5 Books Tell of US Torture in Post 9/11 World

Ok, I know it sounds depressing to pick a book about torture for your summer beach reading, but the following books that tell the tale of US torture since 9/11 are actually compelling reads that will inspire your human rights activism during Torture Awareness Month and beyond.

I know there are plenty of other indispensable books against torture–please share your suggestions in the comments section; one random commentor will receive an autographed copy of former US military interrogator Matthew Alexander’s “Kill or Capture” (number 3 below).

One other thing: if you buy books (or anything else) from Amazon.com via this referral link, Amnesty International will receive between 5 – 10% of the sale.


Three Words of Omission When It Comes to Torture

By Matthew Alexander, former senior military interrogator

Matthew Alexander

Since the killing of Osama bin Laden last month in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the torture supporters have been out in full force to credit the success to Bush Administration policies such as torture.

Retired General Michael Hayden wrote in the Wall Street Journal that to deny that waterboarding provided important intelligence information is the equivalent of being a birther.  And Retired Army Major General Patrick Brady, a Medal of Honor Recipient from Vietnam, argued that waterboarders are heroes in a recent Op-Ed in the San Antonio online forum.  They join the ranks of Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Marc Thiessen, Michael Mukasey, and, of course, the former President himself, George W. Bush.

But I challenge you to search all the articles and interviews done by these men for three key phrases: 1) World War II interrogators, 2) Long-Term, and 3) George Washington.  You won’t find them.  And there’s a reason why.


Asking The Wrong Question About Torture

In 1958 a communist French newspaper editor sympathetic to the cause of Algerian independence called Henri Alleg published “The Question”, a short account of his interrogation under torture by French paratroopers:

“The rag was soaked rapidly. Water flowed everywhere: in my mouth, in my nose, all over my face. But for a while I could still breathe in some small gulps of air. I tried, by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs for as long as I could. But I couldn’t hold on for more than a few moments.

I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me. In spite of myself, all the muscles of my body struggled uselessly to save me from suffocation… three times I again experienced this insupportable agony. In extremis, they let me get my breath back while I threw up the water. That last time, I lost consciousness.”

Despite being water-boarded, subjected to electric shocks, burned, beaten, and drugged with pentothal, Henri Alleg did not give his captors the information they were after – the name of the individual who had hidden him from the authorities.


Former US Military Interrogator: Release al-Odaini from Gitmo

By Matthew Alexander, former U.S. Senior Military Interrogator

The importance of releasing Mohammed Hassan al-Odaini cannot be overstated.  This isn’t about one innocent man that a federal judge ordered released on May 26, 2010.  This is about who we are as Americans. As the judge ruled, the US government has:

kept a young man from Yemen in detention in Cuba from age eighteen to age twenty-six.  They have prevented him from seeing his family and denied him the opportunity to complete his studies and embark on a career. The evidence before the Court shows that holding Odaini in custody at such great cost to him has done nothing to make the United States more secure. There is no evidence that Odaini has any connection to Al Qaeda.

Mohammed Mohammed Hassan al-Odaini remains detained in Guantánamo despite being cleared for release.

What the judge didn’t say is that holding al-Odaini actually makes the United States less safe.  How?  When Americans live up to the accusations of Al Qaeda, namely that we don’t uphold the principles upon which our country was founded, we hand Al Qaeda a powerful recruiting tool.  Imagine an enemy holding an American citizen for eight years without charges and then, after admitting he is innocent, refusing to release him?  Compare the U.S. response to recent detentions of U.S. citizens in Iran and North Korea.

Our greatest leverage in fighting terrorism is our ability to dissuade vulnerable populations from turning to crime (terrorism) as a remedy for personal adversities.  When we abandon our principles in favor of indefinite detention without charge, and worse, for detention after proven innocence, we have shifted the balance to favor Al Qaeda’s recruiters and the result is that America is less safe.

Help me and Amnesty International in calling for the immediate release of Mohammed Mohammed Hassan al-Odaini.  Restore America’s strength by helping us return to the rule of law.  ‘Winning’ in this conflict is not defined by stopping terrorist attacks.  It’s defined by adherence to our values.  To release Odaini is to stand up for the basic principles of humanity – principles that are ingrained in our own Constitution.

An Interrogator Speaks

I should have felt triumphant when I returned from Iraq in August 2006. Instead, I was worried and exhausted. 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-Qaeda 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.

The quote is from former interrogator Matthew Alexander’s piece in the Washington Post last November, “I’m Still Tortured By What I Saw in Iraq.”

Mr. Alexander is the author of “How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Burtality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq” and we’ve recently confirmed that he’ll be one of several speakers at Amnesty International USA’s Annual General Meeting, March 27 – 29, in Boston.

Hope to see you there.