Sunday, May 09, 2004

Words matter

Hey, New York Times, guess what? What happened at Abu Ghraib prison was torture not abuse. Rumsfeld tried to defend a legalistic difference for like a day, but even he gave up on it eventually. Rape, degradation, beatings, sexual humiliation and cold water treatments (to mention a few) are examples of torture. Their systematic, planned and documented nature only makes them worse.

What Rumsfeld was trying to do when he split the nonexistent hair between torture and abuse was take away the reason for our outrage. The New York Times should be ashamed of itself for helping him in his mission. Neither does using the term “abuse” present a more nuanced or objective picture of what happened at Abu Ghraib. It is simply denial of the fact. By all established law, what happened at Abu Ghraib was systematic, dehumanizing torture, and no other term will suffice.

Language is important. What you call something alters its meaning and value. This is one of the many reasons why intellectuals are culturally important figures and why the Right’s fervent outspoken anti-intellectualism is one of the most dangerous things about them.

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