job to hold out as long as we could to give our government and allies as much time as possible to make the necessary changes and protections for our exposed agents and assets.
I was only exposed to this type of treatment for a week. I am not sure how long I would have been able to stay strong had it been months or years, but I do know that it was having a minor, psychological impact on me. I will never be in support of inflicting excruciating physical or mental pain on our enemies but, as far as I’m concerned, if I can handle it and be just fine then I am OK with exposing our nation’s enemies to a little discomfort to make sure that we don’t lose more innocent American lives.