Sunday, 26 April 2009

Torture doesn't work, says someone who would know

Courtesy of Patrick Cockburn at the Indie:
"The reason why foreign fighters joined al-Qa'ida in Iraq was overwhelmingly because of abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and not Islamic ideology," says Major Matthew Alexander, who personally conducted 300 interrogations of prisoners in Iraq. It was the team led by Major Alexander [a named assumed for security reasons] that obtained the information that led to the US military being able to locate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qa'ida in Iraq. Zarqawi was then killed by bombs dropped by two US aircraft on the farm where he was hiding outside Baghdad on 7 June 2006. Major Alexander said that he learnt where Zarqawi was during a six-hour interrogation of a prisoner with whom he established relations of trust.

Major Alexander's attitude to torture by the US is a combination of moral outrage and professional contempt. "It plays into the hands of al-Qa'ida in Iraq because it shows us up as hypocrites when we talk about human rights," he says. An eloquent and highly intelligent man with experience as a criminal investigator within the US military, he says that torture is ineffective, as well as counter-productive. "People will only tell you the minimum to make the pain stop," he says. "They might tell you the location of a house used by insurgents but not that it is booby-trapped."

In his compelling book How to Break a Terrorist, Major Alexander explains that prisoners subjected to abuse usually clam up, say nothing, or provide misleading information. In an interview he was particularly dismissive of the "ticking bomb" argument often used in the justification of torture. This supposes that there is a bomb timed to explode on a bus or in the street which will kill many civilians. The authorities hold a prisoner who knows where the bomb is. Should they not torture him to find out in time where the bomb is before it explodes?

Major Alexander says he faced the "ticking time bomb" every day in Iraq because "we held people who knew about future suicide bombings". Leaving aside the moral arguments, he says torture simply does not work. "It hardens their resolve. They shut up." He points out that the FBI uses normal methods of interrogation to build up trust even when they are investigating a kidnapping and time is of the essence. He would do the same, he says, "even if my mother was on a bus" with a hypothetical ticking bomb on board. It is quite untrue to imagine that torture is the fastest way of obtaining information, he says. (1)
So there. Morally repugnant, ineffective and likely to create more problems than it would solve. Which is pretty much what the namby-pamby, human right obssessed, limp-wristed left said, back when Bush was having prisoners of war reclassified as 'unlawful combatants' so they weren't protected by conventions against torture.

This part is also interesting:
He refused to take part in torture and abuse, and forbade the team he commanded to use such methods. Instead, he says, he used normal US police interrogation techniques which are "based on relationship building and a degree of deception". He adds that the deception was often of a simple kind such as saying untruthfully that another prisoner has already told all.

Before he started interrogating insurgent prisoners in Iraq, he had been told that they were highly ideological and committed to establishing an Islamic caliphate in Iraq, Major Alexander says. In the course of the hundreds of interrogations carried out by himself, as well as more than 1,000 that he supervised, he found that the motives of both foreign fighters joining al-Qa'ida in Iraq and Iraqi-born members were very different from the official stereotype.

In the case of foreign fighters – recruited mostly from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and North Africa – the reason cited by the great majority for coming to Iraq was what they had heard of the torture in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. These abuses, not fundamentalist Islam, had provoked so many of the foreign fighters volunteering to become suicide bombers. (2)
This tallies with somethings I remember reading in Robert Fisk's book, The Great War for Civilisation - the 11th of September murderers weren't fanatics. Mohammed Atta was a drunkard, many of the others were westernised, maintained girlfriends - non-Muslim - and none of them were Koran thumping roll-eyed ideologues. Ditto the London tube bombers - none of them attended Islamic schools, and the impression I've gathered of them is that they were not particularly devout. I'd suspect they were recruited because they were suggestable and easily led, rather than because they were hardline fanatics hungry for martyrdom.
1 - "Torture? It probably killed more Americans than 9/11" by Patrick Cockburn, published in The Independent, 26th of April, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/torture-it-probably-killed-more-americans-than-911-1674396.html)
2-
ibid.

No comments: