I’ve been in e-mail contact with Jennifer Bryson ever since she found my obscure internet rants on Terry Jones’ threats to burn the Qur’an. Her education makes mine look like glorified day care: she got a BA after studying political science at Stamford, an MA in European intellectual history at Yale, and a PhD in Near Eastern Languages and civilizations — again at Yale. She also did a stint at Karl Marx University during the 1980’s in the old East Germany (I’ve been meaning to ask her what that was like), before they ripped down the wall. She’s worked at the Defense Department and she now directs the Islam and Civil Society Project at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey. And she likes dogs. And cats. And gardening. She’s a veritable advertisement for gentleness.
Imagine my near out-of-body shock when I learned more of her DOD stint: She was a Guantanamo interrogator. Whuh? “Our” Jennifer?
She’s written about her experience and describes the difference between interrogation and torture. The two terms are often used in the same sentence and viewed synonymously (I combed Google Images for “interrogation” and saw many torture pictures), but they are worlds apart. The interrogator is often quiet and sympathetic (listen in on real police interrogations and hear the sympathy: “it could-a been me” … “hey, I get mad too …”). They know there’s an inner urge to tell the story. Surprising as it may seem, real interrogators are humane — for practical reasons, if for no other.
But don’t listen to me. Read the ever-surprising Dr. Bryson, who gives us far more insight than Jack Bauer. She wrote this before the recent September 11th anniversary. I’ve cut and pasted the first few paragraphs, after which you can click the link:
As the 10th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001 approaches, I have come to the conclusion that America needs interrogation in its war arsenal and that we must reject torture. Oxymoron? Absolutely not. From 2004 until 2006 I was an interrogator at Guantanamo Bay. I speak from experience.
Prior to the 9/11 attacks, as I completed my PhD in Arabic and Islamic studies, I applied to a mass number of three-letter government departments and agencies for a job. Yet many months and even more resumes later, I was unemployed.
A decade ago, to study history, languages, and cultures for a PhD and seek a job in public service was like wearing a neon sign over one’s head that flashed, “Don’t hire me.” I was told I was “over-educated,” that I had studied something “obscure and irrelevant,” and that in my early 30s I was, yes, “too old” for the jobs I’d qualify for, and that my research and teaching experience in graduate school counted for “nothing” …
(go here for more)