The New York Times Torture Euphemism Generator!

Reading the NYT's stories about the Iraq War logs, I was struck by how it could get through such gruesome descriptions — fingers chopped off, chemicals splashed on prisoners — without using the word 'torture.' For some reason the word is unavailable when it is literally meaningful, yet is readily tossed around for laughs in contexts where it means nothing at all. It turns out the NYT has a reputation for studiously avoiding the word, to the point of using bizarre bureaucratic alternatives.

It must be awfully hard work inventing these things. So I thought I'd help out by putting together a torture euphemism generator that the New York Times' reporters can use to help avoid the T-word in their thumb removal and acid bath coverage.

Click the "new headline" link to get a new one!


  1. When I was a kid, I remember people speaking highly of the NYT. When I went to college, it was the first paper I would read (online). Then it felt like the quality started slipping. Then one of the numerous attempts at gating off the website finally got me to leave a few years ago. Articles like this remind me they still exist. Such a sad loss.

  2. Most of that’s not torture. Torture is the deliberate, systematic, or wanton infliction of physical or mental suffering by one or more persons in an attempt to force another person to yield information or to make a confession.

    This was just abuse. And more detailed. If you read an article about murder, it’s likely not to use the word murder, either. (So-and-so murdered so-and-so makes for a boring article.)

      1. Because it was likely one would misinterpret “reason,” to mean “cause” instead of a rationalization or justification for action.

          1. That’s funny. When I compare the definition you provided with the source from which it was taken, I noticed a change. It’s possible, I suppose, that you did not make that change. Perhaps it was your cat. Or maybe the bleeding-heart conspiracy. Maybe it was a rampant gang of pedants, out to twist your words. If you could you describe the gang of pedants that made the change so that you didn’t have to, we’ll be happy to break their fingers for reasons completely unrelated to gathering confessions.

    1. I love how you torture the definition of torture just so that “your team” can’t be accused of bias.

      Here is how merriam-webster defines torture:

      1 a : anguish of body or mind : agony
      b : something that causes agony or pain

      2 : the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure

      3 : distortion or overrefinement of a meaning or an argument : straining

      1. I don’t have a “team” that wins by anything here. I didn’t say their behavior was excusable or acceptable. Nor would I say that. (In fact, what I said is that they did much worse: abusive treatment without rational justification, but for their own amusement.)

        1. Good grief! Rnoyfb, which part of IRRESPECTIVE OF THE MOTIVATION it is still torture, don’t you get?

          Since when did motivation or rational justification have ANYTHING to do with whether or not it is torture?

          I rather suspect that in most people a lack of rational justification is a key part of the definition. There is NO rational justification, ever. Torture does not work if information is your objective. If you are a sick fuck seeking some perverted pleasure then I guess that makes it “rational” to undertake it.

          Which are you?

          1. «Torture does not work if information is your objective.»

            Really? Can you cite any empirical studies with scientific controls? Because I can’t. And I’ve looked. Torture is wrong, because it is fundamentally wrong, not out of consideration of possible benefits. I’ve heard blowhards on the media and politicians say that it doesn’t work, without citing any research, but politicians (like George W. Bush and Barack Obama) still allow and require it.

            I did not say it’s excusable behavior, and I said it’s even worse because they don’t even anticipate any good will come of it.

            Because others have attacked me in the comments above making ignorant and false assumptions, let me make this clear: Whatever you call this behavior, I am not justifying it, excusing it, calling it necessary, or any other nonsense. Ending similar Ba’athist behavior of this type was one of the ONLY good things that came out of the Iraq War and I do not like, favor, or support its resurgence there.

          2. That’s a comment that provides nothing to support “torture doesn’t work” other than

            To the meat of the matter.

            Torture doesn’t work. Since it doesn’t work, waterboarding (even so few as three people) hasn’t produced any actionable intel. Full stop.

            If you’re going to make an empirical claim, cite a scientific study, not a comment that someone makes online based on received instruction and, maybe, anecdotal evidence.

