Consult: David Senesh, PhD


May 13, 2009

90-minute teleconference 

Transcribed by Jean Maria Arrigo

Edited by Ray Bennett

Reviewed by David Senesh in June 2009

Participants:  Jean Maria Arrigo, Ray Bennett, Martha Davis, Jancis Long, and David Sensesh

Note:  The transcript has been streamlined a bit.

Teleconference Consultation with David Senesh on

Comparison of Harms to Military Prisoners of War from

Enemy Torture, Debriefing by Own Military, and Disability Claim Interview

SENESH:  This is David Senesh from Israel.

ARRIGO:  David, this is Jean Maria.

SENESH:  Hello, Jean.  How are you doing?

ARRIGO:  Well, all right.  Thank you so much for calling.

SENESH:  You’re very welcome.

ARRIGO:  The person I’m most anxious to have on this line is a former, senior interrogator, Ray Bennett, who works with us, because he will be knowledgeable about debriefing.  But this is not the time of day we usually hold calls, so he’ll probably be on the line a little bit later.  And one of our members won’t be able to come on.

When they do come on, we start with introductions, then try to “grill you” [laughing] to see what we can find out.  About 15 minutes before the close, in an hour, then I call time for everybody to ask questions they didn’t get in before.

[New caller on the line.]

DAVIS:  Martha Davis here.

ARRIGO:  Martha, good, hi.  David Senesh is on the line.

David, you said you were going to talk about the debriefing and interrogations.  Do you also know anything about — Do you have an Israeli psychological association?

SENESH:  Yes, we definitely have an Israeli psychology association of psychologists, very similar to the APA [American Psychological Association].  It also has an ethical committee.  But I’m afraid that it’s a little bit premature for our association to be dealing with this issue.  And this is one of the objectives that I have, to steer some interest and awareness and start the process here, because I think this is an extremely important issue.

ARRIGO:  Don’t you have military psychologists working with interrogations and so on?

SENESH:  I was just reading in the APA journal, the one that I got yesterday, that the American army looks for military psychologists [REF].  I was smiling to myself because here I don’t think we have that problem, because basically all male psychologists who go on reserve duty, they give service as psychologists.  So I don’t think they will ever have the problem with not having enough psychologists in service.  Also, they have the younger psychologists who work in the army on a daily basis.  Then  they have the reserves.  These are the people are who are civilians, but every now and then they go to the army and do their professional skills.

ARRIGO:  In this country, the American Psychological Association has become quite entangled with the military because psychologists depend on funding from the government.  Do you have that situation in Israel?

SENESH:  It’s hard to say.  I am not aware of psychologists being placed in a problematic position that the funding that they get will be contingent on the work they’re doing.  Most psychologists will do the work for the benefit of the soldiers or the officers, and I don’t think there is kind a of dilemma there.  They don’t go into conflicts with their own consciences or professional ethics, because most of the work is clinical psychology.  We are doing work for the benefit of the private soldiers, with everyday problems that they may have.

ARRIGO:  Not working with detainees?

[New caller on the line.]

SENESH:  There should be other professionals who do, but I’m not aware of their activities.  They have to keep things secret, so they cannot tell me or other people about what they’re doing.

LONG:  Hello, this is Jancis Long.

[Greetings to Jancis Long.]

ARRIGO:  I think we’re only waiting for Ray, who said that he would have to come a little bit late. 

I’m hoping we could just continue to find out from David for a little while about Israeli psychologists and the military, so that Ray can be in on the start of the conversation about David’s experiences.

DAVIS:  So you don’t know of psychologists who actively assist in interrogations of prisoners in the army in Israeli?

SENESH:  No, I don’t know personally of such people, but they might be doing this and they may not be allowed to tell anybody else about it.  It might be keep secret.

DAVIS:  Yes, part of intelligence.

SENESH:  Yes, yes.  They maybe they sign that they are not supposed to talk about it, and then I will not know about it.  I assume there should be people involved in research and in instruction of how to maximize the interrogation process.  I guess there are people who try to help detainees, or train soldiers, when they go in captivity, how to handle themselves.  But these are all positive engagements.  They don’t create a type of dilemma that I think other psychologists might have.

BENNETT:  Hello, Ray Bennett has joined the conversation.

[Greetings to Ray Bennett.]

ARRIGO:  Let’s start with introductions then:  Martha, Jancis, Ray — everyone knows me — and then David.

DAVIS:  Okay.  I’m Martha Davis.  I did research for a number of years in criminal confessions, and that brought me to a great interest in what was happening with military psychologists in the army.  I’ve been involved on the Steering Committee of WithholdAPAdues, which is a major activist group against the APA policy.  And I did a documentary called Interrogation Psychologists, which we will now have a new web site for, as of today or yesterday [REF get new URL], and we’re working on another documentary.

LONG:  Hello.  This is Jancis Long, and I’m a clinical psychologist.  I’m currently president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility.  I am particularly interested in the ethics of professions, especially professions where it is easy to do harm, and, of course particularly at this moment, on the military, but also on lawyers, and also on a cross-national perspective in what different countries experience in trying to set ethics in these situations and in what happens when ethics are violated.  So that’s my strong interest in being on this casebook. 

BENNETT:  My name is Ray Bennett.  I’m a retired military interrogator.  I served in the military in that capacity for over 20 years, and I had experiences in combat operations ranging from the First Gulf War, through Bosnia, to the Second Gulf War.  I was appalled by the turn that interrogation policy had taken during the past decade or so, and I became involved with this group to add the voice of an interrogator to the conversation — initially, to provide information on how is it that we are trained and how policy being set by politicians was in contrast to what we were actually trained to do.  That’s how I got involved and continue to be involved, as the subject-matter expert on interrogations.

