On Tuesday, in its page 2 “Corrections: For the Record” section, the New York Times corrected the misstated given name of a state trooper and the misstated year in which Nikolay Davydenko reached the French Open semifinals, as well as an Internet address for a canoe trail, but led with this correction:
“A front-page article on Thursday about an announcement by President Bush that 14 high-profile terror suspects had been transferred from secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency to the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, incompletely described the interrogation technique of waterboarding, which intelligence officials say was used on one suspect. The technique involves strapping a prisoner to a board with his feet elevated above his head and placing a wet cloth down his throat or over his nose and mouth to create the sensation of drowning.”
The original passage in the article by Kate Zernike and Neil A. Lewis read: “In addition, the [new Pentagon] manual bans a technique known as waterboarding, in which a prisoner is strapped to a board and made to feel as if he is drowning.”
No doubt this correction makes the “technique” clearer, though it would be interesting to know what sort of complaint by whom spurred it into existence. The article itself — and in this it follows the general rule of thumb of the mainstream media — refers to such “techniques” as “abuse” or “abusive practices” but not usually as “torture.” This, it seems to me, is a media “technique” that just might be worth correcting.
Torture is regularly named as such only when the President denies that we do it or that he ordered it, as he did recently in his absurd Guantanamo prisoner-transfer news conference.
Another little “correction” might be in order as well — this time to the correction. In that phrase, “which intelligence officials say was used on one suspect,” the Times does seem to imply that waterboarding was a one-time deal for this administration, no more than a dipped toe in the water. They are surely referring to the waterboarding of al-Qaeda operative Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, which the Times itself revealed in a 2004 piece. But what about Abu Zubaydah? About two minutes searching Ron Suskind’s new book, The One Percent Doctrine — and his intelligence sources are at least as good as the Times’ — brings you to this sentence on p. 115: “According to CIA sources, [Zubaydah] was water-boarded, a technique in which a captive’s face is covered with a towel as water is poured atop.”
And if you really believe that this technique, approved by Alberto Gonzalez (when he was still White House Counsel), David Addington (of the Vice President’s office), and John Yoo, who drafted the infamous 2002″torture memo,” was only applied to two men in the President’s Global War on Terror, then, boy, do I have a large bridge in New York I’d like to sell you.
Back in Medieval times, before the defining of things had become quite so complicated in the civilized world, waterboarding went by another name: “The Water Torture.” But then they were brutes. What did they know?