Mark Bowden Talks Drones & Torture With Ret. Gen. Stanley McChrystal

Black Hawk Down and The Finish author Mark Bowden interviewed retired General Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan, at the Free Library of Philadelphia to a packed basement crowd last Thursday, coinciding with the release of McCrystal’s new memoir, My Share of the Task.

Bowden and McChrystal talked about the efforts against terrorism across the world, as well as new technology that’s led to more success in foreign conflicts as of late — something discussed in detail in The Finish, which Philadelphia Weekly interviewed Bowden about this week.

“Technology changed the fight,” McChrystal said, arguing that the biggest game-changers in conflicts throughout the Middle East have been drone technology (the surveillance drones more so than the ones used for, well, killing), night-vision tech (which, he said, makes the ratio of U.S.-to-enemy kills 1,000-to-1 in the dark) and video teleconferencing between soldiers in combat and otherwise.

He also spoke about “enhanced interrogation techniques,” noting he did not know if they work or not, but that what he’s noticed is that the best way to get information from suspects is through “long periods of conversation” — highlighting an example in which a detainee spoke after weeks of conversation and a screening of his favorite movie, The Exorcist, while he was under control by the U.S. military. Torture, McChrystal said, crosses a line. The torturer doesn’t just hurt the detainee, but him/herself, since most torture tactics run contrary to what a soldier has learned in training. “Once you do that,” McChrystal said, “you can’t come back very easily.”

The other problem with torture, he said — especially as evidenced by the photos that came out of Abu Ghraib — is that such techniques often reinforce the ideas many in the Muslim world already have of the U.S. military — namely, that they’re a bunch of assholes.

After Abu Ghraib, many more insurgents began coming into Iraq and Afghanistan from surrounding counties, McChrystal said, excited to fight the invading Americans. “We had to kill most of them,” he said.

3 Responses to “ Mark Bowden Talks Drones & Torture With Ret. Gen. Stanley McChrystal ”

  1. B.A. says:

    The torturer doesn’t just hurt the detainee, but him/herself, since most torture tactics run contrary to what a soldier has learned in training. “Once you do that,” McChrystal said, “you can’t come back very easily.” —

    Yeah, no kidding! Has anyone read the book “None of Us Were Like This Before”? Sounds like McCrystal is articulating many of the points contained in the book. Amazing…

  2. Guy Montag says:

    “The best way to get information from suspects is through “long periods of conversation” — highlighting an example in which a detainee spoke after weeks of conversation and a screening of his favorite movie, “The Exorcist”…”

    Someone should have asked Gen. McChrystal (& Mark Bowden) why his portrayal of the JSOC interrogations that directly led to the 2006 killing of Abu Zarqawi totally contradicts the accounts of Bowden in his 2007 Atlantic Monthly piece “The Ploy.”

    Bowden wrote that “the real story is more complicated and interesting.” And, his story is backed up by Mark Urban in “Task Force Black” (“multiple sources have confirmed to me the accuracy of Bowden’s article”) and interrogator Matthew Alexander in “How to Break A Terrorist” (“We found Zarqawi in spite of the way the task force did business”).

    McChrystal’s “official story” portrays a false account of Mubbassir’s interrogation that led to the killing of Zarqawi. Supposedly JSOC interrogators Amy, Jack and Paul developed rapport and trust with him over the course of several weeks. Eventually, Paul supposedly got Mubbassir to admit the man in a picture was “Karim” his brother and a courier. Paul rewarded him with breakfast. Later, they listened to the radio together and ate ice cream! (McChrystal, p. 210-211).

    However, Alexander wrote how all three of these interrogators were “the old guard, who were at Guantanamo and did previous tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. They believe in fear-and-control methods but now they’re being forced to play by the rules … They’ve never built rapport with these guys, gotten to know them as people or earned their trust. Why do they think any of their strategies are going to work?”

    Alexander wrote (p. 185, “How to Break a Terrorist”) about Paul [Lenny] saying, “****ing muj. Just show him who is boss.”…“Sympathy won’t work. Control 101 is the first lesson in interrogation”…”Tear down his self-respect.” Your’re Totally Screwed routine.” But, McChrystal would have his readers believe that this is the same guy who hung out with Mussabir eating ice cream and listening to the radio!

    In reality, Alexander had to do an end-run around JSOC to get the key intel from Mussabir; he got in just a few hours what JSOC’s “best” interrogators had failed to get in three weeks!

    For details, see the chapter, “That’s One Dead SOB” in “Never Shall I Fail My Comrades” — The Dark Legacy of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, posted at the Feral Firefighter blog.

  3. Guy Montag says:

    “torture… photos that came out of Abu Ghraib… reinforce the ideas many in the Muslim world already have of the U.S. military — namely, that they’re a bunch of assholes.”

    McChrystal has claimed that detainee abuse was the work of a “few bad apples” and that he “never condoned mistreatment of detainees.” However, in 2003 as Joint Staff VDJ3 it appears McChrystal was involved in sending Gen. Geoffrey Miller to “Gitmotize” Abu Gharib and by sending SERE instructors to teach torture techniques.

    After taking command of JSOC, instead of reducing torture, McChrystal approved more techniques until he was ordered to stop most of them after the Abu Gharib scandal (but JSOC didn’t fully clean up its act until the end of 2005). Senator Russ Feingold said, “I am concerned about General McChrystal’s public [Senate]testimony, which sought to convey that he was “uncomfortable” with various interrogation techniques and sought to “reduce” their use. Given the full history of his approach to interrogations, this testimony appears to be incomplete, at best.”

    McChrystal only briefly describes the 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein. However, he failed to credit the Tikrit Delta team & interrogator Eric Maddox (“Mission Black List #1”) for their efforts which directly led to Saddam’s capture (perhaps because it would raise questions about the role of torture in the death of a key detainee who had a “heart attack” at Camp Nama which resulted in Maddox “facing a dead end”).

    For details, see the chapter, “That’s One Dead SOB” in “Never Shall I Fail My Comrades” — The Dark Legacy of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, posted at the Feral Firefighter blog.

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