ARRIGO:  And debriefing.

BENNETT:  And debriefing, as it’s supposed to be run. 

ARRIGO:  Please, David.

SENESH:  I’m a psychologist here in Israel.  I was trained in Israel and also in Canada, and I had a postdoc[torate fellowship] year in Ohio, in the States.  Then, as I mentioned before, my military duty, when I was younger, was as a combat soldier, and then I became a prisoner of war.  That was in 1973.  And when I returned to service I became what you call an educational officer for another two years.  Upon discharge, I studied psychology, and then I finished my Ph.D. in Canada in 1988.  Ever since, I’m concerned about things which are happening here in Israel politically, but also professionally, and I’m trying to employ my experiences as a prisoner of war to the benefit of different organizations here, local organizations.  So that’s how I came across Jean, and she offered that I will talk to you.

ARRIGO:  I wish that I had had the presence of mind to send out information about your prisoner of war experience because I know that you’ve written on it, but I think that we’ll need just a few minutes of background on that before you go on, if you are willing.

SENESH:  Okay.  I’ll do it as briefly as I can, although it’s a bit emotional for me. 

Maybe I’ll be start by mentioning that I come from a family that is — One member of my family, my aunt, was a very famous Israeli hero, a Jewish hero, because she was interrogated and executed by the Nazis in Hungary.  She was on a special secret mission to rescue Jews, and that started the story even ten years before I was born.  So I was born into a story like that, and, you can imagine, that when I reached the age of 18 I joined the armed forces, within a year I found myself in a terrible war — that was the 1973 war against Syria and Egypt — and we were caught totally unprepared .  And after four or five days of fighting I was captured by the Egyptians, and within a few hours I found myself in an Egyptian jail in Cairo for the next 40 days, which was a really — how to say — an unreal experience.  We did have Israeli prisoners in our country, but very few, very few.  This was something that nobody expected would ever happen.  We were taken by sort of surprise.  It takes me a lifetime to understand that I went through that experience. 

Imprisonment started with, I would say, like a near-death experience because it was unforeseen that we will be taken as prisoners of war.  We thought that we are going to be killed right there.  Then we were imprisoned for 40 days.  The first days were terribly difficult, with very aggressive interrogations, I guess because they wanted to get as much information as they could in a very short period of time, because later on they saw there was no need for them to interrogate us so much, because everything changed.  And actually they could realize that we have very little information, and they didn’t continue those violent interrogations.  But the overall attitude was very, very difficult.  After 40 days we were exchanged for Egyptian prisoners, and we went home.  People accepted us as heroes, and that was very, very confusing for us. 

So we had one round of interrogations.  I call it the first one.  That was in Egypt, and that was a totally hostile environment.  That was like the continuation of the battlefield in prison.  So I see this as one kind of interrogation.  The second was the debriefing process that we went through —

ARRIGO:  Excuse me.  Could you go back to the interrogation?  Were there any health professionals at any time that you saw in that whole process? 

SENESH:  This is a very interesting question.  I was so mixed up about what was happening when we returned.  I think that the interrogation we went through by our own army was so emotionally difficult that I think I repress much of it.  So I’m not sure whether some of the interviews that we had were with medical professionals or otherwise there were with people from the intelligence agencies.  It’s a little bit blurred in my mind.

ARRIGO:  But going back to the Egyptian experience.

SENESH:  Okay.  We had no — I didn’t encounter any medical professionals there.  The only professional people that I could see were the people that interrogated us and did it in Hebrew.  So they were very well versed in the Hebrew language.  And I think that most of the interrogations were not very skillful, that they were very basic, very physical, and not too sophisticated, as far as I can judge.  And I think what they tried to do was to give us a sense that the war went on and that Israel was erased.  They tried to morally handicap us and lead us to believe that we are the only ones who are left and that Israel no longer exist.  That was like a psychological warfare.  But they — Other than that, they were not psychologically sophisticated.  Not at all.  And, as far as I could see, there were no psychological or medical professionals that were involved directly.  There was some medical attention given to us every now and then, but not really too seriously.

ARRIGO:  Ray, I wonder if you might tell us what a debriefing in the United States would be for returning prisoners of war, just to give a framework or maybe to stimulate David’s memory of this.

BENNETT:  Well, it seems that David had a very different experience of debriefing than we would conduct it, because, first of all, he referred to — if I understood you, David — you referred to the process as another interrogation, and you felt the experience of the debriefing/interrogation of you when you got home to be as traumatic to you as when you were with the Egyptians.  Is that correct?

SENESH:  Yes.  I’m pretty sure there were no physical aspects to those interrogations, but psychologically I think it was even more difficult.   Psychologically I understood that I’m being interrogated, rather than being medically attended to, and I think that something happened there that really made it very difficult for me, I guess, around the survivor’s guilt, shame, and feelings of that sort, that they were using in order to get as much information from me while they were back in Israel.

BENNETT:  I would have to say that in our debriefing process here, the way that I would conduct it, we’re very sensitive to all those survivor’s guilt, et cetera, and that’s incorporated into how we go about it.  Your welfare would be of more concern to me than the information you might have on the experience that I’m trying to debrief you on.  That may be inverted from what you experienced.  Maybe you felt that the information was more important than you were.

SENESH:  Yes, yes.

BENNETT:  So we would go about it in a different way.

SENESH:  I think that I felt like this was my opportunity to pay back.  I felt so guilty.  Now is the opportunity, if I can give those people as much information as I can, then I can correct the wrongs that I did.  Something in that line.


