As we go around and around on waterboarding yet again, I couldn't help noticing that I cannot recall a single instance in which I've seen a journalist simply refer to waterboarding and similar methods of interrogation as "torture." Yet they use terms like "enhanced interrogation techniques" over and over. The Republicans certainly won the language battle on this one.

This is not complicated. Everyone all over the world agrees on what constitutes torture. Torture is the intentional infliction of physical or mental suffering in order to obtain information or confessions. Not hard to understand. Yet Republicans have successfully lured the entire journalistic community into their moral sewer, where there is some degree of suffering (defined not by how awful it is, but by whether it's fast or slow, and whether it leaves visible scars) that marks the line between torture and not-torture. If I rip your fingernails out - torture! If I tie you in a "stress position" designed to gradually inflict elevating amounts of pain, up to sheer agony, over the course of an hour or two - not torture! See, when I punch you in the face, son, I'm not committing child abuse, I'm engaging in enhanced parenting techniques.

I won't bother with the poetic invocations of Orwell. It's enough to say that when we embrace these kinds of euphemisms, we deaden our moral compasses. And every reporter who uses the term "enhanced interrogation techniques" is complicit.

I'm guessing this will come up at one of next fall's presidential debates. What I'd like to see is the Democratic candidate, at the first mention of "enhanced interrogation techniques," say something like this: "How about we stop this charade and have enough respect for the American people to start telling the truth? The Bush administration made the use of torture its official policy. You, Republican candidate, agree with that policy. You think the United States government should torture people. I don't. We can argue the pros and cons. But don't give us this 'enhanced interrogation techniques' baloney. We all know what it is. If you're going to advocate torture, have the guts to call it by its name. If you don't, you're not only immoral enough to be pro-torture, you're also a coward."

I know, I know -- dream on.

--Paul Waldman

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