Interrogation Tactics

Friday, December 12, 2008

Matthew Alexander, a 14-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and author of How to Break a Terrorist, discusses his experience as an interrogator and comments on the bipartisan report released yesterday on involvement from high-level US officials in detainee abuse. Plus, performance artist Coco Fusco talks about her recent work investigating the psychology of an interrogator.


Matthew Alexander and Coco Fusco

Comments [31]

Gerald Fnord from New York, New York

>"the way the French did it in Algeria"
...which ended up being made of fail.

And there is shame in "protecting the innocent" if
0.) You're not really protecting the innocent, you're just acting tough, which is different to "being tough", which in turn can be different to "being effective",
1.) You're disproportionately hurting others, including other innocents (torture enough people you suspect know something important, and because you're human and fallible, there will be some innocents in there, who will in fact end up getting more torture than the guilty, as they've nothing to reveal) and the merely normal, and/or
2.) You're actively shooting your own side in the foot.

I didn't hear the piece; did the author mention that this was a lesson we learned during the Second World War?

Dec. 12 2008 07:51 PM
Peter from Sunset Park


I don't follow your post, meaning, I have no idea what you are saying. Could you explain yourself a little clearer?

Dec. 12 2008 12:28 PM
Karen from Westchester

fundamental issue best looked at by comparison with the right to kill by law under military command. war tortures the enemy and tortures our own, yet very small minority of population in the west are complete pacifists, ie against their country's propogation of war for any reason. The rationale for killing in war is similar to rationale for torture in interrogation of enemy. Only law enforcement within the U.S.' right to shoot-to-kill do not include the end justifying the means. get your philosophy thinking caps, not your political attitudes on here.

Dec. 12 2008 12:23 PM
Peter from Sunset Park


Why are you suggesting that WNYC ingore those who you disagree with? I thought you were "progressive"? Don't progressives have enough confidence in their views to hear all sides of an issue in a respectful manner, or would you reather only hear those who you agree with? Did your boyfirend teach you that logic means only people who agree with you should get air time on WNYC?

Dec. 12 2008 12:18 PM
Peter from Sunset Park


Well of course torture should be open, why do things if you are ashamed of it? There is no shame in protecting the innocent, ever. The international community can "get over it."

Dec. 12 2008 12:14 PM
Peter from Sunset Park


Here is a Dershowitz quote from CNN, logic and your boyfriend would dictate that you read it:

“… I would talk about nonlethal torture, say, a sterilized needle underneath the nail, which would violate the Geneva Accords, but you know, countries all over the world violate the Geneva Accords. They do it secretly and hypothetically, the way the French did it in Algeria. If we ever came close to doing it, and we don't know whether this is such a case, I think we would want to do it with accountability and openly and not adopt the way of the hypocrite.”

Looks like Dershowitz is calling for not only torture, but open and legal torture.

O, Dershowitz is a progressive, and so you, so torture must be okay.

Dec. 12 2008 12:09 PM
Peter from Sunset Park


Logic would dictate that you go back and read Dershowitz. My girfriend taught me that so it must be right I am progressive so I must be right.

Dec. 12 2008 12:04 PM
Peter from Sunset Park


Logic means you take information and work with it. Ticking bomb = bad = must stop within ten minutes or never can ever again.

I am glad your boyfriend is teaching you things like logic, but logic never equals sitting by while your loved ones ar killed, raped or worse.

Political correctness may make you proud, but it doesn't safe your loved ones from a ticking bomb.

Dec. 12 2008 12:01 PM
Tonky from Brooklyn


Did you read the book?

Art should be more than a game of dress up and a search to find ways to get on the radio.

Dec. 12 2008 11:49 AM
Gerald Fnord from New York, New York

In a ticking bomb case, is it o.k. to rape a suspect's young son in front of him to save all those people? Remember the magic words, PEOPLE MAY DIE IF YOU DON'T. (I did not dream up this horror-show, Egypt did this to a Muslim Brotherhood member for less pressing reasons, who became a very radical al-Qa'edist---pro tip: once you've brutalised someone enough, better murder them too.)

I should add: if you absolutely feel you _must_ torture to save N people, do what Martin King and or the Lovings of Virginia did when they felt they _had_ to break the law---break it, go to court, see if some other people to decide that you _had_ to, and that it wasn't just a fantasy your basic smallness engendered so you could get to torture someone and feel good about it.