LONG:  David, when you said that you felt guilty in the debriefing time, what did you feel guilty about — or what were they trying to make you feel guilty about?

SENESH:  You know, when we go thirty years backwards in the [__ 21:19] in Israel, in war there are two options:  either you win or you lose; you win or you die.  The option of being a prisoner of war was not a real option.  I think that those people were very happy that we returned home.  But up to now there is a kind of ambivalence in the Israeli society about people being captured and then returned.  I know there is psychological research on this.  They call it the Cultural Code of Captivity, CCC.  And it is different in Israel and in the States.  And the way that the medical establishment and the professional establishment is relating to us is probably different that what’s going on in the States, I guess, because here they’re always ambivalent.

BENNETT:  We have a similar thing in the US military called the Code of Conduct.  That’s supposed to give you guidelines on how to act in captivity.  That Code has been amended over the years.  It used to say:  “You will not give information,” period, et cetera, so that when people were captured and did break down and did give information, because they were tortured or whatever reason, of course, they felt that they had betrayed their Code of Conduct, and they had all the feelings of guilt and everything. So the Code has been amended to:  “You will resist to the best of your ability.”  If you do break, there is some leeway there to alleviate that feeling of guilt.


SENESH:  In Israel it’s more implicit.  But the regular soldiers do not have this option at all.  They are not trained to think in those terms.  So they don’t have a Code of Conduct how to behave when they are captured or interrogated.  The basic training does not include that.  I know this only in retrospect.  But I didn’t know that as a soldier.  And I don’t think that soldiers today have this Code of Conduct.

DAVIS:  They still don’t?

SENESH:  As yet, to the best of my knowledge, they still don’t.

ARRIGO:  You’re supposed to fight to the death?

SENESH:  I think this is more or less what people believe that they have to do, unless they are really instructed according to a code how to reveal information gradually and try to do the best they can to survive rather than to — Like we mentioned before, that a person’s life is more important than information.  I’m afraid that this is not part of the basic training that soldiers have in Israel.  Coming from the family that I — I came from family with a very heroic figure in the background, I felt even extra burden in that respect.

DAVIS:  The Code of Captivity is a formal code or is an implicit notion of what to do if captured?  I wasn’t clear from what you said whether the Code of Captivity was a kind of implicit rule that you were supposed to fight to the death. 

SENESH:  This is one of the implicit ideas.  It’s not written anywhere.  I came across this concept two years ago.  It was a fellow instructor in the university in the department of sociology.  And she did some research on that, a cross-cultural comparison between the American Code of Captivity and the Israeli one, and neither one of them is written.  It is more in the mind of people at large, the way society relates to people who were captured.  I feel very, very deep in Israel that most people  are very ambivalent about it.  They’re happy you survived, but they still hold you responsible for not going to the very end.  It will never be said explicitly.  I never heard this.  It’s almost like, when we talk among ourselves, a group of prisoners, we are very aware that there is something very weird about the way even professionals are relating to us.  I guess it might also be because the society perceives itself being under the threat of another Holocaust and those kind of sentiments that people have to fight to the very end in order to safeguard, to make sure that it will not happen.  This is the way that this culture perceives it.  It’s  very, very "iffy.” 

ARRIGO:  Do you want to tell us something about the medical interview?

SENESH:  Yes.  The very first one was the most difficult one was the interrogation while I was a prisoner of war.  But as much as it was very aggressive and violent, it was very clear in terms of I knew who were the good guys and the bad guys.  When I came back to Israel, and there were counterintelligence agents or authorities were debriefing us, and trying to see what kind of information we give away while we were in prison, I think that physically there were no difficulties, but psychologically it was confusing. 

The third wave of interrogations that I consider was really by the medical experts, usually psychiatrists, to determine the disability for medical compensation for former prisoners of war.  And although it looks like a clinical interview, it is most confusing because those people do not really serve the patient, the interviewee, but they serve the authorities.  Their interest is to cut down the amount of disability compensation that they have to pay.  It’s very confusing, because it is done in Israel, by your own people, so you think they’re friendly, and this is being done by medical experts so you think they’re on your side.  But then you find out that these people aren’t really serving the enemy but they’re serving the government.  It’s very difficult.  Some of the interviews are really tough.  Some of my fellow prisoners in war say they are even worse psychologically than what they had to go through in Egypt. 

ARRIGO:  Could you expand on that some, give us examples?  This is an area that is very interesting to us, because we consider it to be also one of the ways that psychologists indirectly participate in the interrogations.

SENESH:  I’m among the very few prisoners of war that are now trained in psychology.  There are a few psychiatrists and medical doctors.  We are very few.  We are the only ones who are professionally affiliated with those associations.  We are also being interviewed by those people.  Sometimes those are my own colleagues that interview me.  So it’s a very delicate situation.  I tried to understand from those people who are psychiatrists who serve on those committees, because I had terrible accounts.  With me, they relate a little bit more gently, because they know that I am also a professional colleague.  But with other prisoners of war, some of the interviews got really out of hand.

ARRIGO:  You weren’t a colleague at the time though?  Weren’t you very young when you were interviewed by them?

SENESH:  No.  What happened was that for about 25, 30 years, nobody related to that issue, and then, in the ‘90s, there were a few people whose medical condition was so bad that the army itself initiated research into it.  So, a few PhD dissertations and research done in the army —

ARRIGO:  So there were no disability payments early on?  That came up —

SENESH:  No, no, no. Not at all.  Not at all.  Only very recently, like 15 years ago, there was starting emerge some awareness that people can be latently affected by trauma that is maybe reactivated 20, 30 years later.  And that actually what happened.  The ex-prisoners of war were in really very poor shape, much worse than the other group, of PTSD and all kinds of injured veterans.  We were in the worst condition.  So they called for those people to get some disability from the government.  But once the people went to those committees, there were treated harshly, very harshly. 

