My Written Testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing

This is my full testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse read a portion of this statement near the end of today's hearing.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

This is my full testimony to the Committee. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse read a portion of this statement near the end of the hearing. I also recommend the reading of Ali Soufan's testimony, available on the Senate Judiciary Committee website.

Chairman Leahy and Esteemed Members of the Committee,

Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee on the issue of interrogation. I especially thank Senator Sheldon Whitehouse for his invitation to submit this written testimony.

I submit this testimony as a private citizen and not as an official representative of the United States Air Force or as a representative of the Department of Defense. I am currently still in the Air Force Reserves. I have served for seventeen years in the United States Air Force and Air Force Reserves and have completed five combat deployments to three wars. I feel that nothing less than our national soul is at stake in the debate concerning the torture and abuse of prisoners.

In 2006, I deployed to Iraq as an interrogator at the bequest of the Army. Prior to my deployment I was a special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, both on Active Duty and in the Reserves. Before I was a special agent, I was a special operations helicopter pilot. I've served in the conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Colombia, and Iraq.

As an interrogator in Iraq, I conducted more than 300 interrogations and supervised more than 1,000. I led the interrogations team that located Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the former leader of Al Qaida in Iraq, and one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation. At the time that we killed Zarqawi, he was the number one priority for the United States military, higher than Osama Bin Laden.

I strongly oppose the use of torture or abuse as interrogation methods for both pragmatic and moral reasons.

For purposes of clarity, I endorse the semantic clarification offered by Alberto Mora, former General Counsel to the Department of the Navy, who states that cruelty is a more accurate term than abuse, citing the prohibition against cruelty in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. For the purpose of this testimony, however, I will use the commonly used term "abuse" instead of the word "cruelty" to denote those actions that are prohibited by the U.S. Constitution, Geneva Conventions, or U.S. military regulations.

There are many pragmatic arguments against torture and abuse. The first is the lack of evidence that torture or abuse as an interrogation tactic is faster or more efficient than other method such as relationship building or deception. In my experience, when interrogators used harsh methods that fit the definition of abuse, in every instance, that method served only to harden the resolve of the detainee and made them more resistant to interrogation. As revealed in the so-called Torture Memos, the mere fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was waterboarded 183 times is ample evidence that torture made him more resistant to interrogation and that because coercion was used, he gave only the minimum amount of information necessary to stop the pain.

The second pragmatic argument against torture and abuse is the fact that Al Qaida used our policy that authorized and encouraged these illegal methods as their number one recruiting tool for foreign fighters. While I supervised interrogations in Iraq, I listened to a majority of foreign fighters state that the reason they had come to Iraq to fight was because of the torture and abuse committed at both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. These foreign fighters made up approximately 90% of the suicide bombers in Iraq at that time, in addition to leading and participating in thousands of attacks against Coalition and Iraqi forces. It is not an exaggeration to say that hundreds, if not thousands, of American soldiers died at the hands of these foreign fighters. The policy that authorized and encouraged the torture and abuse of prisoners has cost us American lives. The torture and abuse of prisoners is counterproductive to our efforts to thwart terrorist attacks in the long term and to keep all Americans safe.

In addition, torture and abuse of prisoners causes present and future detainees to be more resistant to interrogations. When we torture or abuse detainees, it hardens their resolve and reinforces the reasons why they picked up arms against us. In addition, it makes all Americans appear as hypocrites, thereby betraying the trust that is necessary to establish prior to convincing a detainee to cooperate. Detainees are more likely to cooperate when they see us live up to our principles. Several high-ranking Al Qaida members that I interrogated in Iraq decided to cooperate with me for the very reason that I did not torture or abuse them and because I treated them and their religion and culture with respect. In fact, that was one of the main reasons I was able to convince a member of Zarqawi's inner circle to cooperate with us.

The final pragmatic argument that I offer against torture and abuse is that future adversaries will be less likely to surrender to us during combat. During the first Gulf War, thousands of Iraqi troops surrendered to American forces knowing that they would be fairly treated as prisoners of war. This same rational was present during World War II, where German soldiers fought and evaded in the vicinity of Berlin for the privilege of being captured by American versus Russian troops. If future adversaries are unwilling to surrender to us because of the manner in which we've treated prisoners in the current conflict, it will have a real cost in American lives.

As a military officer, it is my obligation not just to point out the broken wheel, but to fix it. So allow me to address the effective interrogation methods that led to the successes of my team in Iraq. World War II interrogators used relationship building approaches to great success against captured Germans and Japanese, and my team imitated their methods. However, we also added new techniques to our arsenal.

