Burkle Fellow Matthew Alexander on The Ed Show Discussing Cooperation with Pakistan and Interrogation in the War on Terror.
Matthew Alexander analyzes possible trends in partnership and intelligence emerging out of the death of Osama bin Laden and comments on the legacy of torture and its effects on the international War on Terror.
Selected Transcript of the May 2, 2011 Ed Show on MSNBC
SCHULTZ: Let‘s bring in Matthew Alexander. He is the former military interrogator who tracked down senior al Qaeda leaders in Iraq. And he is also the author of the book “Kill or Capture.”
I got to ask you, Mr. Alexander—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, did he serve up the critical information here? And did the waterboarding work? Because some people are saying that it was. In fact, there were a couple lawmakers, one from Iowa and one from New York saying that yes, the waterboarding made a difference. Your take on that.
MATTHEW ALEXANDER, FORMER MILITARY INTERROGATOR: No, I don‘t believe that at all. In fact, it turns out that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, if the piece of information he gave was the fact that bin Laden had a courier, one, is not anything that is that revealing. Every senior leader of al Qaeda leader has a courier. But, two, it happened a year after he was waterboarded, which tells me from my experience that I saw in Iraq, that the waterboarding actually slowed down the acquisition of intelligence by a year.
SCHULTZ: Where does this leave us, gentlemen, with Pakistan? Matthew, you first. Where does this leave us with Pakistan? And what does it mean that the president decided to do this without them?
ALEXANDER: Well, I think it puts increased pressure on Pakistan to step up to the plate and to meet us half way on collecting intelligence against al Qaeda and it is embarrassing for them. There‘s no way to deny the fact that bin Laden was staying fairly close to Islamabad, is embarrassing to the Pakistani intelligence.
It‘s difficult to track people down as we saw in Iraq when we hunted Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was also in a house, in a rural area, a fairly expensive house. And so, that tends to be a trend with these al Qaeda leaders. They don‘t seem to live in the squalor that their foot soldiers do.
But this is something Pakistan is going to have to increase their ops tempo and intelligence collection to meet us on this responsibility.
SCHULTZ: Mr. Sheehan, going at it alone?
SHEEHAN: Absolutely right. And I‘ll tell you, this is important. But our relationship with Pakistan is critical. The good news about Pakistan, at least they came out with the right words after the event today, kind of saying, yes, this is great. We were part of it—insinuating they were part of it.
Pakistan is a complicated, troubled ally. We‘re going to have to work with them and when we can‘t work unilaterally.
SCHULTZ: We‘ve had our chances to get Osama bin Laden in the past. This is a Delta Force officer telling “60 Minutes” about an operation to kill bin Laden in Tora Bora. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The original plan that we set up through the high headquarters, Delta force wants to come in, over the mountain with oxygen, coming from the Pakistan side—over the mountains and come in and get a drop on bin Laden from behind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why didn‘t you do that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Disapproved at some level above us. Whether that was Central Command, or all the way up to the president of the United States, I‘m not sure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHULTZ: All the way up to the president of the United States.
Matthew, what does it say about President Obama‘s being so intricately involved in this operation with this opportunity presented?
ALEXANDER: Well, I think you put it perfectly earlier, Ed, when you said it was a gutsy call. When we located Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, the call was to bomb the house. We dropped two 500-pound bombs on that house because our operators were 20 minutes away. We weren‘t willing to wait 20 minutes to take the risk of being able to take him alive.
And the other problem with bombing a house, we haven‘t discussed here, is that you lose intelligence that way. Some type of media is lost and destroyed in that process, and you can—you can get future targets and stop future attacks by exploiting that media.
SCHULTZ: And, Michael, what about that? We do have his disk.
SHEEHAN: Absolutely. Forty minutes we were in that building scraping out every bit of information. That‘s a huge plus. Being able to put boots on the ground is very, very important. I have been through in White House meetings and previous administrations, in many different presidencies, where we passed on opportunities just like this one. This was uniquely gutsy call by the president. I can tell you I‘ve seen operations like this passed on in previous administrations, back a couple actually.
SCHULTZ: What do you think that helicopter ride was like leaving that compound, when those American SEALs knew they had done the job?
SHEEHAN: They were absolutely pumped up, Ed. I can assure you. But these are hard and professional—these guys have been at this for years now. They‘re veterans of many operations. But even this one, they knew how big this was. They‘re coming back with a big smile of victory on their face.
SCHULTZ: Michael Sheehan, Matthew Alexander great to have you with us tonight. Thanks so much.
To read the entire transcript of the 5/2/11 Ed Show on MSNBC with Fellow Matthew Alexander, click here.
Selected Transcript of the May 3, 2011 Ed Show on MSNBC
Joining us now is Matthew Alexander, a former military interrogator who tracked down senior al Qaeda leaders in Iraq. He‘s the author of the book, “Kill or Capture.” I want to play this sound bite, first, because Leon Panetta told “NBC NIGHTLY” anchor Brian Williams some information did come from enhanced interrogation. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEON PANETTA, CIA DIRECTOR: I think some of the detainees, clearly, were - - you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees. But I‘m also saying that, you know, the debate about whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always going to be an open question.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: So, finer point, one final time, enhanced
interrogation techniques—which has always been a hand of handy euphemism
WILLIAMS: -- in these post-9/11 years—that includes waterboarding?
PANETTA: That‘s correct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHULTZ: Now, there‘s integrity for you. The president‘s administration is not going to lie to the American people about techniques that were used. But, is it the moral high ground and are conservatives right about waterboarding?