            If there were experimental test data indicating that torture did work, would you then change your position? (I would not; it’s morally wrong. But that doesn’t mean I have to accept a completely unscientific claim that something doesn’t work.)

          3. If you’re going to make an empirical claim, cite a scientific study, not a comment that someone makes online based on received instruction and, maybe, anecdotal evidence.

            Dude, I just gave you the word of someone who makes his living as a professional military interrogator and teacher of interrogation techniques and you dismiss it. Google him if you want his credentials. You’ve made it utterly clear that your only interest is in semantic masturbation.

          4. I did Google him; the first several pages were his profiles on various websites he comments on. If he has operated outside of his training and career field, he may have anecdotal evidence, but even then not much. A 97E3 (E-6 or staff sergeant interrogator) in the U.S. Army may have as little as four years experience, including eighteen months or more of training, depending on language specialty, and no scientific training to conduct empirical analysis.

            The reports of U.S. forces torturing detainees have all been about the C.I.A. and intelligence contractors.

            Field manuals for 97E’s state that torture does not work, again with no empirical validation. So yes, his knowledge that it does not work is anecdotal and nonscientific. That’s like going to a remote Inuit village in Alaska and demanding a comprehensive theory on climate change. It’s only remotely related to their experience and they lack the scientific education.

            Don’t torture because it’s wrong. Period. Making an empirical claim to justify it, without evidence, may bite you in the ass when the C.I.A. or some other agency does an empirical study in the future.

          5. I think I get the idea. We can’t say torture does or doesn’t work until we do an actual experiment; we can’t do an experiment because it would be too immoral to hurt people for research; we can’t disallow torturing people because it might work. It’s very clever, like a Catch-33.

          6. No one needs to perform an “experiment” to know that torture degrades and destroys human dignity.
            Both of the tortured, and of the torturer.

            Torture is morally wrong: who needs or requires a “demonstration”, or “empirical evidence”, of that fact?

          7. > Because others have attacked me in the comments above

            Are you still talking? You selectively quoted a definition to further your inane point AND YOU GOT BUSTED FOR IT. Let it go, you lost, and you lost brutally.

    2. So it’s meaningless abuse? That sounds a of a lot worse than torture to me, that sounds like f@&king HELL. At least the point of torture is to gain information, if this was just senseless beatings it is much, much worse.

    3. moyfb, you have just tortured the very word torture by removing its full meaning. Torture is also used out of sheer cruelty – and that seems to be what a lot of this is about. The whole article is about the misuse of words!


      1.the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty.

      2.a method of inflicting such pain.

      3.Often, tortures. the pain or suffering caused or undergone.

      4.extreme anguish of body or mind; agony.

  3. Yes, the “liberally biased” New York Times can’t bring itself to use the word “torture” even when it is so obviously appropriate, but Fox News has no problem calling Obama a socialist and inventing phrases like “victory mosque”. . . not only are American politics broken, American political discourse is broken.

  4. They can’t say “Palestinian Freedom Fighter” either.

    Or “Israeli Terrorist”.

    But this is a new low even for the Times.

  5. This is great, thanks so much Rob
    The word :lie: is rarely used either. In its place is “misspoke”, “made a verbal gaffe”, “made a questionable statement”, “verbal blunder”, etc. even when its about WMDs, Saddam’s (non-existent) ties to 9-11, etc etc etc. There should be a PLUG IN that takes these “euphemisms” and those for tortuere, and REDRAWS the page after its been properly and truthfully corrected.
    Again, thanks Rob

  6. In the old old days, newspapers wouldn’t mention the term ‘rape’. So you had stories like: “she had been stabbed three times, beheaded, and her hands cut off, but she had not been interfered with”

  7. rnoyfb, you may not have changed the definition you use, but you do
    use a narrower one than Websters. Garnering information or forcing
    a confession were important descriptors in your definition, but only
    appear in one of Webster’s definition by reference (assuming you
    would consider those as a subtype of coercion, I certainly would).
    I have no idea about teams, but the fact that torture has such a
    broad definition yet never gets mentioned by the NYT (even in cases
    of confession coercion or information gathering) does, IMO, imply a
    bias towards the word on the NYT’s part.

