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
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"[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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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...
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.
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.
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!