Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

Torture Is Not Only Wrong, It’s Counterproductive: Part 23493

Posted by Phoenix Woman on December 1, 2008

From the 11/2 Washington Post:

My team of interrogators had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war. But instead of celebrating our success, my mind was consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the U.S. military conducts interrogations in Iraq. I’m still alarmed about that today.

I’m not some ivory-tower type; I served for 14 years in the U.S. Air Force, began my career as a Special Operations pilot flying helicopters, saw combat in Bosnia and Kosovo, became an Air Force counterintelligence agent, then volunteered to go to Iraq to work as a senior interrogator. What I saw in Iraq still rattles me — both because it betrays our traditions and because it just doesn’t work.

But of course this wasn’t on any of the TV or radio news programs that most Americans are likeliest to encounter, so this will disappear down the memory hole for all but regular internet news perusers. They’re far more likely to see the fictional Jack Bauer on TV successfully using torture as an interrogation tool.

7 Responses to “Torture Is Not Only Wrong, It’s Counterproductive: Part 23493”

  1. Former Interrogator Still Tormented by Recollections of Practices Used in Iraq…

    by Damozel | “Matthew Alexander”—writing under a nom de guerre for security reasons—led the team of interrogators hunted down the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) and authored a book called “How to Break a Terrorist.” (WaPo) De…

  2. Charles II said

    That’s a simply awesome article.

  3. Stormcrow said


    I picked this up from dKos, read through it, looked up the book written by the article’s author, and bookmarked that.


    Only one thing in the piece that I disagree with.

    The methods used and promulgated by “Matthew Alexander” aren’t really new. They’re what every savvy military interrogation program eventually gets down to, if they don’t start from there.

    Gods alone know just how old they are. Thousands of years? Tens of thousands? Probably about as old as warfare. They certainly co-evolved with civilian police work. He states himself that they were based on that.

    I’ve read accounts of the US Army (and even the Wehrmacht!) using the same sort of technique during World War II. Pat Lang has also written about this approach being used in Vietnam.

    But under the circumstances, I’m willing to let that one pass.

    Hell, I call still it “Maurician drill“. And I know damn good and well that Maurice of Orange didn’t invent it, he reinvented it. So this isn’t the first time I’ve winked at something like this.

  4. Mahakal said

    Matthew Alexander is a good man.

  5. Charles II said

    I always learn something from you, Stormcrow.

    Interrogations based on torture are based on an abnormal view of human beings. The police-like interrogations seem based on the premise that prisoners are like other people, and that if they are keeping secrets, it is from fear. So interrogation is based on breaking down fear while using facts to prevent lies.

    Torture-based interrogation views the prisoner as a fearless superhuman psychopath who has to be shown that he’s vulnerable and should feel fear. So, torture-based interrogation begins from the premise that the prisoner is stronger than his interrogators, and can only be broken by their combined weight. Considering that their typical detainee has a fourth grade education, has grown up malnourished, and probably has the strong beginnings of a fatal disease at age 20, this is a bizarre belief.

  6. Stormcrow said

    Well, Pat Lang used the term “seduction”. LOL

    And “Matthew Alexander” used the terms “ruses and trickery”, citing the Field Manual.

    But they’re both talking about a process where the relationship between the parties is a personal rather than an impersonal one.

    Every time I run across another reference to how SERE training was “reverse engineered” to produce methods used at Guantanamo Bay and in Iraq, I wince. Just where the hell is the logic in that? SERE training was designed to prepare people to cope if they were themselves tortured after capture.

    It had nothing to do with effective intelligence gathering methods, because the effectiveness of the torture techniques used on captured Americans in places like North Korea was never a significant consideration. So “reverse engineering” of something like this is completely pointless.

    Yeah, outfits like the Soviet KGB and Iraq’s own mukhabharat used torture on a regular basis. But the design intent for the KGB was to produce confessions. Not actionable intelligence. Just confessions. False confessions were just fine and dandy. The more imaginative, the better, because the next step was a show trial and further arrests, presumably in the course of a purge.

    I doubt other secret police agencies cared very much about accuracy, either. Most of the time, the design intent seems to have been to produce a obviously tortured victim, often rather brutally murdered into the bargain, as an object lesson to strike fear into third parties.

  7. Charles II said

    The reverse engineering of SERE was to figure out how to deny detainees every scrap of respite. They were trying to reverse engineer perfect torture.

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