How to Break a Terrorist

How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq is a book written by an American soldier who played a key role in tracking down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.[1][2][3][4]

The interrogator who wrote the book published it under the pen name Matthew Alexander, for security reasons.[2][5][6] The author wrote the book as a pseudonymous officer in the US Air Force who had served for fourteen years. Alexander's real name has been sealed by court order by the District of Columbia District Court.[7] Alexander makes television appearances under his pseudonym.

In an op-ed published in the Washington Post he wrote that after his arrival in Iraq in 2006 he found[2]:

The Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, the interrogators' bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules -- and often break them.[2]

The author has stated that when the Pentagon vetted the book they initially made 93 redactions.[4]

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 website. So, eventually they acquiesced on eighty of the ninety-three redactions.

Alexander is an outspoken opponent of torture.[8] He refutes the effectiveness of torture, citing its negative long term effects such as recruiting for Al Qaida. He also argues that torture is contrary to the American principles of freedom, liberty, and justice, and that should they resort to torture, American interrogators become the enemy they serve to defeat. Similar arguments have been made by other former interrogators from the military, FBI, and CIA, including Colonel Steven Kleinman.[9] In an interview with human rights lawyer Scott Horton for Harper's Magazine, Alexander said

"The American public has a right to know that they do not have to choose between torture and terror. There is a better way to conduct interrogations that works more efficiently, keeps Americans safe, and doesn’t sacrifice our integrity. Our greatest victory to date in this war, the death of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi (which saved thousands of lives and helped pave the way to the Sunni Awakening), was achieved using interrogation methods that had nothing to do with torture. The American people deserve to know that."[10]


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  1. ^ "US Interrogator in Iraq Says Torture Policy Has Led to Deaths of Thousands of American Soldiers". Democracy Now. 2008-12-04. Retrieved 2008-12-04.  mirror
  2. ^ a b c d Matthew Alexander (2008-11-30). "I'm Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-12-04.  mirror
  3. ^ "Book Details How U.S. Forces Brought Down al-Zarqawi". Fox News. 2008-12-03.,2933,460944,00.html. Retrieved 2008-12-04.  mirror
  4. ^ a b "Torture blamed for US deaths in Iraq". Middle East Online. 2008-12-04. Retrieved 2008-12-04.  mirror
  5. ^ Gilbert Cruz (2008-12-02). "How to Break a Terrorist". Time magazine.,8599,1863053,00.html. Retrieved 2008-12-05. 
  6. ^ David Edwards, Muriel Kane (2008-12-04). "Brains, not brutality needed, former interrogator argues". The Raw Story. Retrieved 2008-12-05. [dead link] mirror
  7. ^ Alexander versus Department of Defense, Rosemary M. Collyer (District Of Columbia District Court September 18, 2008).
  8. ^ Terrorist Breaker Blog
  9. ^ Abuse Has No Place in Interrogation Policy, Nieman Watchdog Group Commentary, July 29th, 2008
  10. ^ Six questions for Matthew Alexander, author of How to Break a Terrorist

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