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NY Times Decides to Call It Torture. Finally.

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.

Comments

  1. D. C. Sessions says

    “Dishonesty” is not really a fair indictment, Ed. Oh, they may or may not have lied but the record doesn’t support a charge of dishonesty.

    I’d have written “fawning sycophancy to brutal anti-American thugs” myself.

  2. Chiroptera says

    The result is that today, the debate is focused…more on whether they worked – that is, whether they generated useful information that the government could not otherwise have obtained from prisoners.

    As I said on Mano’s blog, by “focusing” on a question that also was answered long ago, the NYT shows it’s still not ready to address the actual moral implications of the actions the leaders we elected committed in our name.

  3. says

    What has always infuriated me about this whole topic is torturers’ willingness to debate whether or not what they do is torture, and to define all sorts of horrible acts as “not torture,” in an effort to rationalize what they do as “not torture.” Imposing physical or psychological discomfort — of any degree — in order to coerce a “witness” (read: victim) is torture. Full stop.

    I remember vividly when news broke about the torture and humiliations that American soldiers imposed on Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib (sp?) – I literally wept with shame and grief and rage.

    NYT: Too little, too late. This adds to the list of reasons why I’m glad I canceled my subscription several months ago. (The paid content was the straw that broke the camel’s back.)

    My older siblings used to hold me down and tickle me in order to make me miserable. That was torture, too, and I say that in all sincerity. I remembered that experience as I raised my own child. And I don’t touch people unless I am 100%sure that they would welcome being touched.

  4. Michael Heath says

    If you’re misinforming your audience, than your’re being dishonest – i.e., you’re lying.

  5. Nemo says

    The word “torture” had a specialized legal meaning as well as a plain-English one.

    And the NYT is meant to be a plain-English publication, not a legal brief.

    While the methods set off a national debate, the Justice Department insisted that the techniques did not rise to the legal definition of “torture.”

    And they were full of shit, and that was apparent from day one. Not that it’s relevant anyway (see above).

  6. says

    the NYT is meant to be a plain-English publication, not a legal brief.

    The issue is that, as a signatory to the international convention on torture, the US wanted to get away with it by not calling it “torture” – the same way that they used the phrase “ethnic cleansing” to avoid triggering the conventions on genocide.

    It’s utter cowardice – what we expect from the “most powerful nation on earth” – but coming from a newspaper it’s abject submission to authority.

  7. illdoittomorrow says

    Modus @ 6:

    “Stenographer” implies a commitment to accuracy that the M$M has never shown, and they’re just copying and pasting what their betters write for them anyway.

  8. caseloweraz says

    The NYT: While the methods set off a national debate, the Justice Department insisted that the techniques did not rise to the legal definition of “torture.”

    This “legal definition” is undoubtedly the one promulgated in memoranda drafted by John Yoo and approved by Jay Bybee in order that GW Bush could duck the strictures of the Geneva Conventions. (David Addington figures in somewhere, too — I’m just not sure of his exact role.)

  9. katzenklavier says

    @caseloweraz – #9
    “David Addington figures in somewhere, too — I’m just not sure of his exact role.”
    Head cheerleader, at a minimum. In any respectable pictorial dictionary, you’ll find his headshot gracing the entry “aggressively self-righteous neocon.”

  10. Taz says

    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.

    Actually, I think it’s a direct response to the president calling it torture. The Times found itself in the absurd position of reporting his admission that we tortured without being able to use the word themselves. Too bad Obama didn’t have the guts to use his bully pulpit and correct the idiotic pretense years ago.

  11. cactuswren says

    In the immortal words of Elwood Blues, when accused by his brother of lying: “I took the liberty of bullshitting you. It’s not a lie. It’s just bullshit.”

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