    If I remember correctly, someone did a study of NYT’s stories in the
    last three decades. Strangely enough, the use of the word torture
    dropped precipitously in the last decade. It seems unlikely it
    would be just coincidence that this coincides with the U.S.’s
    increased use of torture, my bad, I mean enhanced interrogation
    techniques, sigh.

  8. “I didn’t change the definition.”

    Rnoyfb, actually, you did: you marked a part of the quote as bold, then cut off the end, then didn’t link to the quote or explain where you got it from, all three acts helping to make it look as if the definition said that it’s only torture if it’s made *in an attempt to yield information or make a confession*… which the quote doesn’t say at all, as Mark pointed out after catching you. If you really want to have a discussion among adults, then learn a lesson, sleep over this incident a night, and next time don’t skew the facts just to support your arguments (and if you’re caught with your hands in the cookie jar don’t tell us you’re undusting it from the inside).

  9. Rnoyfb,

    is complete lack of good faith an attempt to push us to torture some sense out of you, just to prove your point ultimately ?

    1. No, I’m not saying that “torture works;” I am saying we don’t have empirical evidence either way and I’m not going to base a moral value judgment whether or not it should be used on a completely unscientific premise that it doesn’t work.

      I’m saying don’t torture and don’t give people an opening to provide empirical research that may not support our current pre-scientific notions of its efficacy or range of applications, that may later be disproved. Whether or not torture works (which we do not and cannot know right now), do not torture or abuse detainees. It is wrong.

      The Nazis did horrible experiments in torture to basically find out how much the body could take, and there are some reports the CIA has done some of that too (but it looks like it was mostly doctors monitoring to make sure they didn’t die, not collecting experimental data), but none that I can find to determine the efficacy of torture as a mechanism for intelligence collection.

  10. To say that torture doesn’t work is wrong. In fact, it works so extremely good if carried out properly, that you can get a confession of an Iraqi that he killed Abraham Lincoln and Ceasar on the same day!

    1. To say that torture doesn’t work is wrong. In fact, it works so extremely good if carried out properly, that you can get a confession of an Iraqi that he killed Abraham Lincoln and Ceasar on the same day!

      BINGO! We have a winner!

  11. I’m not impressed with Antinous accusing rnoyfb of trolling. Trolling is pretty much by definition done deliberately.

    It looks to me like he’s supporting a moral and factual position in good faith (redacted definition notwithstanding), while the comment thread herd is looking for someone to vent their anger of torture at. rnoyfb hasn’t tortured anybody and clearly doesn’t support the practice. The torturers are out there, not in here.

    Better would be to focus on the nice job Beschizza has done here. Nice job Beschizza. I hope and trust somebody in the Times newsroom has read the post. And clicked the button until they felt appropriate shame.

    1. Good faith. When you get called on a mistake, own up and patch your mistake. Or, do what rnoyfb did. Copy a definition from another site, almost word for word, excluding the inconvenient part (comment 6). Then acknowledge that you edited the definition, and explain why you edited the definition (comment 11). Then claim you didn’t edit the definition at all (comment 19). Good faith. And best of all, his doublethink is OK, because he hasn’t tortured anybody. Apparently, we all get to say the sky is down and is also up, and nobody can say that’s a contradiction unless we cut somebody.

    2. To be accused of trolling! What torture!

      Seeking to justify torture is also morally wrong, by the way.
      Explaining WHY it’s evil does not equal seeking to justify it.

    3. I don’t think people make false claims and redact their sources “in good faith”, Hugh.

      But it’s funny, in the BB context; which is kind of sick, in the torture context. The line he’s taking is identical to the line that Cory and others here often take when confronted with anything they don’t like – “you don’t have any science therefore you know nothing”. The words magic or godliness could equally well have been substituted for science in another age.

      The ancient Chinese, Napoleon, the Nazis, and the American CIA have all gone on record as saying torture can make anyone say anything. That’s the opposite of information gathering, where you want them to say something something useful you didn’t already know. These are firsthand reports from people and organizations that actually tried to use torture and found it ineffective. The plural of anecdote is data.

