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Monday, February 14, 2011

A different approach to interrogation

Listening to this guy on NPR - Fresh Air.  He's deep, and the stuff he's saying is so thought-provoking - he got a lot more useful information using his techniques than others got from torture, oh, I mean, enhanced interrogation.  His book, Kill or Capture, is a Must Read.  Below is from the NPR website:

Matthew Alexander led the interrogation team that tracked down al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006.

Alexander, a critic of the harsh techniques employed by the military during the administration of George W. Bush, says he used strategic, noncoercive methods of interrogation to find al-Zarqawi, which he wrote about in his book How to Break a Terrorist.

In his second book, Kill or Capture, Alexander — a pseudonym for the author — recounts how his team of interrogators tracked down and captured another wanted man: a Syrian named Zafar, the leader of al-Qaida in northern Iraq.

But finding Zafar was not easy. Alexander says he conducted hundreds of interrogations and supervised more than a thousand more while trying to track down a man who eluded security forces and had never once been photographed by U.S. forces.

In a conversation with Dave Davies on NPR's Fresh Air, Alexander details the interrogation tactics he used while conducting his kill-or-capture missions in the area of Iraq where Zafar was thought to be hiding.

"The first step of any interrogation is to understand your detainee, understand what uniquely motivates them as an individual," he explains. "[You have to understand] why they joined al-Qaida or another insurgent group, why they decided to pick up arms. And if you can analyze them and figure out those motivations, then you can craft an appropriate approach and incentive, but not until you've done that."

But Alexander says he couldn't always give the incentives he thought would provide the best response from his potential informants. For example, he was not allowed to offer money or visas to people who provided information about the location of senior al-Qaida members.

"That's a real change," he says. "In Vietnam, we had real incentives that interrogators could offer captured Vietcong members to get them to turn to our side. But we didn't do that in Iraq, and it wasn't until Gen. [David] Petraeus got there and offered the Sunni tribes money and weapons that they turned against al-Qaida."

To gain trust with the Sunni combatants he was interviewing, Alexander says, he would admit that the United States had made some strategic mistakes in its approach in Iraq.

"Almost every detainee that I admitted those mistakes to, they all were surprised that I was willing to admit that," he says. "And it moved many of them to hear that, because many of them had lost family members or friends because of these actions — because of allowing the Shia militias to run free. And so when they heard that apology followed by an offer to work together, it was very appealing."

More than anything, Alexander says, it was important for interrogators to understand the detainee and know exactly where they were coming from. Interrogators who believed in misguided stereotypes about Muslims and Arabs, he says, were the single most detrimental factor to undermining interrogations in Iraq.

"A common parlance that was said by some interrogators and analysts was 'Arabs grow up in a culture of violence, so they only understand violence.' We have that documented in an e-mail from a senior interrogator to his commander at one point in Iraq," he says. "And it was that type of stereotype of Arabs and of Muslims that was very counterproductive to try to get people to cooperate. ... Those prejudices worked directly in contrast to what we were trying to accomplish."
Matthew Alexander is an 18-year veteran of the Air Force and Air Force Reserves. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his achievements in Iraq and has contributed to both the Washington Post and The New York Times.



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