And I tried to understand.  I was talking with my own colleagues and asked them:  “How come you are so tough on those committees?  Don’t you understand that those people were once interrogated when they were in Egypt or in Syria?  Second time, they were interrogated when they came back to Israel.  And now they are interrogated for a third time.  Can you do it in a more gentle way?”  And they said the only way they know how to do it is to take the person to the very limits.  They want to come to the point where the person breaks down.  And then they can see that he is really, his spirit is broken.  It is not enough that the person will tell about his life and about its condition and his symptoms.  In some sense they want to see a display of the conditions on site.  And I found that terribly cruel.  I can understand the logic, because they are afraid that people will ask for disability far above what they really need.  But I tell them:  “You should take the risk because there are very few prisoners of war.  All in all we have about 500 prisoners of war in Israel, from all the wars combined.  So I called for their professional judgment, even if they are a little bit  biased to help those people, including myself, no harm is done.  But the way they run the committees is they actually interrogate the people there and they want to bring them to the point that they really lose their minds, like the shout and they cry and they break down.  And then they say, “Okay, the person is really mentally handicapped and we will give him the disability he deserves.”

LONG:  I would have thought some people who are not mentally handicapped might break down under those conditions, without being prisoners of war.

SENESH:  I agree.  I agree.

ARRIGO:  How would this breakdown be different for a POW who’d been tortured than a combat veteran who had PTSD from injury and harrows of combat.

SENESH:  I think that, for one thing, is that when people have PTSD from war and other disasters and accidents, I don’t consider this to be an intimate type of abuse.  When you are captured and you are prisoner and you have been interrogated, I see this as an intimate type of violence, because you are in intimate relationship with the abuser, as opposed to a situation in war that can be very terrible, but more than war you don’t usually see the enemy.  But while you’re in prison  and you’ve been hit and tortured by another person, you see him.  You are actually in physical contact with him, in psychological contact with him.  So I see this as more like family abuse or child abuse situation.  Also, because of the regression.  They put you in a very regressive situation.  War isn’t necessarily a regressive situation.  But in prison it is. 

Then you go back.  Once you are before this committee, you are well trained —  almost, I would say, conditioned — not to give the information.  So if they ask me about my symptoms and what are my difficulties, I will try to hide it.  Okay.  So they are pushing me very hard to see if there is something actually wrong with me. 

ARRIGO:  Is this —

SENESH:  In the committee itself.  You know, they don’t want to hear about it; they want to see it.  For ex-prisoners of war to be interrogated once again I think is terribly cruel.

ARRIGO:  When you say you are conditioned not to give the information, is this because of your prisoner of war experience or because of the social stigma that you’ve lived with all these years?

SENESH:  Well, I think both.  Basically both.  First, I thought that I’m trying to show off that I’m okay.  And not only that I’m okay but I can also serve as a mental health practitioner and can help other people.  I never work with prisoners of war.  I never work with people in the army that have been traumatized, not directly with them.  But I think that I tried to prove to myself and to people around me that I’m doing very well, not only do I not need the help but that I can help other people.  So, also in those committees, I tried to hide my problems, my difficulties, and they tried to push it a little, but not too much.  So this is the reason why I got such a low disability pension, because I was not really displaying my difficulties.  First of all, you want to show that you’re okay, that you survived, ‘though you gave up in war, after the war you don’t give up.  You fight and fight and fight, not to the death, but you fight all the time.  So I think this is one of the tendencies, is not to show that you give up, that you break down.  And then, while you are being interviewed — I was thinking about this only lately — that I was all the time trying to hide.  I do have some difficulties here and there, but I do not give them to the committee.  I would just try to hold them to myself and not to give them away.  And so I guess these two processes are going in parallel.

ARRIGO: What was the time period of these medical interviews?

SENESH:  Those medical interviews were some 30 years after the war.  This was like 10 years ago.

ARRIGO:  But how many would there be, or how long would they last.

SENESH:  There will be like one interview.  There will be some preparatory interview with a psychologist.  There will be one or two meetings.  You will be interviewed.  Then there will be the committee.  The committee always includes one or two psychiatrists.  And that will be like the final group of people that will make a decision about your condition.  If you are not satisfied with this you can re-appeal, to have another committee, but it will probably more or less be the same.  Some people had terrible, terrible experiences.  I didn’t believe, first time I heard the stories.  I wasn’t sure.  But after I went in, although they were not as aggressive with me, I could see what other people experienced could be quite valid.

ARRIGO:  Could you flesh this out for us, maybe with the experience someone else told you about?

SENESH:  Experiences of someone in the committee?

ARRIGO:  No, no.  One of the other prisoners of war.  You said some of them were worse.  You’re leaving a lot to our imaginations, speaking obliquely.  I’m wondering if you would be willing to give us a clearer picture of this.

SENESH:  I know, for one person, that is a good friend of mine, who lives now abroad , and he came back to Israel to go though this committee.  And throughout the interview he felt very strongly  that people were holding him guilty for being a prisoner of war and, secondly, for not continuing to live in Israel but going to live in a different country.  It was almost like being a traitor.  He was very badly treated by this committee.  And they were really almost like making personal insults about his integrity and about his being honest with them and things like that.  Basically, “You deserve to live your life, but you don’t deserve to get the help that you’re asking for in the country that you no longer live in.”  This was the line of questions and statements that they were making.  And he was insulted very badly. 


