Sunday, May 03, 2009

Post reporter gives us a view from inside his bubble

Asked in an online chat why the Washington Post calls Bush-era practices "harsh interrogation" rather than torture, reporter Paul Kane replied, in part:

KANE: You can’t call someone a convicted murderer until he/she has actually been convicted. Understand? Get it? The reason we say “alleged” murder and things like that is for our own legal protection. So we can’t be sued for libel.

No, Paul; you don't understand, and you don't get it. The reason we say "alleged" isn't to prevent libel; it's to be fair and honest.

If you see a person shoot and kill somebody else, you should say he killed him. It might be up to a jury to decide whether it's legally murder, but there's no question he's a killer.

And once we learn from official records of hundreds of waterboarding sessions with the same suspects, of boxing people up with insects, and other extreme actions, that's torture, by any fair and honest definition.

Props to the Post for hosting the chat, and to Kane for participating. But honestly, Paul: come out of that newsroom bubble and have a look around.


  1. @Howard,

    I agree with on this.

    I would respect a defense of, "it wasn't torture" or "it wasn't defined as torture at the time," a lot more than "they haven't been convicted of torture."

    No one is going to convict the previous administration of torture, but we know exactly what they did and didn't do. There is no denying that. So either Paul and the Post feel what happened was torture or it wasn't.

    So, which is it?

    And who is going to sue the Post for saying that waterboarding and some of the other things that happened (and were) documented were torture? The government?

    Under many definitions in the world, they are considered torture. It's at best legally nebulous in the U.S. But there is no way Paul or the Post would be legally liable for substituting torture for "harsh interrogations."

  2. Anonymous10:18 AM

    I can agree that Kane's explanation was pretty lame. It's an ongoing problem with online chat that some of this stuff doesn't get particularly well thought out.
    But it would make me somewhat nervous to advocate that reporters should be the arbiters of what constitutes torture.
    The clearest legal definition of what torture is is the UN Convention on Torture, which is about as clear as mud.
    A wise editor once told me "report what you know, not what you think."
    There is no doubt there were interrogations, no doubt they were harsh.
    But there is an ongoing dispute over whether the acts constituted torture or not.
    Calling it torture clearly chooses a side in that debate.
    Any decently written story will define the practices that are in question anyway, and I think the readers can decide for themselves if it's torture or not.