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Ex-interrogator describes mistaken Iraq raids

The Washington Post
February 1, 2011
Jeff Stein (Spy Talk)
A former U.S. military interrogator in Iraq says half the raids Special Operations forces conducted during his terrorist-hunting missions hit the wrong house.
Matthew Alexander, the pen name for Air Force Reserve Maj. Anthony Camerino, describes his struggle to provide compensation for the victims of the raids in a new book, "Kill or Capture: How a Special Operations Task Force Took Down a Notorious Al Qaeda Terrorist," to be published today.
"Not a day goes by that we [didn't] carry out a mission," he writes of a period in 2006 when his team was hunting for insurgent leaders in Iraq. "More than half of our raids [attacked the] wrong houses."
In speeches, articles and a previous book, Alexander has campaigned against the use of torture in interrogations.
In his new book, he recounts a conversation he had with a superior over compensating an Iraqi family terrorized by a mistaken raid on their house.
"I'm a little concerned about the impact we're having on civilians," he writes. "We've raided several wrong houses lately... and we should be compensating these families."
"We have plenty of captured cash," the mission leader answers.
But Alexander also argued that a proper way of "winning hearts and minds" in the counterinsurgency campaign would be to apologize publicly to the head of the family as well.
"It's an issue of pride for Iraqis," he tells his boss. "When we raid their houses, they feel disrespected. Taking a few minutes to restore that respect in front of their families will go a long way towards keeping them from becoming our future enemies."
His boss was momentarily taken aback, Alexander writes, but then agreed.
The author said in an e-mail that "we even compensated the wives of some guilty terrorists. And at the end of the day our cooperation rates went way up and we got our man."
In June 2006, Alexander led a team of interrogators that successfully hunted down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Zarqawi was killed by bombs dropped by U.S. jets during a meeting in an isolated safehouse.
His new book describes the hunt for a Syrian named Zafar, reputed to be the leader of al-Qaeda in northern Iraq.
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