BENNETT:  Could you, David — I understand that those disability hearings, they clearly took on a hostile tone.

SENESH:  Right.

BENNETT:   How about your debriefing experience when you initially came back from captivity.  Was there tone of hostility to those?

SENESH:  Those interviews, or those meetings, the way I remember them, were done in a very calm way, in a very reassuring way.  I didn’t have the sense that they were not aggressive at all.  To the extent that when I heard other people, my fellow prisoners of war, that they, years later, were relating to those conversations as something terrible, I didn’t know what they talking about. 

I personally didn’t go through such an aggressively demanding interview, in my case, or maybe I went through something and I completely repressed this memory.  For me, it was like an opportunity to give as much information as I can so that I can undo the wrong that I did.  That was my tendency.  And other people were relating to this as something very cruel.  So here I have from my experience [something different] from what other people were saying.  But I started to think, in retrospect, that that was a kind of debriefing and I think I felt a kind of insult:  it wasn’t enough that we were giving information but that they had to go more aggressively in getting that information out of us.  Because I felt like I would like to give all the information without holding back anything.  But I’m not sure they trusted us.  I think they wanted to ask us more and more questions so that they get really the information that we gave away to the enemy.

ARRIGO:  How long a time did this take?  Like how many sessions?  How many people would be there?

SENESH:  You know, it takes me back some 30 years, even more.  I think it was done more like in a one-to-one situation. There was not psychologist.  No way was there no physical pressure done.  Either at the same time — There were some also some medical, maybe psychological check-up on us, very lightly.  They were not really looking into our mental problems. 

I think the two types of interviews were, in my mind, a little bit blurred.  They are mixing.  But from other people I knew they were really hurt very, very badly from the very idea that once they were back home they were being debriefed.  This was almost like an insult.  The idea in itself was an insult.

BENNETT:  Could those people understand that your intelligence folks would be interested in knowing what they had divulged.  Purely from an information-management perspective, “What did you tell the enemy?” becomes of interest.  Could they understand that? 

SENESH:  I could that fully understand it at that time, and I can fully understand it at this time.  But I guess at that time we were so emotionally charged that everything was so sensitive that I can hardly believe we could take it for granted.  Okay, we gave away information.  They want to know what information we gave away.  Just an exchange of information.  I think we took it very personally.  We were very sensitive at the time.  We were in kind of a split.  Either we were heroes for some people, who made it through the war, and at the same time we were traitors because we gave away information, because we didn’t die in the battlefield.  So, always there was this double face.  For one thing you are a hero, and at the same time you are also a traitor.  So I think this dilemma was not so for most people.

LONG:  I’m interested in thinking whether this was particularly true for Israeli prisoners of war returning, or if this is a general experience, in other places, for prisoners of war. 

BENNETT:  I can speak a little to it from the American side, especially World War II, Korean War, and early years of the Vietnam War, there were the same problems, in that the soldiers had been given this Code of Conduct:  “You will not cooperate with the enemy,” period.  And when they did, of course, under duress, they did cooperate, did give information, of course, they felt that they had betrayed their Code of Conduct and, therefore, betrayed their country, let their comrades down, and all that.  And that was why the Code of Conduct was changed to read that you will resist to the utmost of your ability.  As long as you can honestly say to yourself, “I resisted as best I could,” then you’ve met the standard.  It’s been subsequently found — and I’m not an expert on this — but it’s been subsequently found that people, under that Code of Conduct, have readjusted better than those who had the old Code of Conduct, because they could never lose those feelings of guilt and shame.

ARRIGO:  Doesn’t it go further than that, Ray, saying that you’ll try to give deceptive information and so on?

BENNETT:  No, not the Code of Conduct.  Now when you get into resistance-to-interrogation techniques, as taught, for example, in the SERE course, then they’ll talk to you about those king of things.  But the basic Code of Conduct that is common to all soldiers and is taught to all soldiers, it says that, “You will resist to the best of your ability.”  It is a very simple code.  It’s six or seven sentences, I think.  Like I say, it’s taught to all American soldiers.  It’s supposed to give them strength.  If they can recall that code, it’s supposed to give them strength to last just another day.  And it’s been amended now to say ,  “You will resist to the best of your ability,”  so that on those days when you can’t give it another day, well, you give just enough to get you through to the next day.  And no one will hold it against you that you did.  It is implicit that no one will hold it against you that you did give information, because you resisted to the best of your ability.

ARRIGO:  But does it work out that way?  People could look at you and say, “Well, you did it to the best of your ability, but it wasn’t very good,” like me running a marathon or something.

BENNETT:  No.  Well, anecdotally you can always say, yes, there are those people who will never forgive your giving information to the enemy.  Usually they’re people who weren’t in that situation and don’t know themselves how they would have acted in that situation.  So I usually am fairly dismissive of their opinion, because they weren’t there; they don’t know.  But, generally — because that’s anecdotal — now generally speaking, that code’s been in effect long enough and it’s been ingrained into the military culture well enough that it’s pretty well accepted.  We’ve had POWs in the last decade.  We had, of course, folks in Bosnia, and Serbia — there were those Marines that were captured, three of four — and there have POWs in Iraq, as well.  And it is not held against them.  I can’t say that I’ve heard of anyone saying that they have betrayed their country by giving information, et cetera.  And that’s the difference between the old conduct code and the new one.

LONG:  And, Ray, as far as you know, their careers don’t appear  to have been badly affected by them having been taken prisoner?

