About a month ago, I pointed out that the Washington Post and other publications have published contradicting definitions of the interrogation tactic known as "waterboarding," which is either strapping someone to a board and submerging them under water until they think they are about to drown, or placing a wet towel over their face and dripping water into their nose until they think they are about to drown. While both tactics are brutal, the first seems especially horrific, at least to me.
So what is the right answer? When I contacted Post reporter R. Jeffrey Smith, he claimed that he was sure that the towel definition was correct based on his reporting. But New Yorker writer Jane Mayer uses the submerging definition in an article in the latest issue of the magazine:
According to the [New York] Times, a secret memo issued by Administration lawyers authorized the C.I.A. to use novel interrogation methods—including "water-boarding," in which a suspect is bound and immersed in water until he nearly drowns. Dr. Allen Keller, the director of the Bellevue/N.Y.U. Program for Survivors of Torture, told me that he had treated a number of people who had been subjected to such forms of near-asphyxiation, and he argued that it was indeed torture. Some victims were still traumatized years later, he said. One patient couldn't take showers, and panicked when it rained. "The fear of being killed is a terrifying experience," he said.
The New Yorker is a carefully fact-checked magazine. It's possible Mayer is depending on the Times reporting, which uses the submersion definition, but it's hard to believe that wouldn't have been independently verified. Once again, what's the right definition? The mainstream media is continuing to fail to precisely define a key term in the debate over US interrogation practices.