Examining the Paper of Record’s Torture Record

Giving us a glimpse at “a large part of what was left on the editor’s floor” from his On the Media NPR interview,‘s Scott Horton (5/12/09) writes of “the New York Times and its history of dealing with the word ‘torture'”:

I noted that in the pre-Bush era, the Times had absolutely no compunction about calling certain practices “torture,” but when the Bush administration began to use them, the word was suddenly off-limits, or only used in the most circumspect way (“a practice which critics of the administration call ‘torture,'” for instance). A good example can be found in reporting about the Khmer Rougeâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s reign of terror, on which the Times played an essential role. The Khmer Rouge’s waterboarding was “torture.” But Bush Administration waterboarding is just an “enhanced interrogation technique.” Whatâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s behind the distinction? It’s a blend of fear and hypocrisy.

To Horton, the reality is that “the Times policy enables torture”–here’s his quote from a 1945 George Orwell letter on the matter:

The most intelligent people seem capable of holding schizophrenic beliefs, or disregarding plain facts, of evading serious questions with debating-society repartees, or swallowing baseless rumours and of looking on indifferently while history is falsified. All these mental vices spring ultimately from the nationalistic habit of mind, which is itself, I suppose, the product of fear and of the ghastly emptiness of machine civilization…. I believe that it is possible to be more objective than most of us are, but that it involves a moral effort. One cannot get away from one’s own subjective feelings, but at least one can know what they are and make allowance for them.

Horton says “the Times needs to make that moral effort,”calling their “failure to do so… alarming.” Read FAIR’s magazine Extra!: “From Water Torture to ‘Waterboarding’: Media Rehabilitate Torture as Aquatic Sport” (5â┚¬“6/08) by Isabel Macdonald