Priest: The Post Doesn’t Call Waterboarding ‘Torture’ Because ‘The Bush Administration Would Dispute That’

Last week, Washington Post reporter Paul Kane was asked in an online chat why his newspaper calls the Bush administration’s terror detainee questioning methods “harsh interrogation” instead of “torture.” “Aren’t you guys continuing to catapult Bush-era propaganda when you use such NewSpeak euphemisms for what we all (finally) know was clearly torture?” the questioner asked. Not so, Kane went on to explain:

KANE: You can’t call someone a convicted murderer until he/she has actually been convicted. Understand? Get it? The reason we say “alleged” murder and things like that is for our own legal protection. So we can’t be sued for libel.

Yesterday, during a chat with the Post’s Dana Priest, a questioner revisited the issue, specifically asking why the paper doesn’t call waterboarding “torture.” This time however, the questioner received a different (and somewhat shocking) answer. According to Priest, the Post doesn’t call waterboarding “torture” because the Bush administration doesn’t:

Q: If they are going to follow the analogy on reporting other criminal issues, why wouldn’t reporters use the term “alleged torture” or “accused of torture”? Waterboarding is torture, no one disputes it. To substitute “harsh interrogation techniques’ with regard to waterboarding is like saying “manslaughter” when the charge is “murder.”

PRIEST: Not true. The Bush administration would dispute that waterboarding is torture. That’s what the memos are all about. Torture is a crime. There is not a lot of case history to define torture.

Let’s be clear, as the questioner noted, waterboarding is torture and torture is a crime under U.S. law (as Priest acknowledged). Prominent Republicans and Democrats — from Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder — all agree. In fact, the United States “convicted several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war” after World War II.


The Bush administration (even President Bush himself) admitted that it had authorized waterboarding on three terror suspect detainees, and the Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel memos released earlier this month confirm it.

Note to The Washington Post: The reason many former Bush administration officials who were involved in authorizing waterboarding don’t call it “torture” is because they would be admitting to a crime punishable with long prison sentences. Presumably, they make this argument because the do not want to go to jail.

As Media Matters’ Jamison Foser noted of Kane’s “libel” arguement, “So who does the Post think is going to sue them for libel if they refer to torture as ‘torture’? It doesn’t seem like there is a long line of people who participated in harsh interrogations torture who are eager to litigate their conduct, but maybe I’m wrong.”