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The T Word

Three BBC correspondents were treated horribly in Libya by Khadafi forces. They were beaten, hooded, and subjected to mock executions.

The New York Times headlined its report “3 BBC Journalists Report Being Tortured in Libya.”

It’s noteworthy, and not in a good way, that the Gray Lady got it wrong.

By international treaty–the Convention Against Torture–“torture” is severe mistreatment applied for the purpose of extracting a confession: “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.”

The purpose of the treaty is to remove physical and mental mistreatment from the menu of permitted prosecutorial techniques, and discourage the formation of a state justice apparatus reliant upon extorted and often false testimony.

The BBC journalists were beaten and terrorized in order to intimidate them, not to extract a confession.

What they endured was “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”–mistreatment that is specifically exempted from the Convention Against Torture.

Apparently as long as government incentives to abuse prisoners to extract confessions were removed, the governments that signed the Convention were unwilling to provide the same protections against abuse to detainees if it was motivated by the perceived needs for prison discipline, or as a simple exercise in recreational sadism.

It’s also the kind of treatment that is applied ad nauseum in US-run detention facilities overseas.

Bradley Manning is being tortured: he is being mistreated in order to compel him to confess and, presumably, implicate Julian Assange.

The New York Times hasn’t deemed it fit to characterize the conditions of Bradley Manning’s detention as “torture”.

Maybe that’s why it’s so sloppy with its use of the term.

PETER LEE edits China Matters.

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Peter Lee edits China Matters and writes about Asia for CounterPunch.  

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