    4. I’m not impressed with Antinous accusing rnoyfb of trolling. Trolling is pretty much by definition done deliberately.

      I dunno, look at his other recent edits on the site

      What, 55 comments so far, and no one decrying foul libertarians! Whenever I see a Reason.TV video in my Google Reader feed, I come for the flaming, and Boing Boing has let me down….

      looks like self-aware, goal-oriented trolling to me.

  12. Torture is the intentional infliction of pain and trauma. It does work, in fact it works very well. It works to punish its victim for past actions, and it works to traumatize the victim such that he/she avoids repetition of whatever circumstances led to the torture (eg, committing a crime punished by torture, talking back to Daddy, questioning guards at the US-Canada border). It works to frighten others who are aware of the victim’s experience away from repeating some or all aspects of the victim’s behavior, whatever it was – admitting to being a Jew, for example. Torture also works well to induce a state of fearful desperation for the torture to cease, and hence attempts to ingratiate or bargain with the torturer to make the torture cease – confessing to crimes real or imagined, giving “intel” real or imagined. It works “second-hand”, too – torturing those who are loved by a potential informant, is a well-tried and well-tested method of inducing informants to talk.

    What it won’t do is anything to distinguish the truth or falsity of the informant’s statements. The physiological state of torture makes any known method of “detecting lies” far less reliable. Furthermore there is a strong incentive for the victim of torture to *wish* that whatever he/she confesses is true, which blurs the truth and falsity of it in the victim’s own mind.

    “Torture doesn’t work, period” s stpd thng t sy. It depends what you, or your masters, want the torture to achieve. American troops torturing, or allowing Iraqi “police” to torture, Iraqi prisoners has achieved a very great deal for the neocon agenda, making it far more difficult for Iraqis to ever view Americans as anything other than threatening monsters, making it far more difficult for Iraqi to internally stablilize, and hence ensuring a continuing supply of bugbear and boogieman terrorists, and Iraqi political instability, in order to justify the continued presence of American troops – and the real meat of the matter, the continued purchase of weapons and equipment.

    So yes, torture has worked, and is working. Cheney is pleased.

  13. I notice that nobody justifies the morality of theft on the basis of its efficacy in obtaining a desired result.

    Why ought the morality of torture to be subject to, or in anyway determined by, an efficacy analysis?

    I suppose every torturer has her reasons…but never any good, or moral, or “acceptable” ones, I’m afraid.

    Poor little evil-doers, without any justification for what they do to others !! – but I don’t think or feel that they deserve any such anyhow.

  14. Torture has been shown to lead to false confessions. Read about people in Chicago who were tortured into false confessions by the police. Not a double blind controlled study but confirmed by legal process (Biased against finding that confessions were begot by torture, IMO)((:by the way a lot of the troops fighting now are U.S. civilian police(Abu Ghraib = M.P. = Civilian Police (National Guard)). Coming home soon to solve cases near you.(expect a lot of cases “solved” that wouldn’t have been under un-enhanced policing techniques(worse case scenario roll playing about suspect’s prepubescent child’s genitals technique(threatening to cut son’s balls off)(human made with out the T.E.G ):))

    The definition of torture should include the purpose to induce the tortured and the targeted population to submit to the will of the torturer. That would be one explanation of why an information gathering technique that produces useless information would be permitted/sanctioned by the higher ups that actually supposedly aren’t as sick as the dupes/psycos doing the torture. The higher-ups sense the resulting fear of the enemy and population is winning the submission of the opponent and they allow it to continue because it is less costly to them than actually doing all the fighting necessary to win or admitting that winning a corrupt war is futile.

    rnoyfb your argument is not taken well because it is a straw man. The anger is because you are arguing semantics (and even that argument is weak) when morals is the issue. In this case what I believe is the issue is the morals of accurate unbiased reporting. Using in-accurate words to obfuscate the torture that is happening is wrong.

    PS Calling troll doesn’t seem appropriate in rnoyfb’s case.

