The announcement that the New York Times will now refer to Bush Administration torture by its proper name is welcome news, tempered only by Executive Editor Dean Baquet's unfortunate attempt to rationalize the old policy. "When the first revelations emerged a decade ago, the situation was murky," he wrote. "The details about what the CIA 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.'"
But every torturing government insists that its interrogations are not, in fact, illegal torture. To survey powerful actors with clear conflicts of interest and then defer to their characterizations betrays a newspaper's charge: to determine the truth and state it plainly for the public. The Times failed to do that on torture long after the CIA's interrogation techniques ceased to be murky. "Over time, the landscape has shifted," Baquet wrote. "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."