The NYT Calls Iranian Interrogation Tactics "Torture"

Today is the ideal day to celebrate America's specialness, and America's paper of record inspirationally leads the ritual:

Clark Hoyt, New York Times Public Editor, April 26, 2009:

Today is the ideal day to celebrate America's specialness, and America's paper of record inspirationally leads the ritual:

Clark Hoyt, New York Times Public Editor, April 26, 2009:

LINGUISTIC shift took place in this newspaper as it reported the
details of how the Central Intelligence Agency was allowed to strip Al
Qaeda prisoners naked, bash them against walls, keep them
awake for up to 11 straight days, sometimes with their arms chained to
the ceiling, confine them in dark boxes and make them feel as if they
were drowning.

Until this month, what the Bush
administration called "enhanced" interrogation techniques were "harsh"
techniques in the news pages of The Times. Increasingly, they are
"brutal". . . . .

The word had appeared a few times before
in this context, most recently on April 10, when the Central
Intelligence Agency said it was closing the network of secret overseas
prisons where interrogations took place. Scott Shane, who covers
national security, said he and his editor in the Washington bureau,
Douglas Jehl, negotiated over the wording of the first paragraph. Shane
wrote that methods used in the prisons were "widely denounced
as illegal torture." Jehl changed that to the "harshest interrogation
since the Sept. 11 attacks. Shane said he felt that
with more information coming to light, including a leaked report by the
International Committee of the Red Cross, the words harsh and even
harshest no longer sufficed. He proposed brutal, and Jehl agreed. . . .

And why not, then, go all the way to torture?
Jehl said that when the paper is discussing what is generally regarded
as the most extreme interrogation method the C.I.A. used,
waterboarding, "we've become more explicit in saying in a first
reference that it's a near-drowning technique" that Obama, Attorney
General Eric Holder and many other experts "have called torture." But
he said: "I have resisted using torture without qualification or to
describe all the techniques. Exactly what constitutes torture continues to be a matter of debate and hasn't been resolved by a court.
This president and this attorney general say waterboarding is torture,
but the previous president and attorney general said it is not. On what basis should a newspaper render its own verdict, short of charges being filed or a legal judgment rendered?" Jehl argued for precision and caution. I agree.

The New York Times today:

Top Reformers Admitted Plot, Iran Declares

-- Iranian leaders say they have obtained confessions from top
reformist officials that they plotted to bring down the government with
a "velvet" revolution. Such confessions, almost always extracted under
duress, are part of an effort to recast the civil unrest set off by
Iran's disputed presidential election as a conspiracy orchestrated by
foreign nations, human rights groups say. . . .

government has made it a practice to publicize confessions from
political prisoners held without charge or legal representation, often
subjected to pressure tactics like sleep deprivation, solitary
confinement and torture, according to human rights groups and former political prisoners. . . .

2001, Ali Afshari was arrested for his work as a student leader. He
said he was held in solitary confinement for 335 days and resisted
confessing for the first two months. But after two mock executions and
a five-day stretch where his interrogators would not let him sleep, he
said he eventually caved in.

"They tortured me,
some beatings, sleep deprivation, insults, psychological torture,
standing me for several hours in front of a wall, keeping me in
solitary confinement for one year," Mr. Afshari said in an interview
from his home in Washington. "They eventually broke my resistance."

every tactic which the article describes the Iranians as using has been
used by the U.S. during the War on Terror, while several tactics
authorized by Bush officials (waterboarding, placing detainees in
coffin-like boxes, hypothermia) aren't among those the article claims
are used by the Iranians. Nonetheless, "torture" appears to be a
perfectly fine term for TheNew York Times to use to
describe what the Iranians do, but one that is explicitly banned to
describe what the U.S. did. Despite its claimed policy, the NYT has also recently demonstrated its eagerness to use the word "torture" to describe these same tactics . . . when used by the Chinese against an American detainee.

Notably, the NYT
article today seems to take particular offense that the Iranian
Government is putting people on trial using confessions they obtained
via torture ("the government planned to put on trial several Iranian
employees of the British Embassy -- after confessions were extracted").
Just two days ago, The Washington Postreported:

American Civil Liberties Union yesterday accused the Obama
administration of using statements elicited through torture to justify
the confinement of a detainee it represents at the U.S. military prison
in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The ACLU is asking a federal judge to throw out those statements and others made by Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan who may have been as young as 12 when he was captured. His attorney argued that Jawad was abused in U.S. custody, threatened and subjected to intense sleep deprivation.

government's continued reliance on evidence gained by torture and other
abuse violates centuries of U.S. law and suggests the current
administration is not really serious about breaking with the past,"
said ACLU lawyer Jonathan Hafetz, who is representing Jawad in a
lawsuit challenging his detention."The government's continued reliance
on evidence gained by torture and other abuse violates centuries of
U.S. law and suggests the current administration is not really serious
about breaking with the past," said ACLU lawyer Jonathan Hafetz, who is
representing Jawad in a lawsuit challenging his detention.

Just read the details of what we did to this adolescent to marvel at what the NYT (and, of course, NPR)
refuse to call "torture" when done by us. Though the human rights
abuses of the Iranian Government are well-documented and severe,
there's also no mention in the NYT article of these
interrogation tactics being applied by Iran to teenagers (such as
Jawad) or resulting in numerous detainee deaths (as happened during the Bush era).

During the presidential campaign, Rudy Giuliani was widely ridiculed for arguing that whether these tactics are "torture" depends, at least in part, on who
uses them (it's torture if They do it, but not when We do it). But he
could take that definitive moral relativism to any leading American
newspaper, become an Editor, and fit right in, since that's exactly the
editorial policy of our leading media outlets. What's most striking
about all this media behavior is that people around the world --
outside of the U.S. -- aren't fooled by these sorts of blatant double
standards, whereby the U.S. even claims the power to change the meaning
of words based on whether it or another country is doing something.
The target of this government and media behavior is purely domestic.

not particularly unusual for a government to permit itself to do
something that it prohibits others from doing. The U.S. is hardly the
only country that does that. But when that country's media
collectively abets that government effort by molding its language to
reflect that exceptionalism, it elevates the propaganda to a much
different level. When I documented the American media's obsession
with journalists detained by other countries and its virtually complete
blackout of much, much longer (and often more oppressive) detentions of
foreign journalists by the U.S., that was the central point I tried to

Pointing to other governments and
highlighting their oppressive behavior can be cathartic, fun and
gratifying in a self-justifying sort of way. Ask Fred Hiatt; it's
virtually all he ever does. But the first duty of the American media
-- like the first duty of American citizens -- is to oppose oppressive
behavior by our own government. That's not as fun or as easy, but it
is far more important. Moreover, obsessively complaining about the
rights-abridging behavior of other countries while ignoring the same
behavior from our own government is worse than a mere failure of duty.
It is propagandistic and deceitful, as it paints a misleading picture
that it is other governments -- but not our own -- which engage in such

Since the American Government has acted
-- and continues to act -- overtly to protect and shield those who
engaged in this conduct, will it condemn Iran for torturing detainees?
As for The New York Times, at this point, they don't even
seem interested in pretending that they make these editorial judgments
independently or with a pretense of objectivity. They're perfectly
happy to have you know that when the U.S. Government does X, it is
called one thing, but when foreign governments do X, it is called
something else entirely.

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