A fascinating, and amazingly detailed account of how we got Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah to cooperate on intelligence. Maddeningly, we will never know for sure what we could have found out without torture. But we do find that these terror suspects - hardcore Islamists - are not a totally different kind of enemy than we have ever encountered in the past. They are human beings, and capable of responding to traditional interrogation techniques:

Senior Federal Bureau of Investigation officials thought such methods unnecessary and unwise. Their agents got Abu Zubaydah talking without the use of force, and he revealed the central role of Mr. Mohammed in the 9/11 plot. They correctly predicted that harsh methods would darken the reputation of the United States and complicate future prosecutions. Many C.I.A. officials, too, had their doubts, and the agency used contract employees with military experience for much of the work.

Some C.I.A. officers were torn, believing the harsh treatment could be effective. Some said that only later did they understand the political cost of embracing methods the country had long shunned.

There is no absolute proof here of either contention. But if Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah gave useful intelligence when interrogated by a man who did not even speak their language but won their trust, it seems to me that the case for abandoning the West's self-defining strictures on torture and prisoner-abuse is extremely weak. It is a very good thing that the next president will renounce it.

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