Waterboarding was torture–until Bush and Cheney said it wasn’t

I don’t often blog about things that might seem political, because there are many others who do. Occasionally, however, items come to my attention that demand a theological response. This is one of them. The US’s resort to torture in the wake of 9/11 is outrageous. Of course, the Bush Administration claimed that waterboarding wasn’t torture, and in the wake of that claim the Mainstream Media quit using the word torture. Now a Harvard study backs up what had been anecdotal evidence. The salient quote (from Andrew Sullivan):

Examining the four newspapers with the highest daily circulation in the country, we found a significant and sudden shift in how newspapers characterized waterboarding. From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27).

By contrast, from 2002‐2008, the studied newspapers almost never referred to waterboarding as torture. The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63). The Wall Street Journal characterized the practice as torture in just 1 of 63 articles (1.6%). USA Today never called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture.

A spokesperson for the  New York Times responded with the following statement:

“As the debate over interrogation of terror suspects grew post-9/11, defenders of the practice (including senior officials of the Bush administration) insisted that it did not constitute torture. When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves. Thus we describe the practice vividly, and we point out that it is denounced by international covenants and in American tradition as a form of torture.”

The Times spokesman added that outside of the news pages, editorials and columnists “regard waterboarding as torture and believe that it fits all of the moral and legal definitions of torture.” He continued: “So that’s what we call it, which is appropriate for the opinion pages.”

White is white, except when it’s black.

And torture should matter to every Christian for two reasons. First, because our faith is dependent on the act of torture; crucifixion is nothing more than execution by torture, and as I’ve said before, one of the first things Constantine did after legalizing Christianity was to outlaw crucifixion as means of capital punishment. The second reason is because of all of the torture done over the centuries against Christians and in the name of Christianity. It took a very long time, nearly two millennia, for Christians to learn that faith could not be coerced, and that confessions gained under torture were of no use. One of the most chilling moments I ever had as a teacher was in my last semester at Furman. As we were discussing court records of witchcraft interrogations and the outlandish confessions extracted by means of torture, one of the students asked, “Why would anyone use torture?” Why indeed?

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