A former top interrogator is responding forcefully to the case Dick Cheney made on Thursday in favor of torture (what the former VP and his allies refer to as "enhanced interrogation methods.")
Brave New Films released a short video Tuesday of Matthew Alexander taking apart Cheney's argument piece by piece. Alexander, who uses a pseudonym for security reasons, was a 14-year military interrogator who oversaw more than a thousand interrogations and conducted more than 300 in Iraq himself. He led the interrogation team that scored one of the United States' most high-profile captures, that of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and he did it using traditional methods.
Alexander easily takes down Cheney's arguments. The most immediate blow Alexander strikes is, of course, his obvious success, which undercuts Cheney's case for more brutal techniques. Alexander also engages on the level of principle. For Cheney, the suggestion that torture is a poor strategy because it aids terrorist recruitment is nothing more than old-fashioned blame-America-first cowardice.
"After a familiar fashion, it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do," said Cheney.
The president and others who have condemned torture don't say that it "excuses the violent." Rather, they say it makes a violent reaction more likely -- and Alexander backed them up.
"At the prison where I conducted interrogations," responded Alexander, "we heard day in and day out, foreign fighters who had been captured state that the number one reason that they had come to fight in Iraq was because of torture and abuse, what had happened at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib."
Alexander put the number making this claim at 90 percent.
Alexander, however, made a broader point at the end of his interview, one that would certainly evade Cheney's grasp, convinced as he is that Al Qaeda recruits "hate us for our freedoms."
Cheney, said Alexander, fundamentally misunderstands the way America is viewed around the world. The American principles of freedom and democracy are cherished in the Muslim world and the idea, at least, of America is still a seductive one. But it is the behavior of the Bush administration at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and secret prisons around the globe that undercuts that image, allowing Al Qaeda to make the argument that America isn't what it stands for.
"Remember," said Alexander, "one of Al Qaeda's goals, it's not just to attack the United States, it's to prove that we're hypocrites, that we don't live up to American principles. So when we use torture and abuse, we're playing directly into one of their stated goals."
The video is at once an effective rebuke of the former vice president and a sign of how the changing media landscape can flatten the field of political debate. In an earlier era, Alexander would likely lack the opportunity to respond to the vice president because he has already written on op-ed for the Washington Post about his opposition to torture and done the media rounds promoting his book "How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq." The BNF video, and a rejoinder posted here over the weekend, reinserts a critic with deep credibility back into the debate.
Ryan Grim is the author of the forthcoming book This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America