President Obama came out and bluntly said that the United States tortured people after 9/11, a rare moment of honesty from the government. Unfortunately, most media outlets continue to refuse to call it torture, relying on euphemisms and weak language instead.
Even President Obama’s blunt declaration on Friday that the United States “tortured some folks” in the years after the 9/11 attacks was not enough to get many of the country’s top media outlets to abandon their practice of euphemistically referring to torture as something else…
By now, the story of the media’s hesitancy around the term “torture”—at least when it applies to American actions—is well-known. So is the fact that elite outlets began finding new terms to describe practices they once labeled torture right around the time that the Bush administration began insisting that it wasn’t torturing anyone. That shift is still firmly in place.
Many of the press reports about Obama’s comments avoided using the term when they weren’t quoting him directly. The New York Times referred to “brutal interrogation” and “the conduct of some in the intelligence community.” The Los Angeles Times wrote that Obama had “acknowledged the CIA’s use of brutal interrogation tactics” and also, in something of an understatement, mentioned “sometimes-grisly tactics.” USA Today used the phrases “enhanced interrogation techniques” and “disputed interrogation techniques.”
It’s torture, for crying out loud. If we’d call it torture if it was done to Americans, it’s torture when we do it to others. And by the definition found in the UN Convention Against Torture, it can’t possibly be anything else. Of course, Obama’s statement does prompt the obvious the question: Then why haven’t you prosecuted anyone for it, as the Convention requires? And why have you pressured other countries not to prosecute, as they have authority to do under the Convention?