The Slatest

New York Times Will Now Use the Word “Torture” to Describe U.S. Torture of Prisoners

New York Times headquarters.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

The New York Times announced on Thursday an editorial change in how America’s paper of record will describe the country’s interrogation techniques used on terror suspects—the Times will now call it torture. The decision to dump the newsroom’s dependence on descriptors like “harsh or brutal interrogation methods” came via a memo from the paper’s new executive editor Dean Baquet. Here’s what he had to say about how the Times arrived at the decision:

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.

[Today] the debate is focused less on whether the methods violated a statute or treaty provision and more on whether they worked – that is, whether they generated useful information that the government could not otherwise have obtained from prisoners. In that context, the disputed legal meaning of the word “torture” is secondary to the common meaning: the intentional infliction of pain to make someone talk. Given those changes, reporters urged that The Times recalibrate its language. I agreed. So from now on, The Times will use the word “torture” to describe incidents in which we know for sure that interrogators inflicted pain on a prisoner in an effort to get information.