Aug
21
2014

NYT Responds on Torture

Public editor sees FAIR's point on Amnesty report

Detainees at Nerkh

Relatives' photos of Afghan men imprisoned at an alleged US-run torture camp (Amnesty International)

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan (8/19/14) responded to a FAIR Action Alert (8/18/14) by saying that she agreed coverage of an Amnesty International report about US torture in Afghanistan "would have benefited Times readers."

The Action Alert noted that while Times executive editor Dean Baquet announced (8/7/14; FAIR Blog, 8/8/14) that the paper would henceforth call torture by its right name, even when committed by the United States, the paper failed to cover a major report (8/11/14) linking the US to torture.

Responding to messages inspired by the alert, Sullivan went to Times foreign editor Joseph Kahn, who said the paper's Kabul bureau "decided it did not add much to what we have already, on many occasions, reported. Much of it appeared to be recycled from United Nations reports and other news coverage, including our own.”

He added:

I do feel as though we have a responsibility to cover credible allegations of abuses involving the United States around the world. I do not feel we have an obligation to write about a report on the subject simply because one appears.

Sullivan noted that Kahn "pointed out a few of the many examples of articles the Times has written on this subject."

It's true that the Times has covered the topic of torture in Afghanistan--as our Action Alert pointed out. What none of the stories Kahn points to in Sullivan's column do, however, is talk about US personnel engaging in torture in Afghanistan--which the Amnesty report documents.

None of the four articles Sullivan links to as examples of how the Times has covered the story actually reports on "allegations of abuses involving the United States." They are mainly stories about accusations that the Afghan government was involved in torture "despite intensive international [i.e., US] efforts to halt abuses" (New York Times, 2/11/13). One of the articles (5/21/13) even reported  that "there has been no testimony directly tying American soldiers to the abuse." The Amnesty report does contain such testimony--but Times readers won't be hearing about it.

Sullivan concludes that "the Amnesty report pulled together a great deal of information--especially about the role of the American military--in a comprehensive and forceful way that would have benefited Times readers."  FAIR agrees.  And it also would have been a chance for the Times to prove that it's really ready to talk frankly about torture committed by US forces.

FAIR thanks all of the activists who wrote to the Times, and to public editor Margaret Sullivan for responding to these concerns.