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.