t r u t h o u t | 01.27
But What If Torture Works?
Tuesday 27 January 2009
by: Steve Weissman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
"How do you feel about waterboarding or other enhanced interrogation techniques?" asked the unit commander.
"I'm opposed to enhanced techniques," Matthew answered. "They're against
"What do you mean?"
"A good interrogator can get the information he needs in more subtle ways."
The interview took place in 2006 at an American base north of
Matthew, a pseudonym, called this "a new approach," but anyone who has read Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" or watched Peter Falk play Lieutenant Colombo on television, will instantly recognize the vintage techniques of getting inside a criminal suspect's head. Matthew and his newly trained people had all worked as criminal investigators in the Air Force, and he had also worked in counter-intelligence, including time in
Matthew sailed through his interview and was named senior interrogator for a Special Operations Task Force that would prove crucial to the American occupation of
The target - and the test of the "new approach" - was Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in
Matthew tells the story in an exciting thriller called "How To Break A Terrorist: The
As the book's title suggests and history confirms, Matthew and his interrogators broke a wide range of detainees and got them to cough up the clues that finally located Zarqawi, and an American air strike killed him and others at a not-so-safe house hidden away in the Iraqi countryside. Even knowing how the manhunt will end, I found myself fascinated by the psychological encounters with each of the detainees and the step-by-step detective work that built up the picture of Zarqawi's organization that allowed the task force to put him out of business.
Apart from providing a good read, Matthew - and I would guess his Air Force superiors - are using the book to sell their "new approach." "How To Break A Terrorist" answers anyone who still thinks
As Matthew shows, a well-thought-out nudge produces far better intelligence than does any effort to impose fear and control. It also yielded a much clearer understanding of why so many Iraqi Sunnis turned to Zarqawi's terrorists, whether for protection against Shi'a militia, a chance to earn money, or a sincere belief in a new Islamic Caliphate. These were nuances that Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and much of the military brass found hard to accept, as was the undeniable truth that Abu Ghraib and Gitmo encouraged far more ticking bombs than torture ever prevented.
Sadly, the Obama administration has not fully learned the lesson. For all the dramatic announcements that we would stop all torture and close Guantanamo and our gulag of secret detention centers, the small print reveals that the CIA may return to its old tricks if we ever capture Osama bin Laden or one of his top aides. What an incredibly dumb idea that would be.
A veteran of the
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