MEDIA
08/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Washington Post Uses The Word 'Torture' On Front Page

I received something of a shock whilst riding into the office on the subway this morning: There, on the front page of the Washington Post, above the fold, bold as love, sat the word, "TORTURE." What was going on? I thought Dan Froomkin worked for us now!

As it turns out, there was a perfectly reasonable explanation. The story, by Steve Fainaru and William Booth is titled, "Mexico Accused of Torture in Drug War." Get it? MEXICO. The article goes on to describe accusations that have been hurled at the Mexican army as they pursue drug traffickers and the "cartels that continue to terrorize much of the country."

In Puerto Las Ollas, a mountain village of 50 people in the southern state of Guerrero, residents recounted how soldiers seeking information last month stuck needles under the fingernails of a disabled 37-year-old farmer, jabbed a knife into the back of his 13-year-old nephew, fired on a pastor, and stole food, milk, clothing and medication.

In Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, two dozen policemen who were arrested on drug charges in March alleged that, to extract confessions, soldiers beat them, held plastic bags over their heads until some lost consciousness, strapped their feet to a ceiling while dunking their heads in water and applied electric shocks, according to court documents, letters and interviews with their relatives and defense lawyers.

Obviously, there are questions:

1. These cartels are clearly defined as agents who "terrorize," and who are clearly causing a national security crisis in Mexico, and, by extension, the United States. And yet, the article seems to be slanted in such a way that it makes the Mexican authorities look like "the bad guys." What gives?

2. Despite the fact that the United States has clearly set a global precedent that allows authorities to take broad and often unsavory measures in legitimate pursuit of national security, and that this precedent has given rise to the term "enhanced interrogation techniques" to describe the actions taken in these cases, there is no mention of "enhanced interrogation techniques" anywhere in the article. There is a mention of "harsh measures," but it hardly balances out the 12 uses of the word "torture."

3. Among the accusers are "human rights groups." However, nowhere in the article are these groups properly identified as being from "the left" or "leftist." Without this identification, it's difficult for the reader to appreciate how much a part of the political fringe the opponents of torture are, something that comes standard issue in torture discussions about the United States.

It's very hard to fathom what happened to the journalism in this article. But if I had to hazard a guess, I imagine that the word "torture" was used because, unlike the Americans who invented or supported or deployed "enhanced interrogation techniques," there was very little chance that any of these Mexicans were ever going to find themselves in the awkward position of having to ask, "Why, Ms. Weymouth, this Malbec is delicious, what year is it?"

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