If it's worth the risk to your moral state and the health and sanity of a possible innocent man or woman, it's worth your risk of going to prison...don't worry, at worst you'll get out soon, and live well off the neo-Bircher lecture circuit the rest of your life.

Dec. 12 2008 11:44 AM
O from Forest Hills


ask Coco what she thinks about water boarding. That is a sick method, not even sadistic, beyond sick.

Dec. 12 2008 11:43 AM
michaelw from INWOOD

Why would any one care what this person has to say about torture?????


She's a performance artist? What does she have to contribute??

Dec. 12 2008 11:42 AM
O from Forest Hills

Okay, she doesn't support torture but I don't take this seriously.

Dec. 12 2008 11:41 AM
O from Forest Hills

Why are we giving air time to a celebrity who is supportive of torture on wnyc?

Dec. 12 2008 11:40 AM
O from Forest Hills

Go reread Dershowitz, you totally missed what he was saying.

Also read the Supreme court case Fernandez v. Martinez. (2003)

Dec. 12 2008 11:36 AM
O from Forest Hills

Peter from Sunset Park,

Thank you for calling me politically correct. I have been waiting for that day and do take it as a compliment.

You are entitled to your perspective on things, but the facts stand on what is effective and what you are describing is based on emotion not logic.

My boyfriend has helped me see the difference in emotion and logic.

Logic is getting info. Emotion is have to "courage to protect your loved ones." That is all emotion. you are saying someone is guilty. You are reacting from emotion, not logic.

Logic is getting the facts in a humane way and then judging guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, not thoughts in a mind of what is right and wrong because that is subjective not objective analysis.

Thank you for calling me politically correct. I take that as a high compliment. I am a liberal and a progressive and proud of it!

Dec. 12 2008 11:34 AM
Catherine from rockville centre

Would you ask him:
1- Why "Matthew Alexander" thinks using a pseudonym matters when he is going on so many talk shows, including TV? I don't understand how it can possibly help him.

2- Would he like to see Rumsfeld and Bush criminally charged for torture?

Dec. 12 2008 11:32 AM
Gerald Fnord from New York, New York

What so many of the comments here seem monstrously unaware-of is that non-coercive interrogation techniques, even though they're more effective and stay within our laws and the bounds of decency, are femmy---torturing people makes us fell _much_ more butch, and gives legions of keyboard kommandos and talk-radio listeners the feeling that we're getting something done...and isn't that more important?

The "ticking bomb"? If you know it's going to be for a short while, it's a lot easier _not_ to break under torture. It's less sexy, but if you've reached that point, your intelligence work could use some tuning...and not having a reputation as torturers helps you get guys who have suddenly decided that _they've_ been the bad guys, and other walk-ins.

Dec. 12 2008 11:31 AM
Peter from Sunset Park

12 should have read, "you can't make friends..."

Dec. 12 2008 11:29 AM
Peter from Sunset Park


You are missing the point. In the case of a "ticking bomb," your politically correct "torture is bad" theory doesn't work. You can make friends when the person you are trying to save will be dead or raped in the next ten minutes or hour.

If it were your mom, dad, child, wife, husband, friend, etc., you would certainly pull a Feinstein flexible circumstances policy.

Real humanity is having the courage to protect your loved ones and those around you, not the guilty.

Dec. 12 2008 11:28 AM
Peter from Sunset Park


There is nothing emotional about doing your best to stop someone from killing your loved one. The greater evil is NOT protecting yourself and your loved ones from criminals and terror.

Now, one can hide behind international statements or even agreements, but at the end of day, protecting your loved ones and neighbors comes first. Torture surely isn’t pretty, but I argue that one should be thrown in jail for not doing everything in your power to get the taxi driver talking.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say that in 1943, a taxi driver was caught who dropped off Adolph Hitler off in a secret location. Could the Allies torture the taxi driver until he tells where Hitler is? Or would the Guardian and Economist newspapers say that 50 million people need to die because torture is wrong?

Now, as far as Israel being the victim, that was just an example that Dershowitz gave himself in his book and during his speaking tour. If an Israeli taxi driver helped kidnap a Palestinian woman, I would make the same argument. I would expect and hope that the Palestinian authorities would do everything they could to get her back safely. Torture and all.

Perhaps your anger against Jews and Israel is not bringing out your best humanity on this issue? Humanity is simple, innocent come before “bad guys.”

Dec. 12 2008 11:25 AM
O from Forest Hills

Torture is an ineffective way to get info. You have to befriend the people and they will give info.