  15. So while news sources avoid using strong words, even when appropriate, the younger among us use strong words even when its the verbal equivalent of killing a bird with a nuke…

  16. Douchey-definition changing not withstanding, I agree that roynb ultimately has a reasonable concern. I think his contention that: if the prominent argument against torture is the claim that “torture doesn’t work” and a scientific study in the future indicates in some capacity or another it -does- work, then that argument is rendered moot. Much better to say: “I don’t care if it works–it’s wrong and should be banned in all circumstances” and avoid the efficacy of it being a factor.

  17. I feel I have to step in to provide a bit of defense for rnoyfb. S/he isn’t claiming we need to have scientific evidence proving that torture does or doesn’t work. S/he is saying that we shouldn’t base a decision on using torture on whether or not it “works” — we simply shouldn’t use torture because it is just plain wrong. The argument over whether or not it works is superfluous to whether or not we should use it.

    I actually think it’s very similar to the homosexuality debate — stop trying to defend homosexuality based on genetics (i.e., “they’re born that way”). Just accept that it is and respect all people equally. Why does it matter if gays and lesbians were born that way or “turned” that way? They’re people and deserve the same respect and compassion that everyone else deserves.

  18. I look forward to war crimes trials that include the editors of the NYT as collaborators in disseminating propaganda to Americans to gain their complacency regarding the government’s criminal acts.

  19. But! Ticking time bomb! Your child and/or other friend or family member! Terrorists!

    [very nice generator, Rob.]

  20. “The CIA’s 1963 counterintelligence manual concluded that, based on 200 studies, “No report of scientific investigation on the effect of debility upon the interrogatee’s power of resistance has been discovered. For centuries, interrogators have employed various methods of inducing physical weakness, prolonged constraint, prolonged exertion, extremes of heat, cold or moisture, and deprivation or drastic reduction of food or sleep. . . . Interrogatees who are withholding but who feel qualms of guilt and a secret desire to yield are likely to become intractable if made to endure pain.””

    “Other empirical studies examine the inefficacy of torture from the Gestapo to current events. The most authoritative literature review is the Defense Intelligence University’s 2007 report. Paraphrased, it says, “Research in North America and in China has shown that using coercive influence strategies … creates a competitive dynamic that facilitates rejection of the other party’s position where persuasion creates a cooperative dynamic that facilitates greater openness to the other party’s position and productive conflict resolution. Research shows that rational persuasion— and avoidance of ‘pressure’—increases the likelihood of target commitment in influence interactions… Belief change and compliance was more likely when physical abuse was minimal or absent.””

    Next time, when doing research looking for empirical studies, try harder. There is this great search engine called google…

    1. Some of us hold more principled objections to this unspeakable practice than that of its mere disutility.

      Why build on sand? Seek rather to build on a firmer foundation, like the song says:

      …but enough of this torture, I’m going for a daiquiri. And a hammock.

    2. Empirical studies tend to be specific and nuanced, while reporting of them tends to be less so. Case in point: the second excerpt you quoted is from Educing Information—Interrogation: Science and Art. Foundations for the Future. Intelligence Science Board, Phase 1 Report. — National Defense Intelligence College (NDIC), NDIC Press (Link)

      The excerpt in context:


      Little social science literature speaks directly to the effectiveness of coercive tactics in educing accurate, useful information, but there is literature on how coercive influence strategies, such as inducing fear, affects relationships. The induction of fear or pain appears to be a critical element. If a source views the educer as the cause of his aversive situation, he may react against it by increasing his resistance and determination not to comply (see the next section). Research has shown consistently that recipients of punishment or aversive stimuli do distinguish between unpleasant sensations that are self-inflicted or naturally occurring and those intentionally caused by another person. One implication for educing information seems to be that the source should not view the primary educer as the cause of any negative consequences; someone else should wear the black hat if necessary. Ideally, the source should perceive that he alone is responsible for his situation.

