April 26, 2009
Torture? It probably killed more Americans than 9/11
US major reveals the inside story of military interrogation in . By Patrick Cockburn, winner of the 2009 Orwell Prize for journalism Iraq
The use of torture by the US has proved so counter-productive that it may have led to the death of as many US soldiers as civilians killed in 9/11, says the leader of a crack US interrogation team in Iraq.
"The reason why foreign fighters joined al-Qa'ida in
Major Alexander's attitude to torture by the
In his compelling book How to Break a Terrorist, Major Alexander explains that prisoners subjected to abuse usually clam up, say nothing, or provide misleading information. In an interview he was particularly dismissive of the "ticking bomb" argument often used in the justification of torture. This supposes that there is a bomb timed to explode on a bus or in the street which will kill many civilians. The authorities hold a prisoner who knows where the bomb is. Should they not torture him to find out in time where the bomb is before it explodes?
Major Alexander says he faced the "ticking time bomb" every day in
A career officer, Major Alexander spent 14 years in the
He refused to take part in torture and abuse, and forbade the team he commanded to use such methods. Instead, he says, he used normal
Before he started interrogating insurgent prisoners in
In the case of foreign fighters – recruited mostly from
For Iraqi Sunni Arabs joining al-Qa'ida, the abuses played a role, but more often the reason for their recruitment was political rather than religious. They had taken up arms because the Shia Arabs were taking power; de-Baathification marginalised the Sunni and took away their jobs; they feared an Iranian takeover. Above all, al-Qa'ida was able to provide money and arms to the insurgents. Once, Major Alexander recalls, the top
The objective of Major Alexander's team was to find Zarqawi, the Jordanian born leader of al-Qa'ida who built it into a fearsome organisation. Attempts by
What the major discovered was that many of the Sunni fighters were members of, or allied to, al-Qa'ida through necessity. They did not share its extreme, puritanical Sunni beliefs or hatred of the Shia majority. He says that General Casey had ignored his findings but he was pleased when General David Petraeus became commander in
In the aftermath of his experience in Iraq, which he left at the end of 2006, Major Alexander came to believe that the battle against the US using torture was more important than the war in Iraq. He sees President Obama's declaration against torture as "a historic victory", though he is concerned about loopholes remaining and the lack of accountability of senior officers. Reflecting on his own interrogations, he says he always monitored his actions by asking himself, "If the enemy was doing this to one of my troops, would I consider it torture?" His overall message is that the American people do not have to make a choice between torture and terror.
How to Break a Terrorist: The
© 2009 Independent News and Media. All rights reserved.
Donations can be sent to the
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs