Thursday, August 22, 2013

How To Break a Terrorist - Matthew Alexander

One of the bigger controversies in recent history has been the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan.  As Americans and human beings, we were all horrified at the reports from Abu Ghraib...rape, torture, psychological and physical abuses, committed by military personnel in the US Army and the CIA, that no person should endure.  It begged the question...what is the most effective way to extract information out of terrorists?  Can you really beat and humiliate it out of them?  Is there a better way?

My BFF's husband works in the FBI.  Knowing how much I love non-fiction relating to 9/11 and the war against terrorism, he loaned me this book and told me it was an incredible read.  I agree...I read it in less than a day.

Synopsis:  One of the top priorities for the military in the war on terrorism has always been to find Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda.  The full force of interrogation by intimidation was unleashed in order to uncover his associates to get to him, but it yielded little.  But after Abu Ghraib, newer and more humane techniques were employed as policy...the use of trust and dialogue, and determining what really motivated these individuals.  Enter Matthew Alexander, the leader of the first new wave of interrogators.

In a highly conversational and readable tone, Matthew walks us through exactly how he approached detainees...learning about their families, and about why, exactly, they joined Al Qaeda.  The answers were surprising.  While some of the prisoners were blood-thirsty fanatics, many were involved for reasons other than a hatred for "the enemy".  Often it was simply for money to support their families.  Once Matthew was able to uncover what was in their hearts, he could use that to get their cooperation.  These methods ultimately met with a resounding success that led to the death of al Zarqawi.

My thoughts:  This was SUCH a compelling read!  Although it was non-fiction, it played out like a fast-paced thriller, with twists and turns and snapping up clues in order to chase down the next Al Qaeda meeting place.  It was also a fascinating study in psychological cunning and manipulation of some of the most hardened terrorists in the world.

I also loved the personal insights from the author, who believed in his tactics and battled, on a daily basis, those old-school interrogators who would rather put on a show of force.  Despite his successes, Matthew still internally struggled through conflicting thoughts.  Why do these madmen deserve my trust and mutual respect?  Even if the author felt nothing but repulsion, there was always something that made them tick, and he made it his mission to figure it out, like a dog with a bone.  Throughout, he maintains an air of humility and lack of agenda besides telling his story.

I found it interesting that there were portions of the text that were blacked out and censured by the DoD, which just added to the authenticity of the story.

I can't recommend this book highly enough.  If you are in a slump and need something relevant, exciting and a fast read, this book is exactly what you need.

5 out of 5 stars
  


10 comments:

JoAnn said...

This does sound like a fascinating read - not one I would have thought to pick up with reading your review!

Julie P. said...

This wouldn't have normally appealed to me but your review is quite convincing.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Jim and I fight over this topic all the time! maybe we should listen...

Darlene said...

I wouldn't normally read something like this although if it was a television program I'd watch for sure. Your thoughts on It though make me all the more interested.

bermudaonion said...

Oh man, I will have to look for this. It sounds like just the kind of book I love. Of course, I'll drive Carl crazy talking about it if I read it.

Serena said...

wow, this sounds compelling and one that I would be unable to put down.

caite said...

Hmmm....I do tend to stay away from books that have anything to do with real life...

Tasha Brandstatter said...

Interesting! I might get this book for my dad.

Iliana said...

This is probably a book I never would have glanced at but your review definitely makes me think I should. I'm sure it's definitely a book that will leave you with a lot of stuff to think about isn't it?

James Chester said...

Very good review. This is not a book I would have considered otherwise, either.

I wonder if the blacked out passages are blacked out in overseas editions.