No Comment — September 22, 2010, 5:17 pm

Eileen Nearne and the Times Torture Policy

In today’s New York Times, John Burns has a top-notch obituary for Eileen Nearne, a woman who served as a British spy in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Nearne was “an insistently private woman who loved cats and revealed almost nothing about her past,” so that her own neighbors in Torquay had no idea they were living next to a person who could have been, and should be, a legend. Burns’s recounting of her life is marvelous, and it merits being read and circulated. But I paused over a couple of lines:

As she related in postwar debriefings, documented in Britain’s National Archives, the Gestapo tortured her — beating her, stripping her naked, then submerging her repeatedly in a bath of ice-cold water until she began to black out from lack of oxygen. Yet they failed to force her to yield the secrets they sought: her real identity, the names of others working with her in the resistance and the assignments given to her by London. At the time, she was 23.

As Andrew Sullivan notes, these lines must have escaped Bill Keller’s blue pencil, because they can’t be squared with existing Times policy on the word “torture.” Here’s how those lines might read, if they were brought into conformity with Mr. Keller’s policies:

As she related in postwar debriefings, documented in Britain’s National Archives, the Gestapo subjected her to enhanced interrogation techniques, sometimes referred to as “torture” by critics of the German government. She was beaten, stripped naked, and then submerged repeatedly in a bath of ice-cold water until she began to black out from lack of oxygen.

No techniques were used on Ms. Nearne that were not also applied with authority of the Bush Administration to prisoners in the “War on Terror.”

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