10/6/09 - how to break a terrorist

In today's excerpt - the interrogators (or 'gators, in Army parlance) whose work led to locating and killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, demonstrated once again in 2006 that the quickest way to get most captives talking is to be nice to them:

"There's a joke interrogators like to tell: 'What's the difference between a 'gator and a used car salesman?' Answer: 'A 'gator has to abide by the Geneva Conventions.'

"We 'gators don't hawk Chevys; we sell hope to prisoners and find targets for shooters. Today, my group of 'gators arrives in Iraq at a time when our country is searching for a better way to conduct sales.

"After 9/11, military interrogators focused on two techniques: fear and control. The Army trained their 'gators to confront and dominate prisoners. This led down the disastrous path to the Abu Ghraib scandal. At Guantanamo Bay, the early interrogators not only abused the detainees, they tried to belittle their religious beliefs. I'd heard stories from a friend who had been there that some of the 'gators even tried to convert prisoners to Christianity.

"These approaches rarely yielded results. When the media got wind of what those 'gators were doing, our disgrace was detailed on every news broadcast and front page from New York to Islamabad.

"Things are about to change. Traveling inside the bowels of an air force C-130 transport, my group is among the first to bring a new approach to interrogating detainees. Respect, rapport, hope, cunning and deception are our tools. The old ones—fear and control—are as obsolete as the buggy whip. Unfortunately, not everyone embraces change. ...

"When I went home [from my first tour Iraq] in June, 2003, I thought the war was over—mission accomplished—but it had just changed form. We've arrived in Iraq near the war's third anniversary. The army, severely stretched between two wars and short of personnel, has reached out to the other services for help....

"We're all special agents and experienced criminal investigators for the air force. One of us is a civilian agent and the rest of us are military. I'm the only officer. Ever since the Abu Ghraib fiasco, the army has struggled in searching for new ways to extract information from detainees. We offer an alternative approach. In the weeks to come, we'll try to prove our new techniques work, but if we cross the wrong people we'll be sent home."


Matthew Alexander and John R. Bruning


How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains Not Brutality to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq


Free Press a division of Simon & Schuster


Copyright 2008 by Matthew Alexander


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