Matthew Alexander, that‘s your first question tonight. Thanks for joining us. Are the conservatives correct about waterboarding?
MATTHEW ALEXANDER, FORMER MILITARY INTERROGATOR: No, they are not correct. What a lot of people are forgetting and leaving out of this conversation is what professional interrogators have been saying all along, which is that when you use coercive techniques which includes waterboarding and enhanced interrogation techniques, you get the bare minimum about of information out of a detainee. And that bare minimum amount of information is going to lack the details that you need to execute a mission to take out a target. The type of information you need to take out a target isn‘t a pseudonym or a nickname of a courier. It‘s who is that courier, how do we find him? And how do we know when he‘s meeting with the target. In this case, bin Laden.
Take this example of what took seven years to go from the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in this name to bin Laden, and compare that to how we Zarqawi. We convinced somebody to cooperate without torture, someone very similar to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was dedicated to al Qaeda, and when he did cooperate, he provided not only the name of person that met with Zarqawi, but exactly how we would know when he would meet with him, and allowed us to go from cooperation, from capturing that person, cooperation, to the death of Zarqawi in about six weeks.
SCHULTZ: Mr. Alexander, tell us about this breaking report in “The New York Times” on Hassan Gul. What do you know about it?
ALEXANDER: We don‘t know much about Hassan Gul and his interrogations. In reports outside “The New York Times” conflict with “The New York Times” report actually. Some people are saying the information came out in 2007. I always take all this information that comes out directly after these types of events with a grain of salt, because usually, about half of what we hear is incorrect. And I think it will take some time to flush out the whole story.
What is clear is that the information came from several sources. It was pieced together by analysts and that the real heroes in this are intelligence collectors, interrogators and human intelligence.
SCHULTZ: But, of course, the conservatives are out there saying that KSM served up the key name and now, “The New York Times” is reporting that is not the case, it came from the courier who is identified as Hassan Gul. So, there‘s a lot of misinformation, a lot of cross information that‘s going on out there. Who do we believe?
ALEXANDER: Ed, if waterboarding that happened seven to eight years ago just now led us to bin Laden and that‘s our measure of success, we‘re in a lot of trouble.
SCHULTZ: Well put.
ALEXANDER: That‘s not an effective technique. Compare it to, you know, my team when we‘re in Iraq, I went out on raids. Our time requirement when we did interrogations in the field was 10 to 15 minutes to get some info.
Back at a prison, you know, our standard was maybe two to three days to get some info to act on. You know, maybe a couple weeks or a few weeks in some other cases. But eight or nine years to get information and consider that valuable, it‘s not.
SCHULTZ: How do you counter this sound bite? This is Congressman Peter King. He says that waterboarding is a moral imperative. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I believe waterboarding is a moral imperative. Waterboarding saved lives. And I use the example, on September 10, 2001, we captured Mohammed Atta, and we knew that he was going to kill thousands of Americans. We didn‘t know when or where. Are we saying now that you wouldn‘t hold his head under water to save 3,000 lives?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHULTZ: Does that argument hold up?
ALEXANDER: It doesn‘t for me. And it goes directly against my oath of office. You know, my oath of office was to defend the Constitution of the United States, like everybody else in the service. There‘s nothing in there about saving lives. You know, when did America go from being a country that stands for principles like liberty, freedom and justice to being a country that stands for security above all else?
Numerous leaders going back to the Revolutionary War, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, World War II leaders, presidents and generals, all said that we cannot use torture because it violates American principles, regardless of if it would or would not keep us safe.
SCHULTZ: But, Mr. Alexander, and let me ask you to be very clear here, what Congressman Peter King said there, is that fact or his opinion that waterboarding saves lives?
ALEXANDER: Well, it‘s neither fact nor his opinion. It‘s fiction. To say that waterboarding saved lives also excludes any inclusion of a long-term negative effects of using torture and abuse. As I saw in Iraq firsthand, the number one reason they gave for coming to fight was because of our torture and abuse of Muslim prisoners and detainees, which had led them there and those foreign fighters made up the majority of suicide bombers. They killed hundreds, if not thousands of American soldiers.
So, you cannot in any way say waterboarding has kept America safe.
SCHULTZ: So, you saw firsthand the reaction to the waterboarding and torture. It motivated the opposition to the point where it made that fight that much tougher and the task that much harder.
ALEXANDER: And, Ed, that‘s not an opinion.
ALEXANDER: The Department of Defense tracked those statistics. I saw them. That‘s a fact that waterboarding and torture was al Qaeda‘s number one recruiting tool.
SCHULTZ: So, moving forward, are you confident that we are going to be able to take out al Qaeda and use the moral high ground as President Obama has said his administration is going to do? And I think it‘s really profoundly pointed out tonight in the interview with Brian Williams and Leon Panetta, is that they are not lying about it. I mean, they‘re saying that waterboarding was used and some information came from it. But moving forward, they are not going to do it. But the American people want to know, what‘s the best thing to do?
ALEXANDER: Right. And no interrogator who knows what they are talking about is not going to say that torture never works. I‘m not going to say that. What I‘m going to say is define works. Consider the long-term negative consequences of using it. How does that help us in the long term and trying to defeat al Qaeda? It doesn‘t. It helps them to recruit new members. And you can‘t say that it works. What you can say is it violates the principles that this country was founded upon. Our country is now safer than it ever has been because we have started to regain that moral high ground that you talked about.
SCHULTZ: Matthew Alexander, great to have you with us tonight. I appreciate your time.
To read the entire transcript of the 5/3/11 Ed Show on MSNBC with Fellow Matthew Alexander, click here.
Published: Wednesday, May 04, 2011