      More generally, social science research indicates that a perception of coercion can negatively affect the tenor of the relationship between the educer and the source and decrease the likelihood that the source will comply or cooperate. Research both in North America and in Asia (China) has shown that using coercive influence strategies causes targets (or sources, in the context of educing information) to feel disrespected, whereas persuasion strategies communicate respect…

      That first sentence is key, if only because it contextualizes the rest of the remarks. Two reasonable conclusions can be drawn from the entirety of the passage on coercion (corresponding to the two clauses of the introductory sentence).

      (1) There’s little direct empirical research on the effectiveness of obtaining accurate info via torture methods, but
      (2) There is a body of related research which suggests that coercive interrogation strategies (presumably including but not limited to torture) may be counterproductive or at least less effective than alternatives.

      Finally, let’s not forget to add “educing information” to the list of euphemisms.

    3. That’s a quote and a link from a claim; not research. It claims that the C.I.A. did over 200 studies, and that number appears often, but it does not say anything about what the studies were, their methodology, or the data from them. That’s not science.

      The Hastings Center page you linked to, while it said that the C.I.A. had done over 200 studies (without sourcing them), was not based on the efficacy of torture itself, but to determine whether torture, once adopted in a given society, is apt to become more widespread.

      Furthermore, if the C.I.A. had done research more broadly in torture, why would it have limited that statement to a counterintelligence manual and not to, more broadly, an interrogation manual?

      The closest thing I can find is MKULTRA, which was an 11-year project experimenting with drugs, radiation exposure, and hypnosis to extract information, but they seem, by the records, to have focused on determining safety, but in any case, most records were destroyed and most people involved said afterwards they “did what worked.” The project was (rightly) terminated by the political establishment and not on the basis of empirical research.

  21. The Times is far from the only news organization that practices this no-“torture” rule: The Washington Post, USA Today––practically all major, national newspapers have opted to not use the word without significant caveats and contextualization; and, perhaps more troublingly, given the medium’s stronger following, television news does the same. I do wonder why the Times has taken the brunt for a much wider and pervasive trend in national news coverage terminology––the subject of the important and much-covered Shorenstein Center study may be in part responsible for much of this; it is available here:

    Additionally, On the Media covered this trend in two very good segments: and

  22. Uh, no — rnoyfb claimed in comment #6 that the activities were ‘just abuse’.

    These are the same steps that the torturers used to be able to torture in the first place! All they had to do was re-define torture into being ‘not torture’ as in ‘enhanced interrogation’ or some other 1984-type semantic BS.

    Rnoyfb’s claim was that the torture was ‘just abuse’, mutes the public outcry and shields the torturers from automatic prosecution, since they were ‘not torturing’. Then you can claim that the torturers were just ‘doing their jobs’ and the chain is complete — everyone is immune from prosecution.

    Once it is accepted that people are routinely being tortured, then the next step is to joke that anyone who crosses the government will be sent to the torture facility as in all the “piss off the government and you’re going to Guantanamo” jokes”.

    Then all the little fascists can come out of the woodwork to support the torturers and Guantanamo and all the other evils, and you have a society that is fast on a downward slide.

    How else did you think we got a position where there is actually a discussion over the definition of torture?

    1. Rnoyfb’s chosen role in the ecology of the torture discourse is to undermine the conceptual supporting structure of the anti-torture position. He says dismemberment isn’t torture, it’s just “abuse” or something, and he says we don’t know whether torture has utilitarian value or not. Other people work on the other parts of the argument, saying it’s not abuse either and we caught the number-two guy in Al Qaeda with info we got from dismemberment and whatever. End result: Big cloud of noise drowning out decent people and reinforcing the status quo.

  23. Uh, no. — “Just” in that clause was an adverb, not an adjective.

    How the hell you think the term abuse mutes public outcry more than torture (which indicates a constructive, if misguided, social end) is ridiculous.

    This article is not about the U.S. justifying “enhanced interrogations;” it’s about looking the other way when Iraqi custodians beat their prisoners. That is a red herring.

    We speak a common language, and that means we’ll from time to time disagree on definitions and epistemology.

      1. In defense of rnyofb, there are several definitions of torture out there, some of which require certain purposes (such as getting information) and some that do not.

