SERE, an acronym for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, is a U.S. military program that provides personnel, Department of Defense civilians and contractors with training in evading capture, survival skills and the military code of conduct. Established by the Air Force at the end of the Korean War, it was extended during the Vietnam War to the Army and Navy. Most of its students are aircrew.
1. I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense. 2. I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command I will never surrender those under my command while they still have the means to resist. 3. If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy. 4. If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners. I will give no information nor take part in any action which might be harmful to my comrades. If I am senior I will take command. If not, I will obey the lawful orders of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way. 5. When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war, I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth. I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability. I will make no oral or written statements disloyal to my country and its allies or harmful to their cause. 6. I will never forget that I am an American, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.
SERE training was also conducted at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs from the late 1960s until 1995, at which time the resistance/escape element of the course was abolished (see Controversies below), leaving the survival and evasion classes in a program called Combat Survival Training (CST). The academy discontinued CST entirely in 2005, but has more recently announced the reinstatement of the program, including some portions of resistance training, in summer 2008.
The Fort Rucker SERE school is at the Army Aviation Warfare Center, near Daleville, Alabama. Its 21-day course is one of several prerequisites for aspiring pilots wishing to enter the Initial Entry Rotary Wing (IERW), or initial Army Aviator training. It is designed mainly for student pilots and aircrew, and run by cadre of 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment.
One of the U.S. Air Force's SERE training programs was conducted at the United States Air Force Academy from the late 1960s until 1995. Because a large number of pilots and other aircrew members graduated from the academy, it was more efficient for the Air Force to send all cadets through SERE training while they were still at the academy. Cadets would normally complete the training during the summer between their fourth-class (freshman) and third-class (sophomore) years. A number of selected second-class (junior) and first-class (senior) cadets would serve each year as SERE training cadre under the supervision of enlisted Air Force SERE instructors.
As a result of POWs' experiences during Operation Desert Storm, sexual assault resistance was added to the SERE curriculum. However, some of the training scenarios allegedly were taken too far by SERE cadet members at the academy during practical portions of the program. In 1995, the ABC television news program 20/20 reported that as many as 24 male and female cadets in 1993 had allegedly been sexually assaulted at the Academy during SERE training. One of the cadets sued the government, which eventually settled for a reported $3 million in damages.
As a result of the scandal, the SERE program at the Academy was reduced to the survival and evasion portions only, and called Combat Survival Training (CST). All graduates going on to aircrew positions were then required to attend the resistance portion of the training at Fairchild Air Force Base before reporting to an operational flying unit. The CST program was discontinued entirely in 2004. The Air Force Academy SERE program is running as of summer of 2008. The curriculum of the revived program will contain some resistance elements, but will not contain sexual assault resistance.
In July 2005 an article in The New Yorker magazine alleged that psychologists who help direct the SERE curriculum have been advising the military at Guantanamo Bay detainment camp and other sites on interrogation techniques.
The SERE program's chief psychologist, Colonel Morgan Banks, issued guidance in early 2003 for the "behavioral science consultants" who helped to devise Guantánamo's interrogation strategy although he has emphatically denied that he had advocated the use of counter-resistance techniques used by SERE instructors to break down detainees. The New Yorker notes that in November, 2001 Banks was detailed to Afghanistan, where he spent four months at Bagram Air Base, "supporting combat operations against Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters".
In June 2006 an article on Salon.com, an online magazine, confirmed finding a document obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union through the Freedom of Information Act. A March 22, 2005, sworn statement by the former chief of the Interrogation Control Element at Guantánamo said SERE instructors taught their methods to interrogators of the prisoners in Cuba. The article also claims that physical and mental techniques used against some detainees at Abu Ghraib are similar to the ones SERE students are taught to resist.
According to Human Rights First, the interrogation that lead to the death of Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush involved the use of techniques used in SERE training. According to the organization "Internal FBI memos and press reports have pointed to SERE training as the basis for some of the harshest techniques authorized for use on detainees by the Pentagon in 2002 and 2003.
On June 17, 2008, Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times reported that the senior Pentagon lawyer Mark Schiffrin requested information in 2002 from the leaders of the Air Force's captivity-resistance program, referring to one based in Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The information was later used on prisoners in military custody. In written testimony to the Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing, Col. Steven Kleinman of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency said that a team of trainers that he was leading in Iraq were asked to demonstrate SERE techniques on uncooperative prisoners. He refused, but his decision was overruled. He was quoted as saying "When presented with the choice of getting smarter or getting tougher, we chose the latter." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has acknowledged that the use of the SERE program techniques to conduct interrogations in Iraq was discussed by senior White House officials in 2002 and 2003.