Ex-Interrogator: Torture Doesn't Work
December 06, 2008
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Writing under the pseudonym of Matthew Alexander, a former special intelligence operations officer, who in 1996 led an interrogations team in Iraq, has written a compelling book where he details his direct experience with torture practices. He conducted more than 300 interrogations and supervised more than a thousand and was awarded a Bronze Star for his achievements in Iraq. Alexander's nonviolent interrogation methods led Special Forces to Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. His new book is titled "How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq."
"It's extremely ineffective, and it's counterproductive to what we're trying to accomplish," he told reporters. "When we torture somebody, it hardens their resolve," Alexander explained. "The information that you get is unreliable ... And even if you do get reliable information, you're able to stop a terrorist attack, Al-Qaeda's then going to use the fact that we torture people to recruit new members." Alexander says torture techniques used in Iraq consistently failed to produce actionable intelligence and that methods outlined in the US Army Field Manual, which rest on confidence building, consistently worked and gave the interrogators access to critical information.
Publication of the book was delayed for six weeks to allow the Pentagon to scrutinize it. Alexander said he wrote it under a pseudonym for security reasons. He says the US military's use of torture is responsible for the deaths of thousands of US soldiers because it inspired foreign fighters to kill Americans.
His revelations are significant as, last July, a poll showed that 44 percent of Americans supported torture on "terrorist suspects." A key architect of America's torture program, Doug Feith, testified to Congress recently that torture is necessary because otherwise the US couldn't get any information out of the "bad guys". Many Congress members agreed. But now with a new administration about to take office, an outburst of protest against torture is being heard from highly respected sources.
A dozen retired generals met with President-elect Barack Obama's top legal advisers Wednesday, pressing their case to overturn some of the Bush administration's terrorism-fighting policies.
Obama has criticized practices that he says amount to torturing detainees during interrogations and has promised to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Among those who met with Eric Holder, Obama's pick to be attorney general, and Greg Craig, the incoming White House counsel, were Gen. Charles Krulak, a former Marine Corps commandant, and retired Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, former chief of the Central Command.
"It's important that the dialogue is going," Hoar said. "Part of the challenge here is big and philosophical. Part is nuts and bolts. How do you translate the rhetoric of the campaign and the transition period into action?"
The generals would like to see authority rescinded for the CIA to use harsh interrogation methods that go beyond those approved for use by the military; an end to the secret transfer of prisoners to other governments that have a history of torture; and the closing of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
The generals first organized against the administration's current policies through an advocacy group, Human Rights First, shortly after the 2004 revelations of prison abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. They helped win passage of a 2005 bill requiring that all U.S. prisoners, including those taken by the CIA, receive humane treatment.
President George W. Bush in March vetoed legislation supported by the retired officers that would have held the CIA to the military's interrogation methods.
This Thursday, Congressmen John Conyers and Jerrald Nadler wrote in a letter to the Attorney General, that the torture-facilitating lawyers were well aware they were breaking laws, even when FBI agents "were so troubled with some approved interrogation methods that they refused to participate."
The transition team official said no decisions about the detainee policies will be made until after the inauguration and Obama's full national security and legal teams are in place.