NYT and “torture”: Searching for a justification

The paper of record refuses to call waterboarding "torture" -- unless it's done by others

Topics: Media Criticism,

(updated below)

New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller explaining why his newspaper won’t describe Bush interrogation techniques as “torture”:

[D]efenders of the practice of water-boarding, including senior officials of the Bush administration, insisted that it did not constitute torture.

New York Times Washington Bureau Editor Douglas Jehl on why his paper refuses to describe Bush’s waterboarding program as “torture”:

I have resisted using torture without qualification or to describe all the techniques. Exactly what constitutes torture continues to be a matter of debate and hasn’t been resolved by a court. This president and this attorney general say waterboarding is torture, but the previous president and attorney general said it is not. On what basis should a newspaper render its own verdict, short of charges being filed or a legal judgment rendered?

From the New York Times obituary today:

As a hero of the French Resistance, Stéphane Hessel was in exile with Charles de Gaulle in London, imprisoned in concentration camps, waterboarded in Nazi torture sessions and saved from hanging by swapping identities with an inmate who had died of typhus. . . . Asked how he survived torture, he said, “The third time of waterboarding, I said, ‘Now, I’ll tell you.’ And I told them a lie of course.” He added: “One survives torture. So many people unfortunately have been tortured. But it’s not a thing to recommend.”

So according to The New York Times, it’s journalistically improper to call waterboarding “torture” — when done by the United States, but when Nazi Germany (or, more generally, China) does exactly the same thing, then it may be called “torture” repeatedly and without qualification. An organization which behaves this way may be called many things; “journalist” isn’t one of them.







UPDATE:  On the night of April 28, I’ll be speaking in New York, along with Noam Chomsky and Amy Goodman, for an event sponsored by (and for the benefit of) FAIR.  Tickets are expected to be sold out quickly, so those interested in attending can arrange to do so here.  And, as a reminder for those in Houston, at 7:00 p.m. local time, I’ll be speaking tonight at this event, open to the public.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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