BENNETT:  Oh, no, it’s not been affected at all.  I’m not trying to promote being taken prisoner.  But in the army — I can’t speak for the other services — but in the army there’s a POW medal that you get.  It’s respected that you went through that experience.

ARRIGO:  David, can you help us out with this notion that we’ve suffered from over here that SERE-type techniques don’t cause lasting damage during hostile interrogations.  How could you help us address that?

SENESH:  I could share with you, as I’m listening to Ray — I don’t know if it’s his voice that is doing this effect on me — but it was very comforting for me, even after so many years following my imprisonment, when I listen to Ray’s to words, this definition, the formula that you do to the best of your ability, really gives much comfort for me, even today.  I think if this really what people take in their minds when they go to battle, I don’t think that they will be fighting less efficiently, but I think that they will be more powerful and strong in dealing with the consequences of the situations they run into, including being prisoner. 

The worst interrogation that one has to go through is interrogating oneself.  Because all the time, you are asking yourself, “Did I do it to the best of my ability?  Could I do it any other way?  Could I avoid this or that?”  So for years you are dealing internally with this.  Sometimes you share it with your therapist. Sometimes you share it with your wife, or with your kids.  But basically all the time you are interrogating yourself.  So I think that this type of a formula really helps a lot.  Because you are honest with yourself, you know what you did, and you basically did the best you could.  So that can really help later on with the coping with it.  Because that’s the most important thing, how to cope for years to come.

ARRIGO:  Suppose, instead of being roughly treated by your interrogators in Egypt, if you could imagine this, suppose you had instead gone through one of these cordial interrogations, you know, you know,  social skills method, and you inadvertently gave up information, the same information, say.  How would that affect you long-term?

SENESH: I think, paradoxically, being interrogated violently, aggressively, gives you a good excuse why you gave any information.  If you gave information without being pressured, just to be kind and nice to your captors, then I think you’re in a worse situation, because you cannot explain to yourself why you did it.  If you’re more sophisticated, then you understand that, even if you were not physically abused, you were put under psychological means of interrogation that’s as bad.  Even if they smiled at you and they were kind to you and got information that way, you can forgive yourself for that because you can understand it was a more sophisticated way doing the interrogations.  But I think for the naive person, if he would give away information without being pressured and forced to do it, then he will have a hard time to rationalize it and to explain to himself why he did it.  I think, at this time when I’m looking back, I understand that, even when they were kind to me, that was part of the process of getting information and putting pressure on me and getting information from me, with a smile.  I can understand it now, but I’m not sure that everybody can understand it and be forgiven for giving information under those circumstances.

LONG:  Very interesting point.

SENESH:  The most difficult thing is, in my mind  — and this is the same with abused children and abused wives, when we ask why do they continue to have a relationship with their abuser — and I can fully understand that in terms of the conditioning that was done in jail.  You can condition, very intensely, people that you give them something good at the same time you inflict pain on them.  That type of relationship is very complicated and very torturing in itself.  For one thing, I’m not hateful and I’m not vengeful toward my captors at all.  I have psychological difficulties more with my own people.  I have no difficulties with the enemy because that was the game I was engaged in.  But it’s more difficult for me to come to terms with my own people, people who were responsible for me at the time I was in the army, and they didn’t take it too seriously, and they didn’t behave the right way, and when we came back, they didn’t treat us right.  That’s where I have a lot of anger.  But with the people who were interrogating me, I’m not (very) full of rage and anger toward them.  It’s very interesting.

ARRIGO:  Is this idiosyncratic on your part, or would you say the same would be true of the Palestinians who’ve been in the hands of Israelis.  Are they going to be upset with their fellow Palestinians?

SENESH:  That’s a very interesting —

ARRIGO:  Should we be looking at this as American psychologists at how our detainees fare with their own compatriots?

SENESH:  I would like to assume that we will not be treating Palestinians as badly as what I described earlier, but I know for sure that they are treated badly.  Also, I know that those Palestinians who are in Israeli jails, they are going to make up the leaders of the next generation of Palestinians, and they are going to be the leaders there.  So I don’t know if, going through Israeli jails, they can develop the kind of relationships with us that is not negative.  From my own experience, and when I meet Palestinians in dialogue groups , I tell them that I was a prisoner of war, and don’t hold this against the Egyptians.  With all the wrongs they did, I accept I was in war with them.  That was the definition of our  relationship.  I’m not sure about the Israeli-Palestinian — It’s not such clear cut a situation, because it has to do with terrorism.  It’s not as clear-cut as it was in those days.  It was considered to be war, and in that context it’s clear.

LONG:  Do you know whether the Palestinians have the same kind of code of conduct, those that are in some sense in the military there, whether they have a cultural sense that they should die or not give anything up?  I just wondered if you knew anything about their own expectations of their own behavior when captured or jailed in Israel.

SENESH:  I don’t know what’s going on in their mind while they’re doing those activities against Israel.  I know for sure that, once they go back, that being in Israeli jail gives them lots of credit.  It’s good for them to know that they were there.  That they were of use to their society, and they suffered, and now they are qualified to serve the people and be leaders —

LONG:  That’s quite different from the Israeli attitude.  But please go on.

ARRIGO:  We’re coming quite close to wrap-up time [ten more minutes scheduled], so may I take last questions from people?  If I could go in the order:  Martha, Ray, Jancis, me.

DAVIS:  Yes, David, you said before, earlier on, you were describing the 30-years-later psychiatry committees that were giving really brutal time to the POWs, I wasn’t clear whether combat veterans who had PTSD would be brought to the brink to see whether their PTSD was credible or not, as well.  Do you have any information on that?