        For example, compare this one from the Convention Against Torture:
        “[T]orture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

        …with this one, from the U.S. Code (18 USC 2340):
        “‘[T]orture’ means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control”

        Although I have not made a thorough study, under a cursory examination it appears that most international sources require a purpose, as the definition given by rynofb does.

        Another difference in some definitions of torture is whether or not torture needs to be instigated or acquiesced to by a public official. This has come up in cases relating to torture at the Yugoslavia Tribunal, as explained in the Red Cross study of customary international humanitarian law (see

        Thus, as worrisome as it is when torture is redefined, the fact remains that there is no one single definition out there.

    1. rnoyfb:

      Somebody comes up to you, out of the blue, decides they don’t like the look of you and strikes you in the nose.

      You are staggered, and ask them why they punched you.

      They reply “well, actually, a punch is defined as ‘To poke or prod with a stick’, so there is clearly no way I punched you, so get a life.”

      You turn to a bystander who shrugs and adds “Yeah, ‘To poke or prod with a stick’ is what I read as well, and he didn’t even have a stick with him.”

      “But,” you protest. “There are other definitions … strike with a fist …”

      Somebody else points out that they couldn’t actually see whether his fist was involved, or even if his fingers were curled up.

      “More of an open-hand situation,” said another witness. “A fist is where four fingers are closed. Sometimes it could be considered – but this would be the least widely-held opinion – that a fist actually requires closed fingers AND a thumb, but then you get into a whole discussion about whether somebody who is missing a finger, or thumb, or more than one (not that one can have more than one thumb on one hand – well unless there was some sort of deformity …”

      “Hang on,” you scream, “I’m bleeding here, I need medical help … please help me find my teef”.

      “Now, assuming that less that 0.01% of the population has either a missing thumb or finger, the widely-held definition of a fist …”

  24. “Reports of possible electric sad time”

    Oh yeah, give them the electric boogaloo for a return to happy fun times again.

    I have to say Rob came up with some pretty inspired euphemisms.

  25. Uh, considering the original post was about the New York Times and their unwillingness to use the word “torture”, shouldn’t we get back to talking about that? Political correctness, censorship in the news and all that jazz?

    ..But after reading some of these comments I can’t help but add my two cents. You guys are calling for science but I’d like to remind you that torture has a lot of psychological impact (A “social science” yes but when has any social mechanism truly have scientific classifications? It’s all opinions and human perception..). In my opinion it sounds like a question of ethics.

    Simply put, they hurt people to scare and intimidate them. Perhaps they have the goal of gaining information behind them but when it comes down to it the primary reason behind torture is to terrify the victim, getting information seems to become a secondary goal in this situation if they need the victim mentally broken first. We shouldn’t be asking “does it work?” we should be asking “is it acceptable to do it?” and “should we let it continue” or “does the person who knew and didn’t intervene be held as partially responsible too?”

    Arguing definitions and facts, while valid in a science class, seems rather cold when talking about something as cruel as torture.

    Now that that’s out of the way …
    “Detainees report personalized sleepover tactics” ?_?

  26. Agree. Let’s get back to the NYT.

    My two cents, is that the NYT editorial board probably had a hard time deciding on the definition of “torture” because they didn’t want to piss off the “right” on the one hand (by making it “too lose” – ie. including waterboarding) and the “left” on the other hand by making it “too loose”.

    So they went with a mushy, “we’re not making any judgments” middle road.

    The problem is, torture was happening. And, really, we knew it before these new leaks. Now the scope of it is becoming more clear, and there are a lot more details.

    But the NYT is still mincing around. I just did a Google news search for “torture iraq source:new york times“. Give it a try.

