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Experts Work to Understand, Change Terrorist Detainees’ Minds

By Jamie Findlater
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 18, 2007 – The general in charge of detainee operations in Iraq is working to understand the mindset of extremist terrorist detainees and cultivate a different way of thinking in dealing with them in what he calls “the battlefield of the mind.”

“I'm here to determine if a detainee is an imperative security risk,” Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone said today in an interview with online journalists and “bloggers.” “If he is a risk, then I'm going to reduce that risk, and I'm going to replace that destructive ideology.

“Interrogation is absolutely vital,” he explained from Baghdad. “I’ve got to find and identify the extremists and segregate them. I've got to dig into their mind. I've got psychiatrists and psychologists … and interrogation work and counseling work.”

Stone said he uses information he learns from detainees to structure educational programs that help extremists reevaluate their reasons for such behavior. Religious leaders working with the group teach a moderate doctrine that tears apart al Qaeda’s tenets of killing innocent people.

The educational program allows Stone and his team to identify those individuals who act out only because they wish to follow the Quran and those who have ingrained this way of thinking as a discipline. He explained that many come out saying: "I didn't know that. Now that I know that, I'm going to change my life."

“Once they can actually read the words themselves and they believe the Quran they're reading -- this is something that we changed, which is a bizarre thing but true -- then they actually can begin a conversation,” he said.

The program’s youth outreach, titled “the House of Wisdom” also has been highly effective. “We've got 30 classrooms; … we've got the teachers, the counselors; we've got four very large soccer programs; we've got more space to expand,” Stone said.

If caught early, youth can be educated quickly and effectively, Stone explained. “The youth records are different than the adult records, because the youth records seem to show that they have done a little bit of everything.” Most adults tend to specialize in a particular avenue of violence and, by that time, are harder to influence.

“If they're 11 years old and 12 years old and 13 years old, we tend to see them, (and) the psychologists tend to see them as … (they) can be told to do anything and they'll go do it,” Stone said.

“The older ones, the 15-, 16-, 17-year-old ones, you know, they're the harder nuts,” he said. They are more likely to end up in real criminal court as adults, he explained.

An important component of the continued success of the program is gaining support of the government. Stone noted that Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi has endorsed the program in a joint agreement between the Iraqi government and Multinational Force Iraq titled “Lion's Paw.”

Stone paraphrased a speech by Hashimi saying, "Listen, I understand that what you did was done for a reason. What I am telling you is what the coalition forces are doing for you, what General Stone is doing for you in the youth education; these are things that we are not even doing for own people. And you have to help us do that."

The intended result of the program is for individuals to eventually face a “panel of officers looking at both the intelligence side and the open-source information that we have on these guys, all the results of their interrogation,” Stone said.

Individuals are evaluated carefully and given polygraph tests. Stone estimated that about 2,000 people have been released through the program since he started in April.

This careful evaluation and determination of release is highly successful, he said. “The most exciting information is, we've not had anybody return in the four and a half months of doing this program,” Stone said. “So we've not had one returnee or recapture out of this program, where we would have expected the number to be about 6.4 percent.”

Projecting a path for the future, Stone focused on a necessary and continued commitment to increasing job security so that released individuals can continue to progress and contribute to society.

“If they don't have any income, they're going to go back,” he said. “There’s not one guy in my line of work who won’t tell you that the No. 1 problem to drain the swamp of the counter-coalition guys … is jobs; they need to get work, and they don’t have that.”

He explained that he has been discussing the issue with Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and that Hashimi recently sent a letter on this topic to President Bush.

“Insurgency does exist,” Stone said. “They are real, and they are fighting us left and right. … You should see the training things that they try to do to the detainees, and we're countering them. We're busting them down. We're making whole moderate compounds that didn't exist before.

“I'm not out here … for social work,” he said. “We're out here because war is an act of force, and we're going to compel this enemy to do our will. And our will is that the moderates are going to win out.”

(Jamie Findlater works for New Media, American Forces Press Service.)

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Related Sites:
Multinational Force Iraq
Defense Department Bloggers Roundtable


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