SENESH:  I think that in Israeli still the PTSD situation is very, very sensitive.  With the POW, we are a very limited number of people.  We are 500 or 600 people all in all.  They can give us as much compensation as they wish, and it will not be a big deal.  But with PTSD, when you open this category, there is a limitless number of people there.  So it’s almost a political issue here.  So they say they relate to us as POWs unless to the extent that we have PTSD.  They don’t want to open that to general discussion because it’s really very dangerous, in terms of policies, because there’s a limitness number of soldiers who can claim that they were PTSD 30,40 or 50 years ago and it’s reactivated only now.

DAVIS:  So the combat vets are not getting compensated for psychological problems attributed to something like PTSD.  Is that what you’re saying?

SENESH:  No.  They do, in extreme cases.  If it’s really interfered with their daily life and they could prove that it ruined the family and their relationship with their children and they cannot cope with the world and family life, I think they would get the compensation they deserved.  But, all in all, I think it’s a very touchy issue still.

DAVIS:  And you think those extreme cases had to go through the grilling committee of  psychiatrists the way the POWs, your colleagues, there did?

SENESH:  I’m not sure they’re going through as bad committees as we do.  I’m not sure about it.  I didn’t do research.  It’s a good question to compare the two groups and to see if we are being treated because of our being in prison or because of our PTSD, which most of the POWs are anyway.  So I’m not sure there is a difference in treating the two groups.  I have no way of controlling this and knowing this research-wise.

DAVIS:  So it’s a critical question whether the psychiatrists who are in that position for the army are treating the question of malingering with such an aggressive tact, in general, or whether that is something specific to the POWs.

SENESH:  Malingering is an issue, but I think that when they are dealing with prisoners of war, I think they are drawing into the position of being interrogators themselves.  There is always the sense that they are not fully believing in what your saying.  It is almost like a game of who is deceiving whom.  With PTSD, I don’t know if they are engaged in such a game.  With PTSD, people have to show very clear-cut symptoms, because they cannot rely on being in prison.  They have only to rely on symptoms.  And with prisoners of war, even if you don’t have such well marked symptoms, everybody knows you wer in prison.  It’s well documented.  You don’t have to prove it. 

DAVIS:  I see.

BENNETT:  You certainly bring a unique perspective to the group here.  You’re not only a psychologist yourself, but you’re a former POW yourself, and you’re from outside the United States.  So you’re giving us an international perspective.  That’s what I’d kind of like to ask you about, in that we’re having a discussion here about what role psychologists should play in the interrogation business.  But, so far, really, what we have is only the American perspective on it.  How do you think, in Israel, psychologists could play or should play a role in the interrogation business?

SENESH:  Well, I know that I will present here a very naive attitude, by saying that once the psychologists are putting their expertise to use for the interrogations, even if they train or direct the interrogations to be kind or to be nice to the prisoners, I think that the final line will be that even if those prisoners will be treated in a psychologically nice way, I think in the end they will pay a mental price for this anyway.  Because they were giving information away, and they will be considered traitors by themselves even.  So I think that once the psychologists are drawn into the process, even if their recommendations will be in favor or treating prisoners in a more civilized way and a more sophisticated way, I think this will not save the prisoners once they are freed and go back home.  I don’t think this will free them from the symptoms.  I think it will be even more complicated, because they will have a sense that they gave away information even if they couldn’t do otherwise and they were manipulated, and they will not know they were manipulated.  I think they may feel even more guilty.  Either way, once psychologists are drawn into the game, I think they have to question ethically what they are doing.  Even if it looks like they are going to do it in the most civilized way, I think, in the end, the prisoners will pay the price.

BENNETT:  I understand that.  And you just said, the psychologists, once they’re  in the game, they’re going to have to question their ethical posture.  And where would you assess the community of psychologists in Israel?  Where do you think they fall right now?  What they consider their ethical responsibilities.

SENESH:  I think they will be in a really difficult dilemma.  I find myself in a difficult dilemma when I try to make a “What would I do?”  Especially when we have this issue because we are at a terrorist threat all the time, that we have this dilemma of what we call “the ticking bomb.”

[Exclamations of recognition from all.]

SENESH:  So here people get really very intolerant, once you get to this point that you have to get information to save prospective victims, then all psychological or ethical questions will be thrown away, and then people will get very aggressive, in order to save other people’s lives.  But the problem is that one can take this argument too far, and I’ve seen that in discussions, that people will start with the ticking bomb, and then it will be a sliding down the road.  People will be very forgiving for very harsh treatment of prisoners, and there will be this definition of ticking bomb, but the bomb is not ticking.   Maybe there is no bomb at all.  They will take it too far.  This happens a few times in our discussions.  I think the time is not ripe. I think the time is right to start talking in the Israeli association, but I think it will take long before the Israeli association will take a stand on this issue.

BENNETT:  Thank you.

LONG:  Thank you very much.

Well, I believe that my question is about Palestinians, in which I’m very interested.  I think you’ve addressed quite a lot of that. 

Let me ask you whether the Israeli army does anything to try to prevent PTSD and to give soldiers an experience coming out of their military work that would try to prevent them coming back with PTSD, which I hear from you could open up a lot of financial work for Israel.  But do they do anything about that?

