Sunday, November 30, 2008

Former Army interrogator's treatise on torture

Returned Army interrogator Matthew Alexander, who served in the Air Force for 14 years and later worked as a senior interrogator in Iraq, offers a succinct debunking of torture as a method of obtaining information:

I refused to participate in [Guantanamo-style torture methods], and a month later, I extended that prohibition to the team of interrogators I was assigned to lead. I taught the members of my unit a new methodology -- one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they're listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of "ruses and trickery"). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.

Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money. I pointed this out to Gen. George Casey, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, when he visited my prison in the summer of 2006. He did not respond.


I know the counter-argument well -- that we need the rough stuff for the truly hard cases, such as battle-hardened core leaders of al-Qaeda, not just run-of-the-mill Iraqi insurgents. But that's not always true: We turned several hard cases, including some foreign fighters, by using our new techniques. A few of them never abandoned the jihadist cause but still gave up critical information. One actually told me, "I thought you would torture me, and when you didn't, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That's why I decided to cooperate." (Source: Washington Post)

This is a very, very good article and the second page in particular is quite powerful. If we lose our moral character and respect for humanity as a nation then we've lost the only thing the terrorists can truly take from us. I have a very firm karmic (one might say Christian) belief regarding the actions of government and its employees: if we do the right thing, things will work out. Understanding what leads an individual to become a terrorist by shattering their notions of what it means to be an American seems to be an appropriate way of turning people against militant Jihadism. Torture only creates terrorists, leading us up the inevitable war against the Arab world that so many black-and-white misguided moralists see as inevitable. It's more like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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