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WHAT'S THE WORD

How news organizations are handling the word “torture” in their CIA torture stories

In this photo, reviewed by a U.S. Department of Defense official, a Guantanamo detainee's feet are shackled to the floor as he attends a "Life Skills" class inside the Camp 6 high-security detention facility at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base April 27, 2010. REUTERS/Michelle Shephard/Pool (CUBA - Tags: MILITARY POLITICS IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR2D788
Reuters/Michelle Shephard
Were prisoners tortured? And if so, why call it otherwise?
By Zach Wener-Fligner
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

This article has been corrected.

Torture is a term that should not be used lightly. It is a crime under international law and illegal in the United States. Journalists know this. In August, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet penned an editorial in which he wrote that The Times would use “torture” to describe incidents where “interrogators inflicted pain on a prisoner in an effort to get information.”

Yesterday, after the release of the Senate report on CIA interrogation practices of terror suspects after September 11—practices which included “rectal feeding,” physical abuse such as slamming detainees against walls, and “near drownings”—many news organizations faced the dilemma of what to call the acts.

Some settled on the word “torture.” Others demurred.

Below is a list of the news organizations that did or did not label the CIA interrogation techniques “torture” in the headlines of their biggest stories on the subject.

This list doesn’t include articles in the opinion section or headlines that used “torture” in quotation marks. For some outlets, it was obvious which story led their coverage, such as The Washington Post’s “Senate report on CIA program details brutality, dishonesty.”  For others, it was less clear, so we used our best judgment.

Outlets varied considerably in the degree to which they sidestepped using the word. The Post and NPR, for example, very deliberately do not take a position on whether or not they consider the practice to be torture, but did quote other people calling it that. In contrast, the BBC, which did not include “torture” in its headline, refers in its story to “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, or torture by any other name.” Many of the outlets used the word “torture” in secondary stories.

The New York Times
The Senate Report on the CIA’s Torture and Lies
yes
The Guardian
Senate report on CIA torture claims spy agency lied about ‘ineffective’ program
yes
CNN
Senate report: CIA misled public on torture
yes
Fox News
CIA, Senate contrast claims of effectiveness of torture of al-Qaida detainees
yes
Reuters
CIA tortured, misled, US report finds, drawing calls for action
yes
Buzzfeed
Senate Democrats Release Scathing CIA Torture Report
yes
The Economist
American Intelligence and Torture
yes
The New Yorker
Taking Responsibility for Torture
yes
The Atlantic
CIA Torture: ‘A Stain on Our Values and History’
yes
Vox
How the CIA misled the public on its torture program, in one chart
yes
WSJ
Senate Report Calls CIA Interrogation Tactics Ineffective
no
Washington Post
Senate report on CIA program details brutality, dishonesty
no
BBC
Report on CIA details ‘brutal’ post-9/11 interrogations
no
NPR
Report Says CIA Misled Congress, White House On Interrogation Program
no
Bloomberg
CIA Misled Bush, Congress on Interrogation Tactics, Report Finds
no
CBS
Senate report: CIA misled lawmakers, public on enhanced interrogation
no

Correction: An earlier version of this article was incorrectly headlined, Here are the news organizations that don’t call torture “torture.” It and the story text have been changed to reflect the fact that some of the news organizations mentioned do use the word ‘torture,’ albeit in varying ways.

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