Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald gets the site’s lead story today (5/8/09, ad-viewing required) with an excerpt from the New York Times obituary for U.S. fighter pilot Harold E. Fischer Jr., who, as the Times headline puts it, was “Tortured in a Chinese Prison.” Greenwald deems such naming of Fischer’s ordeal–“kept in a dark, damp cell with no bed and no opening except a slot in the door…handcuffed. Hour after hour, a high-frequency whistle pierced the air”–to be “a major editorial breach” for the paper that so agilely dances around the T-word when reporting on U.S. actions:
So that’s torture now?… Using the editorial standards of America’s journalistic institutions–as explained recently by the NYT public editor–shouldn’t this be called “torture” rather than torture–or “harsh tactics some critics decry as torture”? Why are the much less brutal methods used by the Chinese on Fischer called torture by the NYT, whereas much harsher methods used by Americans do not merit that term? Here we find what is clearly the single most predominant fact shaping our political and media discourse: Everything is different, and better, when we do it. In fact, it is that exact mentality that was and continues to be the primary justification for our torture regime and so much else that we do.
Along those same lines, I learned from reading the New York Times this week (via the New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson) that Iraq is suffering a very serious problem. Tragically, that country is struggling with what the Times calls a “culture of impunity.” What this means is that politically connected Iraqis who clearly broke the law are nonetheless not being prosecuted because of their political influence!