II. Conflict between an interrogator and a psychologist over personnel safety during SERE training (early 1990’s)

     Now let’s talk about the interrogator being on the same side as the psychologist. Are you going to find a psychologist difficult to deal with?

     Have I bested a psychologist? Yes. There was a young captain down at Fort Bragg there who was just full of himself that he had become a doctor of psychology. Army trained and so forth and everything. It was always that attitude, you know, looking down the nose. So I played the idiot he thought I was until I’d just had enough of him one day, and I just nailed him to the wall, and I had him removed.

     Can you speak to it?


     This can be a part of the interview that would be very helpful.

     He was a new psychologist. And he was in the position where he was over his head, and I came in. We were working at the SERE school. He’s watching us as instructors to make sure that we don’t go over the line, that we maintain a certain balance. He’s also watching the students. If a student exhibits certain pathologies, that he would be able to deal with them, as he should. And there were several times we’d go to them and say, “We think this guy—there’s something wrong with him.”

     What kinds of things were you looking for?

     Stress. Lots of emotional things. Beyond the normal student things. You know,  when you foster that type of environment, then it becomes like that norm, if you will. It’s like when you look at a crowd of students, you have a catalog in your head what a normal class of psychology students should look like. When you’re giving a lecture and you look around, isn’t there sometimes one or more that will stick out because they don’t fit the norm?

     Same thing with us. When we’re dealing with students and there’s a norm that they will fall in some range. And when we see people going outside that, then we’re very concerned. I’ll take them either to the medics, or I’ll take them to the doc. We go to them immediately. His first thing is he would watch, unless it was just off the wall. Like a student that would go, “That’s it! I quit! You can’t do this to me!”  Well, we immediately will pull them off to the side and try to work with them ourselves.

     And the first thing I would do is, I would say, “Okay. It’s all right.” First thing I would do is pull my ID card out of my pocket. And I’ll say, “You see this?”


     “Read it. What does it say? Okay. We’re not in [a situation of capture by the enemy. Now we’re [in a training exercise]. What day is it?  Who are you?”  This kind of thing. And then watch them. And in the meantime, go get the psych[ologist]. So he comes and he’ll stand off to the side for a moment. And it’s his call whether he wants to step in or not. If he thinks we’re doing okay with it and the guy’s doing fine, he may chime in as far as the conversation. But if he thinks it’s something really over the top, then he’ll say, “Why don’t you [come with me].”  We stay out of the way.

     This other guy [the new PhD psychologist] here, he had made a couple of calls which I thought were questionable. We had one man commit suicide.

     Let me give you a scenario. I had one NCO [non-commissioned officer] working for me who was going through a divorce situation. He’s a black guy who was married to a white girl. They’ve got a child that’s about five or six. I met the child. He brought his kid out there a couple of times. He adored this child. This was his everything. It was this cute little fellow. He’s a nice guy. And so she decided she didn’t want to be married anymore. I don’t think it had anything to do with color. This guy’s torn. He wants to stay married. He wants to make it work. The child, and so forth. So there’s a lot of tug of war here.

     So anyway, he’s been getting worse and worse. And my other people coming and saying, “Hey, there’s something going on here real bad with him.”

     So I talked with him a couple of times. And he is over the top distraught. I said, “I can’t let you in the cage,” I said, “I can’t let you work next time if you’re going to do this. You can’t be around the students. You know that.”

     He said, “I know.”

     What was his role with the students?

     Actually, he didn’t have a role, but we allowed him to. He was actually the audio-visual guy. Took care of all that behind the scenes cameras and wiring and whatever. But he was a dynamic fellow, so he was an asset, he wanted to get in, he wanted to try to participate. He wanted to give a dilemma, which is a speech, an indoctrination thing. So I let him do it. He did a good job. We rehearsed him, he tried it, he was okay. But then I told him, “You can’t play” for that term.

     And so he kept getting worse and worse. And I called the company back in, “Look, so and so’s having issues. I think we need to get him to talk to the doc.”

     Well, the doc kind of talked to him, said, well, you know, whatever he told the commander. And the commander says, “Okay, well, we’ll keep watching him.”

     I said, “No, I don’t think you understand. This guy is over the wire.” Now this is Dr. Martin [the interrogator as if a PhD psychologist] talking here. There ain’t no psychology background, no nothing else. But I see what I see. So I said, okay, “You don’t have a place to stay right now, do you? You’re out of your house?”

     He said, “Yeah, I have a trailer.”

     I said, “Okay. How about bunking out here?” Had plenty of bunks. I said, “Just bunk here. Stay here. And I’ll put you on CQ until further notice.”  (CQ is charge quarters. In other words, somebody’s going to be on duty at night in case something happens, or watching over the equipment. Kind of a guard.) And so, I was working that. And I had two other guys that were kind of chumming with him. They were friends. And they were watching him, giving me reports on his activity. But his agitation level just kept going up. And I kept telling them about it. I said, “Hey, look, there’s something wrong with this guy. You better talk to him.”

     Well, they decided that they were going to pull him back to Fort Bragg, which is thirty miles away, and they were going to watch him back there. I said, “How are you going to watch him? You’re only there during the day. I’m watching him 24/7. I’ve got him right here during the day, there’s a whole bunch of us. I’ve got guys at night watching him. Can you beat that?”

     “Well, we think we can do that.”

     Two nights later, he goes over to the trailer where he lived. And he knows the layout of the inside. He walks around to where his wife would have been sitting in her chair. He shoots a pistol twice into that trailer where she would have been sitting, and then turned it on himself. The wife and child were down visiting a[nother] trailer. They come running up and the kid finds his dad.

     That’s ugly. And I did not forgive [the psychologist] for it. He says, “Well, technically we did everything we could.”

     I said, “What’s this we all of a sudden?  Now it’s no longer I, but it’s weWe didn’t do it. You did.”  And I was not friendly. I was firm. I was insubordinate rank-wise. But position-wise, he worked for me. And I told him so a couple of times. He tried to [insert] himself in a training. And I said, “This is not your area. If you see things, I sure appreciate it. But you don’t dictate. You’re not a trainer.”  I am the OIC [officer in charge] of that compound.


Issue 1:  The turning point in this case is the commander’s acceptance of the assessment by the new PhD psychologist, a captain, over the assessment by the OIC, in this instance a warrant officer, of much lower rank and formal education. Due to the nature of the military hierarchy, any military psychologist, regardless of experience in the domain at hand, will out-rank the most senior interrogator. Taking Martin’s case at face value, does psychological ethics agree with military procedure here?  If not, are there practical changes in military regulations that could make them compatible?

Issue 2: Martin’s psychological perspective on the distressed NCO accords more with community psychology than individual psychology. Given the communal and hierarchical nature of military service, is standard clinical training, geared toward the individual, adequate to psychological ethics in national security settings?


Martin, William (pseudonym). (2007, December 15). People just don’t want to associate with you if you’re not a good person. Interview conducted by J.M. Arrigo, Herndon, VA. Intelligence Ethics Collection, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.