Thursday, December 4, 2008

Another Interrogator Speaks Out

If you haven't read it already, "Matthew Alexander's" Washington Post article about his experience as an Interrogator in Iraq is a crucial document in the story of America's decline. Alexander and I had similar experiences (I'm pretty sure I know him, actually). As a fellow former Interrogator, I found myself nodding in agreement through much of the piece.

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. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.
I'm hesitant to shift too much of the blame for the attacks themselves away from the ordinary Iraqis who supported those foreign fighters ("Zarqawi's Willing Executioners"?), but the connection to our detention policies is spot-on. I heard versions of this many, many times from detainees--America came waving the banner of freedom, then unjustly imprisoned and horrifically abused the people they were supposed to be saving, thus inviting a bloody backlash.

Not only was I told this directly, but like Alexander I was also told the correlate: the good treatment, adequate food and healthcare that they received in our prisons convinced at least five of the men I personally interrogated to give solid intelligence. Once they found out that we (all) weren't that bad, they opened right up. I wish this story were told more often--Alexander and I can't be the only ones who heard this:

"I thought you would torture me, and when you didn't, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That's why I decided to cooperate."
Imagine how different this war would have gone if that was a commonly-heard refrain. How tragic that it isn't.

(Cross-posted at Decline and Fall.)