Mathew Alexander’s Letter from Iraq

(2009) LETTER TO
U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. Senate
President of the United States

“I came to Iraq with two things, and I’m leaving with both — my father’s last name and my integrity.” Those were the words of a commander that I served with in Iraq, a military officer who shared my belief that we could accomplish our mission without sacrificing our principles. Together, this elite Army soldier and I, an Air Force interrogator, along with our teammates, captured several high ranking Al Qaeda leaders. We did it by applying our intellect and outsmarting our enemies. As Americans, we have a unique advantage in this conflict against Al Qaeda: our culture. It is a culture we can leverage, based on tolerance, cultural understanding, intellect, and integrity. There is no need for torture and abuse.

Torture and abuse were authorized and encouraged by senior leaders in the previous administration, and senior military officers followed unlawful orders to use these interrogation tactics. Some have argued a military necessity, but no short term military gain will ever outweigh the long term consequences of having used these unlawful and immoral methods. On a pragmatic level, I witnessed with my own eyes, while supervising over a thousand interrogations, a majority of foreign fighters state that the number one reason they came to Iraq to fight was because of our policy that allowed torture and abuse to occur at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. These foreign fighters killed hundreds, if not thousands, of American soldiers. Torture and abuse did not keep America safe. It cost us lives.

Additionally, these policies damaged our credibility as a nation that adheres to the law of armed conflict. A dangerous precedent has been established by setting aside the law. My family fought against lawless tyranny in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. As John Locke said, “Where the law ends, tyranny begins.”

I agree with your desire to move forward, and based on my experience I believe we can improve our methods of interrogation. However, moving forward and examining the past are not mutually exclusive. In the military, we complete these tasks nearly simultaneously after every battle, with after-action assessments and subsequent improvements to our tactics.

Our country needs an independent investigation into the past in order to send a strong message to the next generation of American soldiers that torture and abuse are morally wrong and, just as importantly, that members of the military have an obligation not to follow unlawful orders. This is an advancement in human rights that we, as Americans, established at the Nuremberg Trials.

Sir, I have carried the legacy of our forefathers into battle four times–Bosnia, Kosovo, and twice to the war in Iraq–always aware of the sacrifices of the men and women who went before me. I served under the watchful, lofty eyes of a friend and fellow brother-in-arms who gave his life in the service of his country early in our careers. We owe it to our fallen brothers and sisters to serve with honor.

Our tradition of honorable military service has been tarnished by those senior leaders who authorized and permitted torture and abuse. An independent investigation is an opportunity not for retaliation or punishment, but for renewing our expectation that future soldiers will adhere to the rule of law.

Very Respectfully,

Matthew Alexander,

Former senior U.S. interrogator in Iraq

Cc: Congress