Posted by: Kevin | December 19, 2008

A Must Read on the Torture Debate

Harper’s Magazine has an interview with the author of How to Break a Terrorist.  The author was involved in the interrogation of many captured Al Qaeda members in Iraq.  Among his successes was the acquisition of the information used to target and kill Abu Musab al Zarqawi, at the time the head of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

I convinced the man who led us to Zarqawi to cooperate after only six hours of interrogation using a relationship-building approach. The old methods of interrogation had failed for twenty days to convince this man to cooperate.

The author makes two key points that bear repeating.  First, that torture is not an effective interrogation technique, it just doesn’t work.  Second, our use of torture is a recruiting tool for our enemies.  This is something I’ve written about before

The good news is it looks like the Obama administration will close the book on this chapter in US history.  Which means the only open question is, what price will the architects of our torture policy have to pay?  They are war criminals.  That might sound over the top, but it’s the truth.  What price do they pay?

via Memeorandum


  1. Have you read, The Men Who Stare at Goats, by Jon Ronson? From the jacket:

    “In 1979, a secret unit was established by the most gifted minds within the US army. Defying all known accepted military practice – and, indeed, the laws of physics – they believed that a soldier could adopt the cloak of invisibility, pass cleanly through walls and, perhaps most chillingly, kill goats just by staring at them. Entrusted with defending America from all known adversaries, they were the First Earth Battalion. And they really weren’t joking. What’s more, they’re back and fighting the War on Terror.”

    It’s fascinating, as a roadside wreck can be fascinating.

    George Clooney is now making a movie based on the book, which seems unfortunate. Movies are fiction. I’d prefer to know how much of Ronson’s account is true and how much is some sociopath’s exaggerated version of the facts before turning the story into entertainment.

    I remember the seige on Noriega in Panama, with the accounts of US soldiers blasting music at his compound. WTF? I thought. I rationalized that the soldiers might have been bored and the music was something to do.

    Then the ATF/FBI guys blasted music at the Branch Davidians in Waco. Weird, but okay. Then the music is used in the first gulf war. Hmm.

    Ronson documents two independent accounts of music used during interrogations – one event at Guantanamo and one in Iraq. Same set of CDs in each – girl band covering Fleetwood Mac, Matchbox 20, can’t recall the other. Based on his accounts, it appears that someone in the intelligence community believes in the power of subliminal messages.

    The stupidity and gullibility of Military Intelligence as represented in this book would be laughable, were it not so terrifying.

  2. I haven’t heard of that book but I’m going to look for it now. I know there’s no lack of magical thinking in some corners of the military but those claims seem like too much. Then again, we also tried to train dolphins to be assassins so I guess anything is possible.


    General Stubblebine ” was the commanding general of the United States Army Intelligence and Security Command from 1981 to 1984.” Many of the basic facts re: military intelligence in the goat story seem to be true.

    Stubblebine has moved on to vitamins. Rule of thumb: Never trust anyone trying to sell you vitamins. Follow that rule and you’ll dodge 90% of the quackery out there.

  4. You can download Men who Stare at Goats from

    I’m not crazy about the narrator, who’s kinda stiff.

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