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Former U.S. Interrogator: Torture Policy Has Led to More Deaths than 9/11 Attacks

"How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me," says the author of How to Break a Terrorist.

Amy Goodman: Writing under the pseudonym Matthew Alexander, a former special intelligence operations officer, who led an interrogations team in Iraq two years ago, has written a stunning op-ed in the Washington Post called "I'm Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq." In it, he details his direct experience with torture practices put into effect in Iraq in 2006. He conducted more than 300 interrogations and supervised more than a thousand and was awarded a Bronze Star for his achievements in Iraq.

In the article, he says torture techniques used in Iraq consistently failed to produce actionable intelligence and that methods outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, which rest on confidence building, consistently worked and gave the interrogators access to critical information.

He writes: "My team of interrogators had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war. But instead of celebrating our success, my mind was consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the U.S. military conducts interrogations in Iraq. I'm still alarmed about that today."

He goes on to say that the number of Americans killed in Iraq because of the U.S. military's use of torture is more than 3,000. He writes: "It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in [Iraq] have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans."

Well, the former interrogator has just written a book. It's called How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq. The publication date for the book was delayed for six weeks due to the Pentagon's vetting of it. The soldier is writing under a pseudonym for security reasons. He joins us now in our firehouse studio in one of his first national broadcast interviews.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!

Matthew Alexander: Thanks for having me.

AG: It's good to have you with us. Why don't you want to use your name?

MA: It's just basic security concerns. You know, al-Qaida has promised reprisals for the killing of Zarqawi. So it's just to protect myself and my family. But, you know, after the death of Zarqawi, the response was actually, I thought, quite limited. It was less than what I would expect. And I think it goes to show how much even people within his own organization disliked him.

AG: Why was it so hard to get your book out of the Pentagon? I mean, you've got the book. You have to hand it in to be vetted, but they wouldn't release it.

MA: Yeah, you know, I turned it in in the middle of July, and they're supposed to do the review within 30 days, and they didn't do that. I missed the first printing date. When they finally did come back with a review of the book after two months, they had extracted an extraordinary amount of material. There was 93 redactions made. I sued -- you know, I sued the Department of Defense first to review the book and then to argue the redactions, because they had redacted obvious unclassified material, things that I had taken straight out of the unclassified field manual and also some items that were directly off the Army's own Web site. So, eventually they acquiesced on 80 of the 93 redactions. And if you -- when you read the book, you'll see that the redactions within -- some of the redactions are still in the book, because we had to go to print before we had the results of the appeal.