Interrogation is the ultimate battle of wills; the most expert interrogators have an arsenal of tactics ready to go. Gauging their “target,” they must quickly assess which psychological strategies will work to gain the most reliable results. Matthew Alexander, who spent 14 years in the US Air Force and Air Force Reserves, is part of a small group of military interrogators who were sent to Iraq in 2006, trained to get information without using harsh methods. He sat face-to-face with hardened members of Al Qaeda and convinced them to talk. Alexander, author of How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq, will describe the true story of the critical interrogation he conducted that led to the targeted killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Alexander will share his riveting experiences and reveal what it takes to be an effective interrogator in a special event hosted by the International Spy Museum on Monday, August 10 at 6:30 p.m.
To whet your appetite, Alexander answered a few questions posed by the Museum.
How far is too far when it comes to more aggressive forms of interrogation? Is there a “line in the sand?”
Alexander: There is definitely a line in the sand and a soldier has many tools to make that decision including Geneva Conventions, US military regulations and instructions, his or her training, annual Law of Armed Conflict Training, and finally, their internal moral compass. For those gray areas, I always applied the Golden Rule — if this was being done to one of my troops, would I consider it unethical or inconsistent with American principles.
Is it fair to say Bush administration’s torture policies undermined the War on Terror?
Alexander: Yes, for many reasons. On a practical level, the policy of torture and abuse was Al Qaida’s number one recruiting tool and ultimately resulted in more terrorist attacks in Iraq and the deaths of US soldiers and Iraqi civilians. Even worse was the degradation of US values and the sacrificing of our principles.
Do you see future prosecutions of high ranking members of administration over torture?
Alexander: I don’t know. I would like to see an independent investigation or inquiry, especially within the US military.
How have things changed in Iraq and Afghanistan with regards to interrogation with the new administration?
Alexander: I don’t know exactly because I haven’t served on active duty for more than two years. My perception is that enhanced interrogation techniques are no longer allowed and that there are no exceptions across the entire government.
I understand Matthew Alexander is a pen name. Is Dick Cheney really that scary?
Alexander: The pen name is to protect my family from Al Qaeda. Also, I am still a reservist and plan to work in intelligence at a future time overseas, so the name is to protect me as well.
Call the International Spy Museum at 202.393.7798 for more information or to purchase tickets ($12.50 per person).