Saturday, July 17, 2010

Study: Newspapers stopped describing waterboarding as 'torture' during Bush years.

I'm late to this:

Is waterboarding torture? If you picked up a major U.S. newspaper before 2004, the answer would likely be yes, according to a new Harvard University study.

But in the post-9/11 world, when the practice of immobilizing and virtually drowning detainees became a politically charged issue, that straightforward definition grew murky. The study, conducted by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, examined coverage in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today, and found a noticeable shift in language concerning waterboarding.

“From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture,” the study noted. But the study found that things changed in the years when “war on terror” became part of the American lexicon.

The New York Times defined waterboarding as torture, or effectively implied that it was, 81.5 percent of the time in articles until 2004, the study found. But during 2002-2008 — when the George W. Bush White House made a concerted effort to normalize harsh interrogation methods for use on terror detainees — the Times “called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles." That’s 1.4 percent of the time.
But it's the reason given by editor of The New York Times for this change of stance which fascinates me.
“As the debate over interrogation of terror suspects grew post-9/11, defenders of the practice (including senior officials of the Bush administration) insisted that it did not constitute torture,” a Times spokesman said in a statement. “When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves.
The editor who wrote that is utterly missing the point here. If waterboarding was considered torture for over a hundred years, then there is no debate on the subject.

By pretending that there is a debate on the subject is to take sides. And, sadly, the side chosen is the side of the torturer.

Throughout history, torturers like Saddam would have loved to claim that there was "a debate" as to whether what they did constituted torture, but I am sure that the New York Times would not have accorded it to them.

Likewise, the Bush administration, of course, claimed that waterboarding was not torture for no better reason than the fact that they were the ones doing it.

To paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, "Well, they would say that wouldn't they?

Everyone accepts that this is torture and the place for Saddam, Bush and the other torturers to have their "debate" is in front of a judge and jury.

Click here for full article.

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