Newly released Guantánamo manual confirms use of banned techniques


The US flag at GuantanamoPublished on the website of the new documentary Torturing Democracy, and immediately reported by psychoanalyst and psychologist Stephen Soldz, the Standard Operating Procedure for SERE interrogations at Guantánamo — based on the counter-interrogation techniques taught by the US military at its SERE schools (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) — is not quite the smoking gun some of us would have hoped for.

There is, for example, no mention of religious humiliation, sexual humiliation, the use of loud music and noise, and the manipulation of national flags for psychological effect, even though all of these were used at Guantánamo, and are, moreover, part of the most confrontational level of SERE training, known as Level C. As Jane Mayer explained in The Experiment, her devastating exposé of the SERE techniques in the New Yorker in 2005, Level C SERE training “includes a grueling exercise in which trainees endure days of physical and psychological hardship inside a mock prisoner-of-war camp.”

Shorn of reference to these techniques, which I describe at length in my book The Guantánamo Files (even though their origins in the SERE program had not been confirmed at the time of writing), the newly released SERE SOP only tells part of what happened at Guantánamo during the reign of terror of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who notoriously exported his malign vision to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

It is, however, still of interest, as it explicitly states that the “tactics and techniques … used at SERE school to ‘break’ SERE detainees” are “appropriate for use in real-world interrogations” and “can be used to break real detainees during interrogation operations,” and includes detailed explanations of the use of controlled physical violence, forced nudity, hooding and various stress positions, which are all prohibited in the Army Field Manual.

Perhaps most significantly, it is explicitly stated, in bold capitals, that “All stress positions are restricted to a maximum time of ten minutes and a logbook entry is required,” even though, at the time the SOP was introduced, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved a separate set of techniques, subject to further approval by an “interrogator group director,” which went further than the SERE techniques exposed in this newly released SOP.

As well as forced nudity and hooding, the techniques approved by Rumsfeld included isolation for up to 30 days, sensory deprivation, 20-hour interrogations, removal of comfort and religious items, forced grooming, playing on prisoners’ phobias, such as a fear of dogs, to induce stress, and, crucially, the use of stress positions for up to four hours, far more than the ten-minute limit set by the SERE instructors. Moreover, Rumsfeld added a notorious hand-written footnote — “I stand for 8-10 hours. Why is standing limited to four hours?” — which, as I noted in The Guantánamo Files, indicated that he “had no idea of the pain that results from enforced stress positions, as opposed to standing freely at a lectern for ten hours a day, which was his preferred method of working.”

The text of the newly released SOP, marked “For Official Use Only” and dated 10 December 2002, is reproduced below (minor corrections are included in square brackets):




1. Purpose. This SOP document promulgates procedures to be followed by I I P-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.

Lt Col, 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 [NOT] “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 hand, fist, knees or elbows are permitted.


(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 REQUIRED. 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



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

(2) Hooding is 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.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

5 Responses

  1. Newly released Guantánamo manual confirms use of banned techniques | says...

    […] By Andy Worthington […]

  2. the talking dog says...

    Notwithstanding the convenient Congressional whitewashing in the 2006 Military Commissions Act that, besides overriding 791 years or so of habeas corpus law, inoculated all American personnel involved in the GTMO (and other “war on terror”) torture regimes. Hence, it protects all the players who might have signed on to this, up the chain from Gen. Geoffrey “Jack D. Ripper” Miller to his Commander at SoCom (Gen. James Hill) right up to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, over to Jim Haynes, back up to Rumsfeld, to Bush… (with side-trips to pick up Addington, Cheney, Libby and John Yoo… and maybe Ashcroft and Bybee). This manual remains an arguably prosaic, but still pretty good piece of paper-trail evidence nonetheless for non-American war crimes prosecutors (i.e. potentially just about every other country on Earth) as recently and brilliantly documented by Professor Philippe Sands. Indeed, the quotidian nature of it also kind of demonstrates Hannah Arendt’s observation of the “banality of evil’.

    Certainly, the manual doesn’t expressly authorize waterboarding or any of the more obvious tortures… but then again, what part of “name, rank and serial number” is missing here? The entire scheme of interrogations is illegal, and what’s more remarkable, any experienced interrogator would tell you that this level of infliction of disrespect and discomfort imposed on the subject is utterly ineffective to boot, though this is actually not the point… the point is, it is utterly illegal, and the American military’s interrogators are, because these methods are utterly illegal, not trained in them. [Indeed, the SERE techniques were to try to get American personnel not to make false confessions… not to avoid “spilling the beans”. We can’t even figure out the proper justification to throw out the rule book!]

    Sadly, none of this will be talked about in the last 22 days of our election, and I still believe most Americans simply don’t care at all about a bunch of foreigners, even as the rest of the world continues to hold this up as one of their leading grudges against the United States, even as it is clear that the United States needs the cooperation of other peoples and nations to achieve its strategic goals. And Republican appointed courts– such as the galling court in Washington that overruled Judge Urbina’s order that habeas corpus meant something– will provide whatever cover they can for the remainder of the Bush Administration.

    But piece by piece, the evidence mounts daily now that the policies of the Bush Administration were not merely misguided and ineffective… but entirely illegal from conception. As I’ve said before, I only hope I live long enough to see those responsible brought to account.

  3. EXCLUSIVE: “Guidebook to False Confessions”: Key Document John Yoo Used to Draft Torture Memo Released « NonviolentConflict says...

    […] (a form of sensory deprivation) and sexual humiliation can be used as a form of torture, which military interrogators employed against detainees at Guantanamo. Moreover, SERE trainees were also subjected to isolation, according to the PREAL manual (another […]

  4. Guidebook To False Confessions: US Torture Manual Released says...

    […] (a form of sensory deprivation) and sexual humiliation can be used as a form of torture, which military interrogators employed against detainees at Guantanamo. Moreover, SERE trainees were also subjected to isolation, according to the PREAL manual (another […]

  5. US Pentagon Releases Training Manual Used As Basis For Bush’s Torture Program says...

    […] (a form of sensory deprivation) and sexual humiliation can be used as a form of torture, which military interrogators employed against detainees at Guantánamo. Moreover, SERE trainees were also subjected to isolation, according to the PREAL manual (another […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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