Brains, not brutality needed, former interrogator argues
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Thursday December 4, 2008

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Not only is torture cruel and immoral, according to its critics, but a former US Air Force interrogator says that it doesn't even work -- at least, not nearly as well as kindness.

The author of How to Break a Terrorist, who is using the pseudonym of Matthew Alexander because he is still in the Reserves, told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann on Wednesday, "It's extremely ineffective, and it's counter-productive to what we're trying to accomplish."

"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."

"How long is it going to take to undo that damage?" Olbermann asked, referring to Alexander's observation that "I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. "

"I'm an optimist on that point," Alexander answered. "In the book, I tell several stories about how I sat down with some hardened members of al Qaeda, and by treating them nicely, by showing them respect. ... In one case ... in a matter of six hours I was able to convince him that we could work together and get over the past and work toward a better Iraq."

When Olbermann asked what advice he would give to President-elect Obama, Alexander instantly replied, "I think we have to outlaw torture across the government. ... Every agency, no exceptions."

"Then the next thing we need to do," continued Alexander, "we need to improve the way we train interrogators." He described his own method as "rapport-based relationship-building approaches, where we get to know the person, we build a relationship of trust."

In his book, Alexander explains in more detail, "It means, ideally, getting to know the subject better than he knows himself and then manipulating him by role-playing, flattering, misleading, and nudging his or her perception of the truth slightly off center. ... Respect, rapport, hope, cunning, and deception are our tools."

"Interrogations overall is just one one facet of how we execute this war," Alexander told Olbermann in conclusion, "and it has to be conducted in a way that's consistent with American principles."

This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast Dec. 3, 2008.

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