Face to face with al Qaeda

    What’s the first thing you would say to a suspected Al Qaeda member if you had to interrogate him?

    That’s one of the things I explore on Fresh Air today with Matthew Alexander, who was a senior military interrogator in Iraq in 2006.

    He’s become known as a strong critic of enhanced (meaning abusive) interrogation techniques, and it’s really fascinating to hear how he got some pretty dangerous men to open up to him by building trust and rapport instead of fear.

    He also talks about what it was like to go on special forces missions that would raid the homes of suspected al Qaeda members and supporters. Soldiers would literally blow the doors of the home off its hinges, then cuff everybody inside. It was Alexander’s job to then talk to them for 15 minutes and try and get some meaningful information.

    About half the time, he says, they would storm into the wrong house.

    Matthew’s new book is Kill or Capture.

    My second guest is V.S. Ramachandran, a neuroscientist who does some amazing stuff just by thinking about how the mind works.

    An example: you have a guy who’s missing half of his left arm, and he has terrible pain in his phantom hand. This is apparently pretty common among amputees.

    The patients feels as if his missing hand is clenched into a tight fist, causing the cramping. Ramachandran would hold a mirror so that the when the patient moves his right hand, it appears he has a left hand which moves in tandem. He un-clenches his real hand, the brain thinks the phantom hand is also relaxing, and the pain begins to subside.

    There’s much more in his book, The Tell Tale Brain and our interview on today’s show.

    You can hear it at 3 and 7.p.m. on WHYY. If you’re outside the Philly area, find a station here. And you can always listen at the Fresh Air website.

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