Readers See Tortuous Logic In Avoiding "Torture"
For many, The Post's logic on use of the word “torture” is, well, tortuous. Rarely a day passes without readers e-mailing to demand that the paper stop using terms like “enhanced interrogation techniques” to describe what they believe was outright “torture” of terror detainees.
Here’s the latest, from Paul in St. Louis, who wrote about Bush administration authorizations allowing prisoners to be subjected to waterboarding, or simulated drowning:
“This is a crime under both federal and international law. Crimes should be called what they are. You would not call embezzlement ‘Unauthorized Personalization of Assets,’ would you? Nor would you call burglary ‘Forced Garage Sale.' Then why do you fail to call a crime like torture what it truly is?"
The Post has frequently used the word “torture” on its editorial pages, which are devoted to opinions. But on its news pages, the paper applies a different standard.
Here’s an explanation I received last month from national intelligence reporter Joby Warrick in response to a similar query from a reader:
“Torture is a word that has strict legal connotations under both U.S. and international law. Unless a person is found to have committed acts of torture by a court of law, we cannot make the accusation in print. For the same reason, we do not call people murderers or rapists in print until they are convicted, even when the evidence of guilt seems clear. For us to unilaterally make such a judgment would not only violate journalistic principles but would severely damage our credibility as impartial observers. We report facts as clearly as we can, and leave it to readers and judges to decide whether the actions constituted a crime.”
In an online chat last month, Post national political reporter Paul Kane underscored the point. “You can't call someone a convicted murderer until he/she has actually been convicted."
Thus, news stories in the Post often refer to “alleged torture,” but do not state it as fact.
The New York Times has applied a similar standard on its news pages, as described recently in a column by its public editor.
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