Imagine being tortured or waterboarded, you would say you were a monkey to stop the torture.

It seems like we are no further ahead of the Spanish Inquisition when people were put to "the question." The bs belief that if you are innocent G/d will give you the strength to withstand the pain. Garbage!

Dec. 12 2008 11:19 AM
Chrise from UES

Peter the problem with that anaology is that you are trying to over simplify a very complicated issue with regard to Israel/ Palestinian issue, your statement automatically portrays Israel as the victim!!

Which is far from the reality!

Torture has been recognised internationaly and domestically as crime against humanity, despite the retaric from the present administration and it's supporters in the media. Along with rape, slavery, and genocide.

That is why we have a rule of law which prevent us personally to act in an emotional way!

Dec. 12 2008 11:05 AM
O from Forest Hills

Is There a Right to Remain Silent?: Coercive Interrogation and the Fifth Amendment After 9/11 is the exact title of the book I read by Dershowitz. I am in the legal industry so it wasn't too technical, but if you don't like Criminal law and all the bells and whistles of it, than don't read this, but, legal scholarly books can be dry and boring as h*** but educational, he went on and on about criticizing Clarence Thomas' conservative view that the US Supreme Court ruled that we can be tortured to get info as long as it is not used against us in a criminal trial, but I always had the impression he was against torture, he said it goes on but he didn't think it is effective or human.

Dec. 12 2008 10:59 AM
Peter from Sunset Park


I haven't read or heard Dershowitz speak about torture in 3-4 years. But I did read his book “Why Terrorism Works” and Dershowitz very clearly supported torture in that book and did so during his speaking tour as well.

Dershowitz calls (or called) for a limited, specific, “ticking bomb” use of torture. An example I have heard Dershowitz give is of the woman who is kidnapped and sure to be killed, raped and tortured herself. The authorities catch the taxi driver who was paid to drop off the terrorist and the victim. Dershowitz argues that in such a case, the kidnapped person is facing immediate harm and one may torture the taxi driver until he tells where he dropped off the criminal and victim. Such situations actually happen in Israel. If the taxi driver (in this case) sympathizes so much with the terrorist that he won’t give information to protect the innocent, then I say, torture until you get the information you need. And if the torture doesn’t work, the person hurting your loved one is now dead. And frankly, I am okay with that. When left with the choice of protecting the innocent or protecting the guilty, I say, protect the innocent.

Now, as far as attacked societies go, I don’t want to get caught up in some sort of philosophical or rhetorical discussion, so can you tell me more specifically what you mean? Give an example maybe? Then I can answer you better.

Dec. 12 2008 10:54 AM
O from Forest Hills

That's not the impression I got from his book. Quite the opposite.

Dec. 12 2008 10:52 AM
Larry from UES

I was at a lecture were Dershowitz was speaking on this issue of torture, and he explicitly indicated that torture should be "allowed" and it should be regulated! which is different from banning torture out right.

He is not for banning torture out right, in fact he wants the U.S. government to codify it in to law but with over sight.

Let me make it clear he is for torture!

Dec. 12 2008 10:50 AM
O from Forest Hills

If you have read any of Alan Dershowitz work, you would know he thinks torture is a reality in life but ineffective!

Read his latest book about the right to remain silent and interrogation. He is not for torture! Make accurate statements about people and check your facts.

Dec. 12 2008 10:11 AM
Nelson Dobuleday from nyc

Peter what do you think about the Alan Dershowitz formulation on torture, that if it was your child buried alive, and you had only so many minutes to get the information, that torture would be an option, and can attacked societies be included in this analogy.

Dec. 12 2008 09:31 AM
Peter from Sunset Park and many other news sources are reporting that Democratic Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas has urged Obama to continue the current interrogation (torture) policies now in place with the United States government. The link is:

In the Salon piece, Reyes was quoted as saying, “We don't want to be known for torturing people. At the same time we don't want to limit our ability to get information that's vital and critical to our national security…”

Could you please ask Mr. Alexander if he supports the push among some leading Democrats to now approve of torture?

Dec. 12 2008 08:59 AM
Peter from Sunset Park

On December 2, The New York Time reported that Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat, California, has come out against her previous position of absolutely no torture to suggest that the government be flexible during special or extreme situations with the issue of torture. The link is:

What does Mr. Alexander think when a leading Democrat, soon to be chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, comes out and says that torture is okay sometimes?

Dec. 12 2008 08:47 AM

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