NYT Would Call It Torture — If It Covered Torture

CBS reported on the case of Naimatullah, who told Amnesty International that US Special Forces tortured three of his brothers; only one was ever seen alive again. (photo: CBS)

After more than a decade of criticism, the New York Timesexecutive editor Dean Baquet announced (8/7/14) that when the paper reports on US torture, it will call it “torture” (FAIR Blog,8/8/14).

But what if the paper decides that well-documented evidence of US torture is not fit to print?

On August 11, Amnesty International released a lengthy report about abuses in Afghanistan committed by US forces and others, including Afghan security. The report includes serious allegations about US Special Forces torturing Afghan civilians.

The Amnesty report has received some attention in US outlets, including the LA Times (8/11/14), Washington Post (8/11/14), the Daily Beast  (8/11/14) and CBS News (8/12/14).

But it has yet to appear in the New York Times.

In the past week, the Times has cited Amnesty’s criticism of Nigeria’s environmental standards (8/14/14), Spain’s immigration policies (8/15/14) and Ferguson, Missouri’s curfew (8/16/14). But a search of the Nexis database turns up not a word about Amnesty’s documentation of US culpability for torture in Afghanistan.

The Amnesty report includes 10 accounts of shocking brutality, abuse and torture of Afghan civilians–resulting in at least 140 deaths. Some of the most outrageous stories concern a US Special Operations unit that was “responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances” between December 2012 and February 2013 in two districts in Wardak province.

One survivor interviewed by Amnesty was removed from his house and subjected to various types of torture–beatings, electric shock, being held under water and forced into stress positions. Several other Afghans were held at the same time and subjected to similar forms of torture. Some of them were killed. The report also documents the fate of Afghans who were rounded up by the same unit and never seen again.

This unit was the source of considerable controversy in February 2013, when President Hamid Karzai ordered Special Forces to leave the area. According to the Amnesty report, NATO officials denied the accusations, then “clarified” that they were aware of some stories, but denied that US or other forces played any role. The human rights group presents strong evidence that these denials were untrue.

The Times covered some aspects of this story, beginning with a story (2/24/13) that conveyed “complaints that Afghans working for American Special Operations forces had tortured and killed villagers in the area.” A few weeks later, the Times (3/20/13) referred to “complaints related to abuses by American forces and accompanying Afghan men during night raids in the province.”

Then, under the headline “Afghans Say an American Tortured Civilians” (5/12/13), the paper reported that “Afghan officials say they have substantial evidence of American involvement.” The focus was on one person in particular–Zakaria Kandahari, an Afghan-American who worked with the unit as an interpreter. Throughout the controversy, US officials have declared that the torture and killings were tied to him and not to the US forces he worked alongside.

The most common official line has been, as the paper (5/21/13) noted, that “there has been no testimony directly tying American soldiers to the abuse or killing of those detainees.”

But since then, plenty of evidence has undermined those denials. Rolling Stone‘s Matthieu Aikins (11/6/13) reported at length about direct US connection to the torture. And the Amnesty investigation offers further evidence that US forces were deeply involved in the crimes.

As an important contribution to a story that the Times has paid some attention to, one might think the Amnesty report would merit some coverage. And given the paper’s commitment to calling torture linked to the United States “torture,” this would be a perfect opportunity to show that the new policy has some real-world meaning.


Ask New YorkTimes public editor Margaret Sullivan to look into why the paper, despite its new policy about calling torture by its right name, has so far ignored Amnesty’s report documenting direct US involvement in Afghan torture.


New York Times

Public Editor Margaret Sullivan

email: public@nytimes.com


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This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission or license.