Beyond the fact that torture is illegal, immoral, and inhuman (which Cohen naturally glosses over), whether torture has ever worked is an idiotic question. The intelligent question is, What works best most of the time? And about that there is no doubt at all: non-coercive interrogation is invariably more effective than torture at eliciting genuine, actionable intelligence. This is what more than forty retired generals and admirals have been arguing for years—including all the ones standing behind President Obama when he signed the executive order outlawing American torture in the first week of his administration.
Winners: Newsweek’s John Barry, Evan Thomas, Ron Moreau, and Sami Yousafzai for a superb cover story detailing all the ways that Afghanistan resembles Vietnam, and all the reasons why Obama needs to quickly grasp the lessons from that comparison.
Sinner: Fareed Zakaria, for another piece in the same issue, in which he manages to sound like every journalist who, thirty-five years ago, argued that just a little more intelligent effort could guarantee American success in Vietnam. Except that Zakaria was writing about Afghanistan.
Winner: Steve Weissman, for an even pithier summary of why our involvement in Afghanistan is doomed to failure.
Winner: Philip Bennett, who resigned at the end of last year as managing editor of The Washington Post after winning the hearts and minds of most of those who worked for him. Journalists often reserve their most evocative words for beloved colleagues. Here is how Washington Post foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid remembered Bennett, in a tribute that was read aloud at the editor’s farewell gathering:
I first met Phil in November 2002. I’ll remember that date because it’s when I became a journalist. I had written plenty of stories. You do that spending 10 years as a reporter at the Associated Press. But only at that lunch with Phil did I understand what we can do as journalists. For an hour, I sat there, wide-eyed, shaking my head, as he seemed to reach inside my mind and pull out every ambition, hope and frustration I ever had. For the first time in my career, maybe my life, I was inspired.
“You’ve done everything you can do where you’ve been,” he told me as he asked for the check. “Now it’s time to become something more.”
I joined the Post because of its editors, and in Phil, I got the best there is.
In Baghdad, a few days into the invasion, he noticed the texture of the street conversations at the bottom of the story. To me, it was throwaway color. To him, it might be the essence of the invasion. In a story that was burdened by clichés, here was ambiguity and ambivalence. That might be your theme, he told me.
On one story, a long sketch about a family burying a young boy, he did something that no editor had done before and none has since. He cut the nut graf. He just cut it. There was a lyricism to the gesture, a move that was subtle and grand.
And as Rajiv and I tried to make sense of the chaos around us, we turned time and again to Phil. Let the reporting tell the story, he said to us. Lose our preconceptions. Get rid of the ideas we brought. Understand the story. That was our job. Phil never told me what he thought. He never insisted what the story should be. He never suggested there was an answer out there. Report the story, and in the end, we’ll have done right by ourselves and by the people and conflicts we cover.
He never flinched, not once, in letting us do that.