SENESH:  Well, I think it will go far beyond the financial aspect, because I think that our society at large is getting post-traumatic. Once that we are engaged in a war that is not very clear-cut. The ’73 war was clear-cut.  We were fighting for survival, and that was also it.  But when you’re engaged in a civilian terrorist attack, it’s a very gray area. Then when you come out of it, I think it’s a little bit like what you had in Vietnam, that it was a very problematic war, that most of the PTSD came from there.  I think we are running into the same risk, that people are engaged in very iffy situations, that it’s not clear-cut who’s right and who’s wrong.  They came out of out of there with PTSD, troubled by that.  The probability is very high.  We start seeing the same thing.  This PTSD thing goes in cycles within a society, in families, in children, and the like.  So I’m really concerned.  And I’m afraid that the PTSD symptoms will a little bit go unnoticed because, as we say here, everybody has PTSD here.  Everybody is suffering from the situation and has nightmares and does not go to sleep at night because they’re afraid.  So those clear-cut symptoms get phased out, and in our society we get a little bit ____ 1:16:40?].  So I’m afraid people with real PTSD symptoms will not get diagnosed because we will treat ourselves at large as PTSD.

DAVIS:  And there’s no formal or ameliorative program for the soldiers coming out or for anyone?

SENESH:  No, I think that taking preventive measures will make it evident that we have a problem here.  So I think that it will not be supported here. [overlapping speech]  PTSD, it will be treated but on an individual basis.  I don’t think they will like to take preventive steps because that will define the situation as PTSD for all ___  It has the potential to provoke PTSD.  We always like looking for the next step, like the next war, and we don’t to go there from a PTSD platform or state of mind.

LONG:  I did understand that from an Israeli ex-soldier that I treated that they had the option to live in the countryside or work on a farm or do something if they wished, which would somehow restore themselves to positive communal work.  I didn’t know if that was common or just sometimes gets offered.

SENESH:  I’m not aware of that policy at large for soldiers.  But we do know that the youngsters, once they finish their military service, almost all of them, almost all of them, go to the Far East, to, they say, clean their minds, to refresh their minds, and, also, to get a little more in touch with themselves, because in the military system and the service they lost themselves.  So it’s almost a sociological phenomenon, that the entire generation, once they finish with the service, they go to the Far East for months, and sometimes they go on drugs, also, and they come back to life, after they have to have this experience to refresh themselves.

LONG:  It’s interesting — 

ARRIGO:  I want to go back to the child abuse metaphor that you used, David.  In the case of child abuse, it usually happens that the abused child doesn’t speak about the matter and kind of cuts his or her losses, just by concealing it all.  And the family, or whoever is responsible, also puts a lot of pressure on, too.  So I wondered, well, two things.  One is:  suppose you were just released [as a prisoner of war] and it were never known.  I ask this because, at least in this country, there is research to develop techniques to deprive people of the knowledge of their interrogation, perhaps through some type of maybe drug experiences.  We certainly know that the old electro-shock therapy, right, deprived people of their recent memory.  How does that look to you?

SENESH:  Well, when you’re raising bad memories, there is a big temptation to suppress our traumatic memories, to just erase them.

ARRIGO:  Well, it serves the perpetrators very well, too.

BENNETT:  Folks, I’m on my lunch hour.  I’m sorry I have to go. Thank you very much for the conversation.

SENESH:  Thanks for listening.

BENNETT:  Absolutely.  Thank you.

SENESH:  I will give a personal response to the question.  I was also asking myself if I could trade off experiences and memories and erase that one and adopt another one and take a fake memory from here and there and create for myself a nice narrative.  My position on this is very clear to me now, that I will not give up the experience in its totality.  Even if I was offered to let go of that experience in memory and not ever remember it again, my position is that once I lived through something, maybe as bad as my POW experience, I would like to make the best out of it, in terms of what I can draw out of the experience and put it to work in my life now. 

If I was asked beforehand, when I was 18 years old, if I would go through that experience, then for sure I will not.  Then also there’s the question that it might be even worse, because people do lose their lives on the battlefield.  It can always be even worse.  But I would not let go of that experience, because, once I think that once I lived through it, it can be put to work even with its post-traumatic effects on my life, there’s still, I think, there’s positive effects, what we call in psychology, “post-traumatic personal growth.”  That is something that is also intriguing for me, and I think it has the potential for a person’s growth as well.

ARRIGO:  But would you find it unethical for the perpetrators, you know, the interrogators, to do something to the interrogatee so that he has no memory of this?

SENESH:  I think again it will be taking away from him part of his humanity and part of his life, and I’m totally against it.  I’m totally against it when an interrogator will do it. And I’m not clear about this, but I think I’m inclined to be against it when a psychologist will do it or a therapist will do it.  I think that we have to come to terms with our total experiences and not start [___] them and trading them with bits and pieces.  I think we have to take it to the whole and make the best out of it.

ARRIGO:  Well, we are out of time now.  Thank you for — and being with us.

About the confidentiality issues, I will transcribe this, I will send you a copy of the recording.  Ray will have a backup.  Ray will do the final edit of this, in consultation with you.  I don’t know to what extent you want confidentiality or any pieces removed, but you can decide that when you see the transcript. 

SENESH:  On the whole, my standing is that I will not ask for anonymity or confidentiality.  In a general sense, I would look into it and a line here might be negotiated.  But just as I said before, something that I’m saying, I’m standing behind it.  There is no way to hide.

ARRIGO:  Well, we are enormously grateful.

LONG:  Yes, extraordinarily enlightening, opening up avenues to us.

I want to say that I have lived in Hungary, and I know your aunt’s name very well.  I think she must have been a very hard act to follow.  It’s wonderful to have heard from a relative of hers.

DAVIS:  Thank you so much.

SENESH:  Thank you very much.

[Thanks and farewells all around.]