Ali's Turtle

This week I was invited to attend the Ridenhour Prize award ceremony at the National Press Club ( These prizes recognize those who promote social justice or “who persevere in acts of truth-telling that protect the public interest.” Eighty-four-year old John Seigenthaler, journalist and civil rights advocate, presented Congressman John Lewis, with the Ridenhour Courage Prize. We were reminded that both men almost died 51 years ago in Montgomery, Alabama, during the Freedom Ride.

The author of The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, Ali H. Soufan, was awarded the Ridenhour Book Prize. He started his acceptance speech talking about the model of a turtle—the one a former president of Harvard kept on his desk. The university president liked to say, “Behold the turtle. It makes progress when its neck is out.” Ali Soufan spoke of how fortunate we were here in America to have so many people willing to stick their necks out. “It’s easier to be silent, to obey, to follow the crowd.” In a moving speech he paid tribute to those who refuse to shrink from a challenge and those who dare to say no to power. He discussed the unethical and ineffective use of torture in questioning suspects, a practice that results in false leads, where justice is never served.

Soufan ended with an admonition: He told us that while the turtle only moves when it sticks its neck out, it moves slowly. But it beats the rabbit in the race.