Navy Commandos Expect Their Shrinks to Be Waterboarded

Spencer Ackerman

Want to help Navy SEALs stay mentally fit enough to survive capture by the enemy? Good. Just let me put this cloth over your face while I fill my water bucket.

The military trains its troops to deal with the contingencies of getting stranded behind enemy lines. That involves passing a rigorous course called Survival Evasion Resistance Escape, or SERE — which, for elite commandos, simulates capture and torture. If SERE sounds familiar, that’s probably because former Air Force psychologists involved in the program brought its harshest methods, like waterboarding, to the CIA shortly after 9/11 for use against captured terrorists. The rest is infamy.

But that was an aberration. SERE psychologists are actually supposed to stop torture if they observe it. And they’re supposed to provide guidance during the extreme training “if students show signs of becoming mentally unstable,” according to a recent solicitation for SERE shrinks from U.S. Special Operations Command. One of the ways they’ll know is that they’ll have had to experience all the pain of the SERE course themselves.

SOCOM clarified that before psychologists can ship out to San Diego to assist Navy SEALs pass the SERE course, they must “be a graduate of a SERE level C training curriculum.” Level C is the highest level of SERE training, the ones that commandos with a “high risk of capture” endure.

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