Meeting Scott Beauchamp
It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over...

Rethinking SERE

I spent today sitting through PowerPoint hell, and enduring a near-endless SERE briefing.  Not the full training, this is required for everybody -- military, contractors, DOD civilians, "other" agencies deploying people to the zone -- who are heading to Iraq, as I am on my new contract.  Hundreds of people a week, servicemen and civilians, see this briefing.

There's some good stuff in it.  I wish every American would see the section on the media, and what to do if a family member is taken hostage.  Here's the short version:  you are not helping them by getting in the press.  Terrorists thrive on press.  It is their main strategic weapon.  By helping to feed the press cycle on their hostage (your husband/boyfriend/father), you are helping them achieve their ends.  Although of course your reasons for going on the news are well-intentioned, you are helping their enemies and hurting the chances of them being released.  They're suddenly more valuable to the hostage takers.

With that said, I think it is past time our leadership revisited the SERE issue.  As far as hostage taking goes, the advice given is not physically to resist capture in any way; there is also some caution against attempting escape.  This advice is backed up by numerous interviews with former hostages who returned successfully.

The problem is, all of these hostage situations were from the pre-9/11 period of terrorism.  The game has changed.  Almost all the interviews were from the Reagan era; two were from the early 1990s. 

Nobody interviewed Nick Berg.  You can't -- he's dead.  Nobody interviewed the 9/11 hostages.  You can't. 

I would suggest that our government needs to review the advice it is giving.  The Code of Conduct is discussed at length, in a form that reads "I will never surrender" to mean 'Not physically resisting isn't surrendering, but the best form of resistance because it maximizes your chance of release in the long term.'  That is an odd reading, one that the makers of these briefings thought was best given the data from ten or twenty years ago.  "I will never surrender" was a noble sentiment, but it might get you killed.

In the light of modern experience, "I will never surrender" is not just a  noble sentiment.  It is the better piece of advice.