New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane takes on the paper’s queasiness about referring to waterboarding as torture in its news pages — and comes down firmly on the side of clarity. He writes:

The Times should use the term “torture” more directly, using it on first reference when the discussion is about — and there’s no other word for it — torture. The debate was never whether Bin Laden was found because of brutal interrogations: it was whether he was found because of torture. More narrowly, the word is appropriate when describing techniques traditionally considered torture, waterboarding being the obvious example. Reasonable fairness can be achieved by adding caveats that acknowledge the Bush camp’s view of its narrow legal definition.

Since Brisbane reports that the Times’ institutional reluctance to be forthright stems from not wanting to take sides, I wish he had stated more clearly that refusing to use the “T”-word is also an exercise in taking sides — perhaps more so, since it also involves implicitly accepting the Bush administration’s claim that waterboarding isn’t torture, a claim directly contradicted by history and international law.

Still, Brisbane takes a strong stand in favor of truth, and that’s no small thing when it comes to this highly charged topic.

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