Matthew Alexander on MSNBC's Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on The Legacy of Enhanced Interrogation
Alexander discusses the long-term costs of enhanced interrogation use and its impact on the lives of American service members at home and abroad.
O‘DONNELL: Joining me now Matthew Alexander, a former senior military interrogator, who conducted or supervised over 1,300 interrogations in Iraq, leading to the capture of numerous al Qaeda leaders and the killing of Abu Musab al Zarqawi.
His latest book is “Kill or Capture, How A Special Operations Task Force Took Down a Notorious al Qaeda terrorist.”
We should note, Matthew Alexander is a pseudonym he uses for obvious security reasons.
Thank you very much for joining us tonight.
MATTHEW ALEXANDER, FORMER MILITARY INTEROGATOR: Thanks for having me, Lawrence.
O‘DONNELL: You just heard Donald Rumsfeld say that anyone—anyone who suggests that the enhanced techniques, waterboarding, did not produce an enormous amount of valuable intelligence just isn‘t facing the truth. Did we get an enormous amount of valuable intelligence from waterboarding?
ALEXANDER: Well, what former secretary Rumsfeld should explain to us then is how come we didn‘t find or locate Osama bin Laden back when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded in 2002 or ‘03, after his capture, and when these other detainees were exposed to other enhanced interrogation techniques. Those techniques ended years ago, and never resulted in the critical pieces of information that would have handed us bin Lad and his exact location. This notion that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed gave us a critical piece, first of all, it came a year after he was waterboarded. So it wasn‘t those techniques that got that information. What he gave us was a nickname of a courier that bin Laden used. That nickname was Abu Ahmed al Kuwaiti. Now if you understand the way al Qaeda indicates, they often use nicknames to indicate positions, not people. It‘s the equivalent of saying somebody is loggy (ph) to indicate they‘re a logistician in the United States Army.
So that information not particularly useful when you‘re trying to locate somebody, to name them, get their real name, their location, and then to follow them to your target.
O‘DONNELL: Now here‘s what makes no sense to me: the administration that says, as Rumsfeld did just then, we got enormous amounts of valuable intelligence from waterboarding, that is the same administration that ends waterboarding. This thing that‘s enormously valuable, they say, you know what‘s enormously valuable, but we‘re not going to do it anymore because we don‘t need it.
Why would you ever stop doing it if it was enormously valuable?
ALEXANDER: The reason why—and this is what you‘ll never hear torture advocates talk about—is because of the long-term negative consequences of using torture and abuse, which greatly outweigh any benefit you get from them.
I saw in Iraq when I was overseeing the interrogations of foreign fighters that the number one reason they stated for coming to Iraq to fight was because of the torture and abuse of prisoners at both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. So we had effectively handed al Qaeda its number one recruiting tool. Those statistics were tracked by Department of Defense. I saw them in briefings. And this resulted in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of American soldiers in Iraq. So these torture advocates, they don‘t want to talk about these long-term costs of having used torture, and how they far outweigh any benefit we ever had.
O‘DONNELL: I have always wondered about the torture discussion, whether, in your experience, the opposite of torture might actually work more easily. For example, treating someone very well, giving them the best food and the best blankets and making them the most comfortable, and then taking them away, Just taking those things away if they don‘t cooperate. Trying to induce cooperation by giving them goodies.
ALEXANDER: What I found, Lawrence, is I never had to take things away. What I found is that when I treated people with respect, when I built a relationship of trust, when I changed their attitudes about me as an American interrogator, and what I stand for, I was able to get them to cooperate. Our success rate in Iraq for my team was upwards of 80 percent. I have no doubt that American interrogators are more than capable of defeating al Qaeda terrorists in the interrogation booth, in the battle of wits.
O‘DONNELL: Matthew Alexander, former senior military interrogator, thank you for joining us tonight. Thank you for your service and your integrity in your service.
ALEXANDER: Thank you, Lawrence.
Published: Monday, May 09, 2011