I deployed to the war with four other Air Force special agents with experience as criminal investigators and we brought with us skills and training that were unique compared to our Army counterparts. Through the Air Force, we had learned to interrogate criminal suspects using relationship building and non-coercive police investigative techniques. I learned quickly in Iraq that Al Qaida has much more in common with criminal organizations than with traditional rank and file soldiers. The interrogation methods in the Army Field Manual 2-22.3 are valid approaches and sometimes applicable for interrogating members of Al Qaida, but even more effective are the techniques that I learned as a criminal investigator. I used these techniques, permitted by the Army Manual under the terms "...psychological ploys, verbal trickery, or other nonviolent or non-coercive subterfuge..." to great success and I taught these techniques to other members of my interrogation team. Just one example of a commonly used criminal investigative technique that has been adopted into the Army Field Manual is the Good Cop/Bad Cop approach, but there are numerous others that are absent from both the manual and the Army's interrogator training. The U.S. law enforcement community has much to add to the improvement of our interrogation methods and the United States Army would do well to consult with experienced criminal investigators from our police departments and federal law enforcement agencies.

I also want to address the so called "ticking time bomb" scenario that is so often used as an excuse for torture and abuse. My team lived through this scenario every day in Iraq. The men that we captured and interrogated were behind Zarqawi's suicide bombing campaign. Most of our prisoners had knowledge of future suicide bombing operations that could have been prevented with the quick extraction of accurate intelligence information. Even if we assume that torture or abuse are more effective or efficient than other methods of interrogation, which in my experience they are not, my team knew that we could not save lives today at the expense of losing lives tomorrow. We knew that we would be recruiting future fighters for Al Qaida's ranks, some of whom would surely kill Americans and other innocent civilians and, most likely, our brothers and sisters in arms.

What works best in the ticking time bomb scenario is relationship building, which is not a time-consuming effort when conducted by a properly trained interrogator, and non-coercive deception. By reciting a line from the Quran at the beginning of an interrogation, I often built rapport in a matter of minutes. Contrary to popular belief, building a relationship with a prisoner is not necessarily a time consuming exercise.

I also conducted point-of-capture interrogations in Iraqi homes, streets, and cars, and I discovered that in these time-constrained environments where an interrogator has ten or fifteen minutes to assess a detainee and obtain accurate intelligence information, relationship building and deception were again the most effective interrogation tools. It is about being smarter, not harsher.

I have addressed the pragmatic arguments against torture and abuse and discussed effective non-coercive interrogation methods, but let me address the more important issue in this debate - the moral argument against torture and abuse. When I took the oath of office as a military officer, I swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, which specifically prohibits cruelty towards any person in the Eighth Amendment. In addition, torture and abuse are inconsistent with the basic principles of freedom, liberty, and justice, upon which our country was founded. George Washington, during the Revolutionary War, specifically prohibited his troops from torturing prisoners. Abraham Lincoln prohibited Union troops from torturing Confederate prisoners. We have a long history of abiding by American principles while conducting war.

Some have argued that the arguments against torture and abuse are clear on a "sunny day" in 2009 versus after the dark cloud of 9/11. There is no mention of sunny days versus dark days in the military officer's oath of office. As leaders, military officers bear the responsibility to keep their emotions in check and to fulfill their duties consistent with American principles. I can offer no better words than those of General George C. Marshall, the orchestrator of the Allied victory in Europe during World War II, who stated, "Once an army is involved in war, there is a beast in every fighting man which begins tugging at its chains... a good officer must learn early on how to keep the beast under control, both in his men and in himself."

As a proud American, I know that we have the intellectual ability to defeat our enemies in the battle of wits in the interrogation room. We will not convince every detainee to cooperate, but we can lose battles and still win the war. No profession can boast of perfect performance in combat - infantry soldiers don't shoot every target. On the road to Zarqawi, my interrogation team encountered several high ranking members of Al Qaida who did not cooperate, but we used those interrogations as opportunities to improve our skills. In fact, it was in one such case that I developed a non-coercive technique that I later used on the detainee who led us to Zarqawi.

We are smart enough to effectively interrogate our adversaries and we should not doubt our ability to convince detainees to cooperate. American culture gives us unique advantages that we can leverage during interrogations - tolerance, cultural understanding, intellect, and ingenuity. In closing, the same qualities that make us great Americans will make us great interrogators.

I want to thank the Committee again for this opportunity to submit testimony based on my experiences.


Matthew Alexander

Popular in the Community


What's Hot