After more than a decade of refusing to use the word “torture” to describe…well, torture, the New York Times has finally joined the reality-based community and decided to change its policy. Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the paper, announced the change.
Over the past few months, reporters and editors of The Times have debated a subject that has come up regularly ever since the world learned of the C.I.A.’s brutal questioning of terrorism suspects: whether to call the practices torture.
When the first revelations emerged a decade ago, the situation was murky. The details about what the Central Intelligence Agency did in its interrogation rooms were vague. The word “torture” had a specialized legal meaning as well as a plain-English one. While the methods set off a national debate, the Justice Department insisted that the techniques did not rise to the legal definition of “torture.” The Times described what we knew of the program but avoided a label that was still in dispute, instead using terms like harsh or brutal interrogation methods.
But as we have covered the recent fight over the Senate report on the C.I.A.’s interrogation program – which is expected to be the most definitive accounting of the program to date – reporters and editors have revisited the issue. Over time, the landscape has shifted. Far more is now understood, such as that the C.I.A. inflicted the suffocation technique called waterboarding 183 times on a single detainee and that other techniques, such as locking a prisoner in a claustrophobic box, prolonged sleep deprivation and shackling people’s bodies into painful positions, were routinely employed in an effort to break their wills to resist interrogation.
Okay, I call bullshit. In fact, the Times published a book review of two books that identified what we did as torture as far back as 2005. We learned about the waterboarding of Khalid Sheik Mohammed years ago. The Times itself was reporting on the torture memos and the use of the same techniques they are now agreeing to call torture 7 years ago. It isn’t new information that is forcing them to finally call it what it is, it’s years of being hammered for their dishonesty.