  27. Thank you, Mr. Beschizza. Your angle afforded humour to the occasion. After dinner, this made me smile.

    ATTN: RNOYFB. W/Re: the overall ‘leimotif’:
    A) Please elucidate what experimental parameters will empirically determine the “working-ness” of “torture.”
    Before doing the above:
    i) Please assert (with empirical verification) what “work” will be understood as. Note the verification required. This must be a descriptive, rather than prescriptive, assertion.
    ii) Please assert (with empirical verification) what “torture” will be understood as. As above, please note the verification required, and present a descriptive assertion only.
    Once establishing A):
    B) Please explicate how the process/dynamic between the experimental parameters of A) will describe an empirically determined “working-ness” to torture.
    Present the above results here (as well as to the appropriate journal), and we can reasonably discuss the issue. If that’s what you want.
    – Genre

  28. Regarding the original topic, please direct your attention to the 1988 Canadian Massey Lectures — published as Necessary Illusions (Thought Control In Democratic Societies), CBC Enterprises; 1989 — by N. Chomsky.
    Specifically, lecture four — Adjuncts of Government; lecture five — The Utility of Interpretations, as well as appendix I.
    Excellent, cognitively bracing reading for the autumn. Go, Stampeders!

  29. Quite a party game you’ve thought up, Rob. How about
    “Kinetic dialogue facilitation”
    “Escalated tactile inquiries”
    “Canine interview participation”

    Mind you, the NYT takes the cake with its favourite, “behaviour some critics decry as torture” – a qualification never added when the same act (say, waterboarding) is performed by the Iranians or Chinese. The phrase always seems to imply that the problem is the critics, not the torture.

  30. Here’s two to try on:
    Willful Signal Retrieval
    Interactive Signal Transmission

    I find using terms that Dr. T. Leary employed lends a distance to the phenomena; a space which allows the ‘reader’ to ‘phase out’ of ‘signal range potential’… mmm….

  31. Hee. Reminds me of the BBC when they talked about Fallujah. They could never decide whether it was a city or a town, and they always preceded it with a word like “troubled”.

    So I made a Fallujah description generation. One result was “The restless hamlet of Fallujah” which stuck in my mind.

  32. The ironic thing is that the term torture, from a journalistic perspective, is technically unethical to use in what’s ostensibly an objective news piece if you’re not talking about someone who has been literally convicted of or an act that has been formally recognized as torture, as it is a very editorially weighted term otherwise.

    Feel and even agree as we may on what these actions are, if we haven’t formally defined these acts as torture in the arbitration language of our society, then calling them torture is an accusatory declaration instead of (technically) unbiased, factual reporting.

  33. “reason” could be “cause” or “rationalization”?

    I suppose I’ll stipulate that for the sake of argument but what about “wanton”?

    As it’s an adjective in your definition, your source gives two choices: “motiveless” or “promiscuous”. Presumably you mean the latter since the former would equate abuse and torture?

    (I wouldn’t skate much further as the ice is getting pretty thin)

  34. This really isn’t about the definition of the word torture. It’s about the NYT using one word to describe the actions of the US and its allies and using another word to describe the actions of others. For example, an article in the NYT from last year discussed the Khmer Rouge’s use of waterboarding, referring to it as “a torture technique.” When the NYT writes about the US or its allies using waterboarding, they never refer to it as torture and often refer to it as an “advanced interrogation technique.” It’s a clear double standard and shows that the NYT has lost its objectivity.

  35. Euphemisms are not new. The Spanish Inquisition, inventors of water boarding, albeit done a little differently,used to call it the “water cure”. Apparently after a few doses you happily turned Catholic.

  36. Common-sense definitions of torture or definitions from a regular dictionary of “torture” are pretty irrelevant to a legal discussion of what “torture” as a crime is, but the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) (quoted once above) would be a good place to start:

    CAT Art 1 definition:

    “…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purpose as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

    All of the things this euphemism generator is describing fall under this definition (and have often been prosecuted by the US as such in the past when used against our soldiers). There is no requirement of a specific purpose to elicit information (it could be for info OR punishment OR intimidation OR any reason…). The only real sticky point in the language is what constitutes “severe pain or suffering”; the only way the Bush Office of Legal Counsel could say the techniques it authorized weren’t “torture” was by avoiding all the actual treaties/laws on torture for definitions of severe pain or suffering and using an insane standard from an insurance statute to argue the only things that qualified were those causing pain equal to that from organ failure or death.

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