The NYT's nice, new euphemism for torture

What happened at Guantanamo was just some "intense interrogation."

Published June 6, 2009 3:07PM (EDT)

(updated below)

In today's New York Times, William Glaberson describes a proposal being circulated by the Obama administration to enable Guantanamo detainees to be put to death upon a mere guilty plea, i.e., without the need for a full-blown trial.  The article describes the purpose of the proposal this way:

The proposal would ease what has come to be recognized as the government’s difficult task of prosecuting men who have confessed to terrorism but whose cases present challenges. Much of the evidence against the men accused in the Sept. 11 case, as well as against other detainees, is believed to have come from confessions they gave during intense interrogations at secret C.I.A. prisons. In any proceeding, the reliability of those statements would be challenged, making trials difficult and drawing new political pressure over detainee treatment.

The primary reason to avoid trials upon a guilty plea is to prevent public disclosure of the details of the torture we inflicted on these detainees.  Despite that, the word "torture" never once appears in this NYT article.  Instead, according to the NYT, detainees in CIA black sites were merely subjected to "intense interrogations."  That's all?  Who opposes "intense interrogations"?

This active media complicity in concealing that our Government created a systematic torture regime -- by refusing ever to say so -- is one of the principal reasons it was allowed to happen for so long (though see Jake Tapper's imperfect though still far superior formulation today on his ABC News blog about an Obama DHS appointee who just withdrew his nomination because of his possible "knowledge of and role in approving brutal interrogation techniques -- some of which qualify under international law as torture -- used by CIA officials against detainees").

The steadfast, ongoing refusal of our leading media institutions to refer to what the Bush administration did as "torture" -- even in the face of more than 100 detainee deaths; the use of that term by a leading Bush official to describe what was done at Guantanamo; and the fact that media outlets frequently use the word "torture" to describe the exact same methods when used by other countries -- reveals much about how the modern journalist thinks.  These are their governing principles:

There are two sides and only two sides to every "debate" -- the Beltway Democratic establishment and the Beltway Republican establishment.  If those two sides agree on X, then X is deemed true, no matter how false it actually is.  If one side disputes X, then X cannot be asserted as fact, no matter how indisputably true it is.  The mere fact that another country's behavior is described as X doesn't mean that this is how identical behavior by the U.S. should be described.  They do everything except investigate and state what is true.  In their view, that -- stating what is and is not true -- is not their role.

The whole world knows that the U.S. tortured detainees in the "War on Terror."  Yet American newspapers refuse to say so.


UPDATE:  As the excellent blog NPR Check routinely documents, NPR is one of the worst offenders of using obfuscating language to white-wash what the Bush administration did, as illustrated by one routine NPR report last week regarding Obama's efforts to suppress photographic evidence of torture (h/t archtype):

The contortionists at NPR are mighty busy these days being super, extra careful not to use the word torture to describe - well - torture. Keeping the English language in such painful stress positions leads to some rather interesting remarks. On ATC Wednesday I caught Bob Siegel stating,

"The infamous Abu Ghraib photos served as early evidence of harsh treatment of detainees. Today the White House announced its decision to fight against the release of other similar photos. The photos show the alleged abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan."

It's all merely "alleged," and it's everything but "torture."  And then there's this:

Liane Hansen has a little chat with "Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was in charge of the ground forces in Iraq when some of those techniques were used at the Abu Ghraib prison." During the interview Sanchez relates the following:

"We got a little bit of an insight into what they [CIA] were doing when they did drop off what came to be known as Iceman at Abu Ghraib in the fall of 2003....we clearly understood that they were using some very, very aggressive techniques, and in fact had wound up with this man dead in the course of an interrogation....he was brought to Abu Ghraib and handed off to my conventional forces there at the prison, and we eventually wound up repatriating him to his family to be taken care of and interred."

HOLY CRAP! Sanchez is describing the fact that the CIA and US forces tortured a man to death. Hansen doesn't express shock, disgust, surprise...anything. She manages a brief interruption to ask who "Iceman" was, but that's it.

Another chapter in the banality of evil.

As governments have long recognized, language is very potent, and euphemisms can thus mask and even justify the most heinous and barbaric acts.  But in our country, our leading media institutions use these methods at least as vigorously as political officials do in order to obscure, rather than illuminate, what our government does.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

MORE FROM Glenn Greenwald

Related Topics ------------------------------------------