Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Tuesday morning was another opportunity for him to reach back to his own experience in talking about terrorism, and counterterror strategies. Normally, that means talking about being mayor on 9/11, but this time he reached back farther, to his time as a prosecutor, in discussing waterboarding and whether its use backfires on the U.S.
"One of the great fallacies is that Islamic extremist terrorists are particularly impressed by the way we conduct our interviews," Giuliani said, continuing:
They couldn't give a darn. I've been investigating them since the late 1960's, early 1970s They are single-minded, they have their own objectives in mind. We can be as nice to them or as bad to them as possible, they don't recruit based on that. They recruit on the basis of their hatred of the West, they recruit on the basis of hatred of women, they recruit based on their hatred of the modern world...
I've read thousands and thousands of documents, listened to tape recordings, I've never heard an Islamic terrorist say, "Oh, gee, I became a terrorist because they waterboarded some other terrorist."
Giuliani does deserve some credit for knowing what he's talking about. In his work at the Justice Department and as a U.S. attorney, he would have had to study the material he talks about, and obviously that's the case for his time running New York City as well.
That said, there's an important caveat: Giuliani was only a prosecutor until 1989, and he finished his final term as mayor at the end of 2001, months before waterboarding was ever used on a terror suspect. Even more time passed before it became public.
One interrogator with more recent experience in what motivates terrorist recruits has a different take on things. In a statement he gave to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee, Matthew Alexander, a professional interrogator in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and author of "How to Break a Terrorist," said:
Al-Qaida used our policy that authorized and encouraged these illegal methods as their number one recruiting tool for foreign fighters.
While I supervised interrogations in Iraq, I listened to a majority of foreign fighters state that the reason they'd come to Iraq to fight was because of the torture and abuse committed at both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. These foreign fighters made up approximately 90 percent of the suicide bombers in Iraq at that time, in addition to leading and participating in thousands of attacks against coalition and Iraqi forces.
It is not an exaggeration to say that hundreds, if not thousands, of American soldiers died at the hands of these foreign fighters. The policy that authorized and encouraged the torture and abuse of prisoners has cost us American lives.