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How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq Hardcover – Dec 2 2008

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1 edition (Dec 2 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416573151
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416573159
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 3 x 21.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #567,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"[T]his is an excellent account of a high-profile victory in the often-hidden intelligence war that is at the heart of the U.S. effort in Iraq.... It is generally agreed that the Global War on Terrorism is first and foremost an intelligence war. Alexander's story offers us an absorbing behind-the=scenes look at the secret intelligence war within a war." -- www.military.com

About the Author

Matthew Alexander spent fourteen years in the U.S. Air Force and is now part of the U.S. Air Force Reserves. He has personally conducted more than 300 interrogations in Iraq and supervised more than 1,000.  Matthews was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his achievement in Iraq, has two advanced degrees, and speaks three languages. When he's not chasing the world's most wanted, he goes surfing.

John Bruning is the author or co-author of eight books including House to House by David Bellavia, Bruining has been a writer and historian for seventeen years.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was expecting the usual bravado of military intervention in this book. I was so wrong! I was pleased by the author's complete sensitivity to what made people tick and the need to get information to save lives was nothing short of brilliant. I also work in getting information from clients but not in his business and it was interesting to see the politics. It is true that there are politics everywhere and there are always colleagues and superiors who have their own agendas. I was pleased at the author showing that many of those who follow terrorist leaders are not one-dinensional peodo so out of desperation and fear of retaliation to their families.
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Format: Hardcover
This book was outstanding, I found it very hard to put down. A gripping book that made me fell I was in the 'box' with the interrogator.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9e07627c) out of 5 stars 90 reviews
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e0a4cc0) out of 5 stars A transcendent read Dec 16 2008
By Wyndam I. Makowsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I've read a number of books on the Iraq War, from soldiers' memoirs to journalists' observations. "How to Break a Terrorist" stands alone from that group, as it gives an inside look into specific tactics on the most personal level.

I can see why the book ruffled some feathers--it is a complete rejection of the ways of old, and the new methods expressed in it could certainly raise some eyebrows. Creating relationships and developing mutual respect seems counter intuitive when dealing with mass murders. Why show respect to people who would just as easily blow you up as they would sit in a room with you? And indeed, the author's inner turmoil over this point, combined with his persistent dedication to the cause (nailing Al Zarqawi) and trust in new methods of interrogation, is one of the more compelling subplots of the book.

The characters we meet are fascinating. I won't talk too much about that, because you should read about them yourself, but the men he interrogates are all distinctly different, and the methods he uses change based on the subject, from the street peddlers up to the final link to Al Zarqawi, whose breaking requires the most creative interrogation tactic of all.

To make it even more interesting, the new methods aren't even entirely accepted by the other members of the interrogation team, who prefer control tactics instead--the office politics--set in a warzone--remind us that old ways die hard. Also, as someone who only has a view of the military from the outside, I was surprised to read about the structure of the interrogation unit. Matthew is a major, but his rank doesn't matter--one of the funnier exchanges comes within the books first few pages, when an NCO asks him if he'll have a "hard f***ing time" with a sergeant giving him orders. Nearly everyone is an equal in this endeavor.

Beyond the interrogation and workrooms, though, the author also makes a poignant commentary on the conflict itself: many Sunni join Al-Qaida out of economic and security reasons, and not because they care too much about the cause or are particularly fanatical. It's a decision to maintain the livelihoods of them and their families. By building good relations with the Sunni and presenting an alternative to joining Al-Qaida, the author posits, we can better go about creating a strong Iraq (he is vindicated--and I don't think this gives anything away--by some of General Petraeus's later initiatives that do exactly that).

The author manages to convey his message about the effectiveness of the new, psychological interrogation methods without sounding preachy. He mentions torture sparingly, and focuses on why his ways work far more than on why others don't. Unlike other Iraq commentaries I've read, he doesn't have an ulterior agenda, and isn't out to get anyone, destroy careers, or anything even close to that. The DoD censures a good chunk of lines in the book, and yet, besides some exasperation linked to the aforementioned office politics, he never once says anything bad about his command--that's quite admirable.

I suggest picking up a copy, pronto. It's short (275 pages or so) and a total page turner--I read about 150 pages tonight alone, promising myself after each chapter that I'd go to sleep. But the book kept reeling me back in.

Cliff notes version? Enthralling read that offers an alternative perspective on the war, and a micro view of how we might enjoy overall success in the conflict.
61 of 76 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e0a90e4) out of 5 stars Not For Everyone... Dec 2 2008
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Some people don't see eye to eye with the Bush Administration. Some do. That's okay. We're still America. We can disagree amicably.

The author presents a story involving how psychology was used to obtain better data more rapidly than through the use of brutality. I see that as a positive thing.

People die in war. Many times the innocent suffer far out of proportion to the gulty. There is no way to eliminate "collateral damage" as long as there are wars.

And there is no way for free peoples to avoid war without just surrendering to anyone who demands it.

I liked the stories in the book. No, I'm not offering any spoilers here; but I was fascinated by the ways the captured terrorists were manipulated into willingly revealing data that they might never have given up under torture.

We all hate war; but this book shows that we can win and still be the good guys...
30 of 37 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e0a915c) out of 5 stars Couldn't Put it Down Dec 2 2008
By David S. Singer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
It's non-fiction that reads with taut suspense...a hard dose of truth. A game within a game with the highest of stakes: American lives.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and literally could not put it down.

If you enjoy reading mystery, intrigue, military warfare, special ops, good vs evil, covert ops, psychological ops, and good old fashioned tactics, you will love this book and keep it displayed on your bookshelf long after you've read it.

An awesome read.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e0a94ec) out of 5 stars A fascinating read May 18 2009
By DWD's Reviews - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating must-read for anyone who is interested in the war on terror. I was handed this book by a friend and I assumed it was going to be a typical anti-war screed that demands that terrorists be "understood" and coddled. There is also little fear of coddling with Alexander. He is repulsed and haunted by the senseless butchery that went on in Iraq and was sickened by those that were willing to kill innocents with suicide bombings. Alexander's techniques only prove that his eyes were strictly on the goal - stop Zarqawi.

Alexander's techniques are hardly "touchy-feely" - in a way they are a form of psychological trickery. He fools his interview targets into giving him the information he wants and then expolits their trust. It is also the type of technique that any regular viewer of TV detective shows see every day.

The methods Alexander espouses only make sense to me, a veteran teacher. It is easier to get cooperation from someone that you can create a sense of rapport with, even if it is only temporary.

Anyway, the book reads like a suspense novel. It is a quick and intense read and absolutely riveting and informative.

Well done. Highly recommended.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9e0a9624) out of 5 stars Could not put this down! Dec 14 2008
By J. Sloan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
As a person who feels very disappointed in our government's torture policies, I was intrigued by this book. Once I started it, I could not put it down. It reads like finely crafted fiction, even though it's purely factual.

As the interrogations unfold, you get to feel the full range of emotions experienced by the terrorist, and then see how they are used by a new breed of interrogator. These interrogators use their brains, rather than force, to 'break' one terrorist after another, leading them to the most wanted man in Iraq.

The book has left me with a better sense of how complex the situation is in Iraq, and also a deeper understanding of what it means to be human...and why some people do inhuman things. In the face of these inhuman things, I deeply admire the courage of the author to maintain his moral compass and lead change.

This book should be read because it's one hell of an exciting story, it's beautifully written, and it conveys a hopeful message!