Monday, April 27, 2009

Stupid as well as wrong

The critiques of US torture have generally followed two strands: that it is morally and legally wrong, and that it is ineffective. To this, we can now add a third: that it is actively counterproductive. That's the assessment of Major Matthew Alexander, a former US interrogator who served in Iraq. In his view, the US's torture program has likely killed more Americans than 9/11. How? By recruiting people to the resistance:

Before he started interrogating insurgent prisoners in Iraq, he had been told that they were highly ideological and committed to establishing an Islamic caliphate in Iraq, Major Alexander says. In the course of the hundreds of interrogations carried out by himself, as well as more than 1,000 that he supervised, he found that the motives of both foreign fighters joining al-Qa'ida in Iraq and Iraqi-born members were very different from the official stereotype.

In the case of foreign fighters – recruited mostly from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and North Africa – the reason cited by the great majority for coming to Iraq was what they had heard of the torture in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. These abuses, not fundamentalist Islam, had provoked so many of the foreign fighters volunteering to become suicide bombers.

(Emphasis added)

American torture was also a reason for Iraqis joining the resistance. And it is undoubtedly a reason for others to join al Qaeda or allied groups to conduct terror attacks against Americans and their allies. Which makes it (to paraphrase Talleyrand) not just a crime, but a mistake.