• U.S. to Use Psych Tests to Vett Syrian Rebels for Moderateness

    December 2, 2014

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Military, Syria


    Many have compared those “moderate Syrian rebels” the U.S. keeps looking for to unicorns. The U.S. now thinks it has a new set of tools to scare the unicorns out of hiding, and to tell the nasty terrorists from the good terrorists: psychological evaluations, biometric checks and stress tests. It is unlikely this will help.

    Call of Duty: Problems One-Four

    According to the Washington Post, “moderate” Syrian fighters will be evaluated on an ongoing basis. Successful participants “would gradually attain access to higher levels of training and weaponry.” So basically this is going to work something like Call of Duty leveling-up. Problem One.

    The Post goes on to say that the American government hopes “to lessen the risk that U.S.-trained fighters sent back into Syria to combat ISIS will use their weapons on civilians or — like the Afghan mujahideen fighters Washington backed in the 1980s — later turn against the United States and its allies.” This is of course a good goal, considering those U.S.-backed 80s-era mujahideen fighters went on to become al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS. Problem Two.

    The psych screening and stress testing will not stand alone. Biometric data will be gathered from the recruits, and along with their names, run through all sorts of databases. Needless to say, a person must exist in one of those databases for the checking to do any good. And in a region of the world where last names and birthdays are not always recorded, there may be some problems with that. There are a lot of “Muhummed, FNU, 01/01/01” entries in the databases that match everyone and no one (FNU = First Name Unknown). Problem Three.

    “In the special operations community, we have a pretty long history of vetting and screening surrogate forces that we’ve worked with,” said an official at CENTCOM who apparently is unfamiliar with the success of the 1980s mujahideen fighters experiment, America’s near-endless work with human rights violating Central and South American thug armies (see School of the Americas) and so forth. That official appears also unaware of the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan in the present war by their Afghan partners, so called “Green-on-Blue” attacks. Problem Four.

    Problem Five: No Leahy Vetting

    For all the Hail-Mary style “vetting” that will sort-of take place, one thing which will not happen is Leahy Vetting.

    Leahy Vetting is a process, albeit flawed as it is run by a small office located deep inside the State Department, put in place during the 1990s precisely to stop the U.S. from funding and partnering with human rights violators who might fulfill America’s short term goals but ultimately alienate the very populations the U.S. seeks to win over.

    But because the Syrian rebels will not be part of a state-sponsored force, the Leahy Vetting laws will not apply, according to an interpretation announced by the Obama Administration (existing Department of Defense regulations classify “paramilitary forces” as included, so we’ll call that Problem 5.5). That means even the very light touch of Leahy won’t be applied to America’s new partners in the fight against ISIS. Persons who at this point may be concerned that the U.S. will be backing one group of human rights-violating Islamic fundamentalists against another group of human rights-violating Islamic fundamentalists are excused from the final exam. You already got it.


    I sometimes label things I write as “satire,” as without the label I often received both well-meaning and incredibly obscene comments and emails challenging the stories. After learning of these nearly-pointless psych evaluation vetting procedures (“Now look at this ink blot. Does it look like a splatter of ISIS brain matter on the end of your rifle butt, or moderate brain matter?”), I feel it may be clearer to label posts such as this one “Not Satire” and leave the purposefully satirical ones alone.

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  • Recent Comments

    • Kyzl Orda said...


      It’s ironic your article mentions the School of the Americas incident — NY Times had an interesting retro report last week on the nuns who were murdered by rebels we trained in El Salvador.

      With more irony, the guys responsible got immigration visas, even with their known backgrounds, to live in Florida

      State played a role in helping muddy the nuns’ rape and murder, and a very ethical US Ambassador was fired for refusing to comply. He’s head of a think tank now

      Is this what we have to look forward to – relocating human rights abusers from these newer conflicts and rewarding them with US citizenship? Meanwhile people who are falsely accused have a hard time getting to clear their name. In the case of the nuns, that just hasnt happened and looks like the guys behind their rape and murder will get to live in the US afterall


      12/2/14 3:16 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      “With more irony, the guys responsible got immigration visas, even with their known backgrounds, to live in Florida.”

      Just settling them with their ilk. Those nuns had it coming.

      12/2/14 4:03 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      George Bush has volunteered his expertise:

      “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

      Neither Bush nor Putin have one.


      12/2/14 7:09 PM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...


      Rich, that is another great and memorable quote You cite

      12/2/14 7:23 PM | Comment Link

    • PeteM said...


      I don’t think the Islamic State has much to fear from this imaginary ‘Moderate Force’ because it will probably never be a reality just as the Sunni tribal force in Iraq will never develop. All this seems to be a diversion to prepare the US public for the real plan to insert US ground forces back into Iraq and possibly Syria.

      I agree with most of what you write about this topic but you did include an error about the relationship between the Mujahideen and al Qaeda/IS, Al Qaeda was already established and well funded, in Afghanistan, before the US got involved through Pakistan, they are different people who speak different languages although they were allied. ISIS did seperate from al Qaeda in Iraq but they are Iraqi Arabs not Afghans such as the Taliban.

      12/2/14 7:27 PM | Comment Link

    • U.S. Mideast policy: Links & comments 12/5/14 | Phil Ebersole's Blog said...


      […] U.S. to Use Psych Tests to Vet Syrian Rebels for Moderateness by Peter Van Buren. […]

      12/5/14 12:42 PM | Comment Link

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