by Andrew Sullivan
Here we have it in broad daylight: the New York Times' cowardice in the face of its own government. In an obit today, the editors manage to use the word "torture". It's in an obit. The obit runs:
Col. Harold E. Fischer Jr., an American fighter pilot who was routinely tortured in a Chinese prison during and after the Korean War, becoming — along with three other American airmen held at the same prison — a symbol and victim of cold war tension, died in Las Vegas on April 30. He was 83 and lived in Las Vegas. The cause was complications of back surgery, his son Kurt said.
From April 1953 through May 1955, Colonel Fischer — then an Air Force captain — was held at a prison outside Mukden, Manchuria. For most of that time, he was kept in a dark, damp cell with no bed and no opening except a slot in the door through which a bowl of food could be pushed. Much of the time he was handcuffed. Hour after hour, a high-frequency whistle pierced the air.
After a short mock trial in Beijing on May 24, 1955, Captain Fischer and the other pilots — Lt. Col. Edwin L. Heller, First Lt. Lyle W. Cameron and First Lt. Roland W. Parks — were found guilty of violating Chinese territory by flying across the border while on missions over North Korea. Under duress, Captain Fischer had falsely confessed to participating in germ warfare.
You will notice how the NYT defines torture when it comes to foreign governments - isolation, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation. Much milder than anything the US did to one of its own citizens, Jose Padilla. But the parallel is almost perfect: these are, after all, the exact Chinese Communist techniques that were reverse engineered from the SERE program. So you have a perfect demonstration of the NYT's double-standard. If Chinese do it to Americans, it's torture; if Americans do it to an American, it's "harsh interrogation." Does Jill Abramson really expect us to take this lying down?
You will also notice the quality of the intelligence procured through methods milder than the Bush administration's:
“He wanted me to admit that I had been ordered to cross the Manchurian border,” Captain Fischer told Life magazine. “I was grilled day and night, over and over, week in and week out, and in the end, to get Chong and his gang off my back, I confessed to both charges. The charges, of course, were ridiculous. I never participated in germ warfare and neither did anyone else. I was never ordered to cross the Yalu. We had strict Air Force orders not to cross the border.”
“I will regret what I did in that cell the rest of my life,” the captain continued. “But let me say this: it was not really me — not Harold E. Fischer Jr. — who signed that paper. It was a mentality reduced to putty.”
Dick Cheney believes that a "mentality reduced to putty" is the best source of reliable intelligence; that methods designed to give you false confessions should be the basis for national security assessments.
The NYT's incoherence and double standards, equally, are self-evident. But I would like to know if Bill Keller will remove the t-word from this obit and replace it with "harsh interrogations" as he does when referring to the US government's use of identical techniques. If not, why not? Remember: these people won't even use the word torture to describe a technique displayed in the Cambodian museum of torture to commemmorate the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge - as long as Americans do the torturing.
I mean: the NYT isn't just a vehicle for US propaganda, is it? It's a newspaper, right? It has standards that it maintains across its copy. Right?