Let's debunk Dick Cheney's pernicious lies about torture once and for all. Let's look past the mainstream media frenzy over the personal feud between Obama and Cheney, past the ludicrous GOP talking points, and instead focus on a real story that could allow us to hold Cheney accountable. Major Matthew Alexander is a former Senior Interrogator who conducted more than 300 interrogations in Iraq and supervised over 1,000 more, including that of al Qaeda-in-Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- and he did so using traditional methods. In an exclusive interview released today by Brave New Foundation, Alexander said Dick Cheney's torture policy "literally cost us hundreds if not thousands of American lives."
According to Alexander, the torture and abuse conducted at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay became the number one recruiting tool for foreign fighters and suicide bombers who attacked coalition forces in Iraq. Huffington Post's Ryan Grim highlights the importance of Alexander's testimony:
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.
Alexander, who writes under that pseudonym for security purposes, first voiced this opinion in a WaPo Op-Ed last fall entitled, "I'm Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq." His experience has become widely regarded as proof Cheney's interrogation policy was not only morally bankrupt, but endangered thousands of Americans serving in Iraq as well. Last Sunday on "Meet the Press," Sen. Richard Durbin cited Alexander specifically when asserting that half of the detained al-Qaeda suspects in Iraq had been "recruited and were fighting, trying to kill Americans because of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo."
As the Washington Examiner's Byron York writes:
What's striking in the Guantanamo terrorist-recruitment debate is the lack of a definitive text, a study done that shows in detail how the prison has become an engine for terrorist recruitment around the world. In the place of that definitive document, there is Alexander's experience, and there is a statement from former U.S. Navy general counsel Alberto Mora, who in 2008 submitted testimony to Congress saying that, "There are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq -- as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat -- are, respectively, the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo." But there is no big report, no treasure trove of documents, that supports the terrorism-recruitment argument. "We didn't need documents," Alexander told me. "Just ask anybody on my interrogations team."
I asked about the relative damage done by Abu Ghraib and by Guantanamo. The Abu Ghraib photos were a complete disaster for the United States; they were devastating evidence of U.S. mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq. But what about Guantanamo? There weren't provocative pictures from there. "One of the bigger things that wasn't torture or abuse was the desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo," Alexander said. "Things like that were extremely inflammatory, even more so than torture and abuse."
In the absence of a definitive text or study as York mentions, we need more personal testimonies like Alexander's to build the case against Cheney and those who tortured and abused detainees. We have to urge more experts like Alexander to come forward on the record. As my fellow Open Left blogger Adam Green said over the weekend on MSNBC, "Gitmo is a stain on America to the rest of the world. It is a recruiting tool for terrorists. If we really care about keeping the American people safe, we need to get these facts out there and debunk these ridiculous talking points."
Follow ZP Heller on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zpheller