Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"Fear & Control" Means Hacking Human Psyches Like God-Forsaken Machines

AMY GOODMAN: So, how did you get information about his whereabouts?

MATTHEW ALEXANDER: Well, the things that we used in Iraq is we took the methods that had been used prior to our arrival, and we changed them. The methods that the Army was using were based on fear and control, and those techniques are not effective. They’re not the most effective way to get people to cooperate. My team was a little bit different, because we were made up of several criminal investigators who had experience doing criminal interrogations, in which we don’t use fear and control. We use techniques that are based on understanding, cultural understanding, sympathy, things like intellect, ingenuity, innovation. And we started to apply these types of techniques to the interrogations. And ultimately, we were able to put together a string of successes within the al-Qaeda organization that led to Zarqawi’s location.

AMY GOODMAN: What does that mean, sympathy, those kind of—using that approach?

MATTHEW ALEXANDER: Let me just give you one example out of the book. There’s a—let’s go to the example where I convince one of Zarqawi’s associates to give up a path towards Zarqawi. This man was a highly religious man. He was deeply schooled in Islam. He had spent fourteen years studying Islam. And we had tried fear and control techniques on him for a period of about three weeks, and they didn’t work. He had maintained that he had nothing to do with al-Qaeda.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, “fear and control”?

MATTHEW ALEXANDER: By “fear and control,” I mean using tactics that are basically intended to intimidate a detainee. You’re not allowed, within the rules of interrogation, to threaten a detainee, but there’s ways to create fear without threatening a detainee. And those methods, although legal, are not most effective. The methods that—

AMY GOODMAN: What are they? How do you inspire fear?

MATTHEW ALEXANDER: You can inspire fear by—you can state what are the consequences for someone’s actions.

AMY GOODMAN: You can say you’re going to kill them if they don’t talk?

MATTHEW ALEXANDER: You can’t say that you’re going to kill somebody if they don’t talk. What you can say is you can state what are the punishments for a certain crime, and if that person’s been involved in that crime, then the point will get across. I think the JAGs, the military lawyers, the terms that they use is you can’t put the dagger on the table.

Now, if you look at the way we do criminal interrogations in the United States, you can certainly tell a criminal suspect what are the consequences for a crime that they’ve committed or that you suspect they’ve committed. So that, I think, is a permissible and ethical way to conduct an interrogation. However, it’s not the most effective. The most effective techniques are those that rely on rapport building and relationship building and then adapt that into the culture of the person that you’re interrogating.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk now, moving from fear to what you did with him.

MATTHEW ALEXANDER: What we did is we got to know our detainees, first of all. You can’t effectively build a relationship with somebody and convince him to cooperate unless you know them. You have to get to know what motivates them, why they’ve joined the insurgency, why they decided to pick up arms against you. And then, once you understand that, then you can appeal to them and offer them some type of negotiation or compromise or incentive. And, you know, the best incentives that we could apply were ones that were intangible, things like hope, things like friendship, like respect, like wasta, which in Arab culture is a term referring to status.

You know, ultimately, interrogation is just one tool we’re using in this war. And we have to conduct ourselves while we’re doing interrogations according to American principles. If we don’t, then we’re not living up to the ideals that we proclaim to have. And for me, this war, it’s more about preserving our American principles than it is about defeating al-Qaeda. We can’t become our enemies in trying to defeat them.

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