The Gray Lady's new Executive Editor Dean Baquet has made a major semantic decision that puts the newspaper in compliance with what all Americans know: What the CIA did to "some folks" following Sept. 11 is "torture." And after more than a decade of avoiding the term, they will begin using "torture" to describe certain techniques America has used during the interrogation of prisoners.
When the first revelations emerged a decade ago, the situation was murky. The details about what the Central Intelligence Agency did in its interrogation rooms were vague. The word "torture" had a specialized legal meaning as well as a plain-English one. While the methods set off a national debate, the Justice Department insisted that the techniques did not rise to the legal definition of "torture." The Times described what we knew of the program but avoided a label that was still in dispute, instead using terms like harsh or brutal interrogation methods.
But as we have covered the recent fight over the Senate report on the C.I.A.'s interrogation program – which is expected to be the most definitive accounting of the program to date – reporters and editors have revisited the issue. Over time, the landscape has shifted. Far more is now understood, such as that the C.I.A. inflicted the suffocation technique called waterboarding 183 times on a single detainee and that other techniques, such as locking a prisoner in a claustrophobic box, prolonged sleep deprivation and shackling people's bodies into painful positions, were routinely employed in an effort to break their wills to resist interrogation.
The paper has concluded that nobody is going to be punished for the way prisoners were treated, which is horrible, but it is what it is. In that sense, the legal definition of "torture" no longer matters because nobody at the CIA is facing a trial or jail time for what they've done. Instead, the debate is over whether torture actually worked. Also, the president just said we tortured people (though that admission is absent from Baquet's commentary).
In conclusion, at the urging of reporters, The New York Times will now use the word "torture" to describe any incident where they "know for sure that interrogators inflicted pain on a prisoner in an effort to get information."