Yesterday, Tuesday April 10, I saw an article by Mr. Joseph Kahn at the New York Times on China's mistreatment of one of its intellectuals. If you read the Times, you've read the same article about a hundred times before. They love writing articles about evil foreign regimes while luxuriating in the pink bubble bath background assumption that "we" aren't anything like that. And thus Kahn was more than willing, when referring to China's treatment of its reformist intellectuals, to use a word that has become, recently, "contested": torture. Earlier this year, in January, I contacted another Times reporter, Mr. Scott Shane, who was unwilling to use the 'T' word in an unqualified way concerning our treatment of detainees at Guantanomo. The contrast between these two uses of the word 'torture' is what prompted me to contact both authors.
Scott Shane is the author of the January 18, 2007 article mentioned below, which is behind a TimesSelect firewall, titled "NEWS ANALYSIS; White House Retreats Under Pressure"
Hello Mr. Shane. I had to send a note to your colleague Joseph Kahn about this whole issue of torture, and your name came up. I thought I should send you the note as well. The note below refers to today's article by Mr. Kahn, found here, titled "China Dissident Says Confession Was Forced." Best wishes, Swifty
But surely you can't trust people who have been tortured to tell the truth. I mean look at Guantanomo! I am sure that today American citizens and policy makers feel a lot more sympathy for the Chinese government given our experience lately. Yesterday, for instance, your colleague Tim Golden reported in the NYT concerning Guantanomo that "the current hunger strike — in which 12 of the 13 detainees were being force-fed as of Friday — seems almost symbolic." See how your perspective on these things changes when you are the one doing the torturing? You start to notice that people who are being tortured and abused (by you) are such whiners. Commander Robert Durand called the Guantanomo prisoner complaints "propaganda" and I'm sure the Chinese government feels the same way about Mr. Gao. In your piece, you write: "[Mr. Gao] said his captors had forced him to sit motionless in an iron chair for extended sessions that totaled hundreds of hours, surrounded him with bright lights and used other torture techniques aimed at breaking his will." But those aren't really "torture" techniques, are they? I had an e-mail exchange with another colleague of yours a while back, a Mr. Scott Shane on the topic of torture and Guantanomo. I wrote to him on January 19, 2007 concerning an article he authored, as follows:
Mr. Shane, you write: "Some of those C.I.A. prisoners were interrogated using techniques far harsher than anything approved in earlier wars, including waterboarding, a simulated drowning that many human rights advocates believe crossed the line into torture."
Torture, our dictionary tells us, is the "infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion." So it's not just "many human rights advocates" who think waterboarding is torture. You, Scott Shane, and any other reasonable person who reflects for a moment about this procedure knows immediately and naturally that it is torture. You wrongly slander yourself and all others who are not openly engaged as human rights advocates by leaving the honor of opposing this obvious method of torture soley to 'advocates,' who, it is implied, are merely an interest group of some kind with its own, debatable notion of what torture is. There is no reasonable debate possible on the question of whether or not waterboarding is torture. Don't you agree? Thanks very much for the opportunity to comment.
Mr. Shane was kind enough to write back to me:
Swifty, Thanks for the thoughtful note. I certainly see your point. But the fact is that 1) there's no clear and certain information on how waterboarding was conducted, and 2) the Bush administration argues that everything it's done, including waterboarding, was not torture. So as a reporter I can't take sides. regards Scott Shane
Perhaps you feel a bit embarassed now, Mr. Kahn, using the word "torture" so loosely and irresponsibly, without having checked with the Chinese government concerning their view. All that long sitting in an iron chair -- is it really torture? Do you really have "clear and certain information" about how all this supposed mistreatment was conducted? And if the Chinese government says "no, that's not torture," then how can you, a reporter, take sides? Where, sir, are your journalistic ethics?