Military Training Materials

Carl Levin, Chair of the Armed Services Committee, US Senate

Carl Levin, Chairman,
Armed Services Com-
mittee, U.S. Senate.
                                                                                                                                                  Probably no other aspect of communism reveals more
                                                                                                                                                  thoroughly its disrespect for truth and the individuals
                                                                                                                                                  than its resort to these techniques.

                                                                                                                                                  Albert Biderman

On June 17, 2008, the Committee on Armed Services of the United States Senate scheduled a hearing in order to receive testimony on the origins of aggressive interrogation techniques used in the war on terror. This was intended to be Part I of the committee's inquiry into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. A number of documents were released for that hearing. One of them was a January 15, 2003 Memorandum from Navy SERE School Training Specialist and SERE Coordinator. This memorandum reported on the training provided by the authors of the memorandum to members of the ICE (or Interrogation Control Element) at Guantánamo. In this memorandum we read that

On the morning of 31 Dec 02, Mr. Ross and I initiated training with an in-depth class on Biderman's Principles, enclosure (2) and the theory and practical application of selected physical pressures, IAW our "Blue Book", to approximately 24 ICE personnel. This training was conducted in one of the newly constructed interrogation facilities located at Camp Delta.
The training based on Biderman's principles was of such importance that the memorandum concludes that
It is unknown at this time whether another request for support will be made. [We] [r]ecommend that future trainers, if requested, be thoroughly prepared to discuss and explain Biderman's Principles and captive management techniques.
Shortly after leaving Guantanamo, the Navy SERE training specialist who authored the previous memorandum sent a memorandum to a member of the Guantanamo ICE. This message was also released for the Senate hearings (see Enclosure 3). In this second memorandum, the SERE training specialist offers advice regarding the effective implementation of Biderman's Principles:
The use of physical and psychological pressures during interrogations, if deemed appropriate, are tools that can be applied in order to establish and reinforce the [Biderman] principles […] These principles and associated pressures allow the interrogation system to establish and maintain control of the exploitation process [or process for the extraction of information] of HUMINT [or human intelligence] sources under the authority of the ICE […] [Biderman's] management techniques are most effective if used in concert with each other since they are all mutually supporting and build upon the effects of others. They are all designed to elicit compliance from HUMINT sources by setting up the "captive environment". This is ideally accomplished by establishing control, instilling dependencies for basic existence, rewards and punishments, gaining compliance and in the end cooperation.
As to Biderman's Principles proper, they were also released for the hearing of the Armed Services Committee (see Enclosure (2) of the said memorandum). They appeared as a table titled Coercive Management Techniques / Biderman's Chart of Coercion, which we transcribe here as follows:

General Method
Effects (Purposes)
1. Isolation
Deprives victim of all social support of his ability to resist. Develops an intense concern with self. Makes victim dependent upon interrogator.
Complete solitary confinement. Complete isolation. Semi-isolation. Group isolation.
2. Monopolization of Perception
Fixes attention upon immediate predicament. Fosters introspection. Eliminates stimuli competing with those controlled by captor. Frustrates all action not consistent with compliance.
Physical isolation. Darkness or bright light. Barren environment. Restricted movement. Monotonous food.
3. Induced Debilitation and Exhaustion
Weakens mental and physical ability to resist
Semi-starvation. Exposure. Exploitation of wounds. Induced illness. Sleep deprivation. Prolonged constraint. Prolonged interrogation. Forced writing. Over-exertion.
4. Threats
Cultivates anxiety and despair
Threats of death. Threats of non [return?]. Threats of endless interrogation and isolation. Threats against family. Vague threats. Mysterious changes of treatment.
5. Occasional indulgences
Provides positive motivation for compliance. Hinders adjustment to deprivation.
[Occasional?] favors. Fluctuations of interrogator's attitudes. Promises. Rewards for partial compliance. Tantalizing.
6. Demonstrating "Omnipotence" and "Omniscience"
Suggests futility of resistance.
Confrontation. Pretending cooperation taken for granted. Demonstrating complete control over victim's fate.
7. Degradation
Makes cost of resistance more damaging to self-esteem than capitulation. Reduces prisoner to 'animal level' concerns.
Personal hygiene prevented. Filthy infested surrounds. Demeaning punishments. Insults and taunts. Denial of privacy.
8. Enforcing Trivial Demands
Develops habits of compliance.
Forced writing. Enforcement of minute rules.

As reported by the New York Times, this table was none other than Biderman's 1957 chart of Communist Coercive Methods for Eliciting Individual Compliance, copied here:

Biderman's Chart

As it turns out, this chart was prepared by sociologist Albert Biderman as a summary of his research into the methods employed by the Chinese communists to coerce information and false confessions from American servicemen captured during the Korean War.1 In an earlier and more detailed study,2 Biderman described these methods as "abominable outrages," adding that "[p]robably no other aspect of communism reveals more thoroughly its disrespect for truth and the individuals than its resort to these techniques".3


1. See his "Communist attempts to elicit false confessions from Air Force prisoners of war," Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, Vol. 33, No. 9, September 1957.

2. See his Communist Techniques of Coercive Interrogation. Air Force Personnel and Training Research Center, Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. AFPTRC-TN-56-132. ASTIA Document No. 098908.

3. See also Almerindo Ojeda's "What is Psychological Torture?". In Ojeda, A. (Ed.) The Trauma of Psychological Torture. Westport, Praeger, 2008.