HOW TO BREAK A TERRORIST by Matthew Alexander


The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq
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“We don’t have to become our enemies to defeat them,” declares a U.S. Air Force officer who led a team of interrogators in Iraq.

After the Abu Ghraib scandal, American interrogators adopted a gentler approach, writes the pseudonymous author, using respect, rapport, hope, cunning and deception to obtain information. His slow-moving book profiles a group of special agents and criminal investigators who introduced the new violence-free approach in questioning that ultimately led to the death in 2006 of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq. Assisted by veteran co-author Bruning (House to House, 2007, etc.), the officer conveys a vivid sense of the intense pressures facing those interrogators, who had to quickly apply the six weeks of training they received at “the Schoolhouse” (Fort Huachuca in Arizona) to ferret out the master terrorist behind a rash of suicide bombings. Much of the book focuses on the questioning of five well-dressed men, captured at a farmhouse “wedding,” who turned out to be senior-level al-Qaeda leaders. Facing trial and imprisonment, each detainee was painstakingly cajoled, flattered and manipulated with favors and promises (“I’ll take care of you. I’ll try to help you as best I can”) into revealing fellow terrorists’ locations, which were promptly attacked by Special Forces. The Geneva Conventions were respected, although nothing was done to determine who was present at targeted sites before they were destroyed by bombing. The fact that two young children died along with Zarqawi prompts no more than a verbal shrug from the author: “Innocent people get hurt.” A surprising number of the detainees were not religious zealots but simply Iraqis who went along with al-Qaeda to make ends meet; Abu Gamal, an electrician with two wives to support, made hundreds of roadside bombs to earn extra money ($50 per job). The author’s gung-ho tone and such melodramatic lines as “we could change history” fail to boost a flat narrative.

Fascinating and informative content, poorly delivered.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4165-7315-9
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2008


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