The story of FBI interrogator Ali Soufan plays out like a movie. The son of an immigrant from Lebanon, Soufan, using traditional interrogation methods, gleaned from Abu Zubayda a plot to plant a dirty bomb in the United States and the alias of September 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. He turned the jihadis' greatest weapons against them, citing Qu'ranic verses from memory and using his knowledge of Islam to gain the trust of terrorist detainees, then using the trust he had gained to get information that saved American lives. When he discovered that the CIA was planning on torturing Zubayda, his reaction was that of a lawman: "I swear to God," he reportedly said to FBI assistant director for counterterrorism Pasquale D'Amuro, "I'm going to arrest these guys!"

Soufan's courage and respect for American values contrasts sharply with former CIA official Michael Scheuer, who insists that the only way to protect America is through torture and that anyone who believes otherwise is anti-American. This contradicts the CIA inspector general's own 2004 findings that there is no conclusive information that tortured yielded information that foiled "specific imminent attacks." Scheuer's belief in the power of torture is not empirical but ideological, just like that of James Mitchell, the former Air Force psychologist who helped design the torture program and who, despite having never interrogated a prisoner a day in his life, told Ali Soufan he had no idea what he was doing.

It's startling how much contempt those who would be America's protectors have for the society they ostensibly want to protect. The battle against terrorism is not one of mere survival. It is about the preservation of American society -- while it's doubtful that the terrorists will be able to wipe us out, they may succeed in changing America beyond recognition, from a champion of human rights to a nation of torturers where the government eavesdrops on its own citizens without warrants and holds people indefinitely without trial. Osama bin Laden isn't smiling at Obama's commitment to respect international laws governing detainee treatment. That much is obvious; since Obama's election, al-Qaeda has scrambled to develop an effective message against a popular new president who has disavowed the use of torture.

Every time we waterboard a suspect, or strip him naked, or slam him against a wall, we've lost a battle to al-Qaeda. Every time we do this, we create the possibility of another Jose Padilla, or another Abu Zubayda. But when we affirm the rule of law, when we meet the high standards we set for ourselves, we help create the kind of society that produces men like Ali Soufan.

-- A. Serwer

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