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Major Matthew Alexander didn’t arrive in Iraq to begin questioning terrorists until 2006. The timing was fortunate for him, because by that time the pressure from the higher ups to use torture had dissipated in the wake of revelations about Abu Ghraib. Had he been there sooner, he’d have faced what a friend of his did:

Alexander faced a different kind of problem. He wanted to expose the stupidity, not to mention the moral bankruptcy, of using torture, so he wrote “How to Break a Terrorist”. Then he ran into a wall at the Department of Defense. In order to publish, he had to sue the DoD for permission.

Jon Stewart found that odd; he thought that a book showing our basic humanity might be good p.r.

It would seem to me that to have our humanity broadcast throughout the world might not necessarily be a bad thing. I would think it would be in our best interests if other countries would be, like, ‘Hey, you know what? They actually don’t electrocute our genitals, they get us to talk by not ….’ Why isn’t that positive?

Good point, Jon. His book is positive, except that it makes those who ordered torture and who are still defending it, look like … what? the monsters they are? Brave New Productions has a video juxtaposing shots of Cheney and Alexander:

Cheney: Another term out there that’s slipped into the discussion is the notion that American interrogation practices were a, quote, recruitment tool for the enemy. On this theory, by the tough questioning of killers, we have supposedly fallen short of our own values. This recruitment tool theory has become something of a mantra lately.

Alexander: At the prison where I conducted interrogations, we heard day in and day out, foreign fighters who had been captured state that the number one reason they had come to fight in Iraq was because of torture abuse.

(….)

And remember, one of al-Qaida’s goals, it’s not just to attack the United States; it’s to prove that we’re hypocrites, that we don’t live up to American principles. So when we use torture and abuse, we’re playing directly into one of their stated goals.

It’s bad to make ourselves look as evil as al-Qaida portrays us. But you know what’s worse than that? To BE as evil as al-Qaida portrays us. This is more than a matter of the U.S. suffering some distasteful global p.r. This is a matter of a country that used to oppose such wickedness losing its soul. “Tough questioning of killers” my ass!

Oh. I just wandered off into pitched rhetoric, didn’t I? Maj. Alexander avoided that, preferring instead to emphasize the necessity of people in the military defending the Constitution, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. He feels we’ve set a dangerous precedent that makes it OK for soldiers to follow unlawful orders. After World War II, we shunned the Nuremberg defense. He points out that we still reject the Nuremberg defense–for those of the rank of Master Sergeant and below. The hypocrisy of letting those who ordered it troubles Alexander.

I suspect it galls him that Cheney is touting torture as the new patriotism.

So Alexander urges that, at the very least, we form an independent commission that would be empowered to issue a strong statement of rebuke for this precedent. To do anything less than that ensures it will happen again.

Matthew Alexander was in St. Louis at the invitation of Amnesty International as part of a nationwide tour in which he is speaking out against torture. The Amnesty International website has links to several interviews he’s done, including Keith Olbermann, Brave New Studios, MSNBC, and Fox.