December 21, 2004

All's fair in love and REDACTED

The documents that the ACLU's FOIA suit brought out on Monday, discussed in a NYT article today by Neil Lewis and David Johnson, are full of sections that have been omitted for national security (or in some cases perhaps privacy?) reasons:

“Of concern, DOD interrogators impersonating Supervisory Special Agents of the FBI told a detainee that REDACTED. These same interrogation teams then REDACTED. The detainee was also told by this interrogation team REDACTED. These tactics have produced no intelligence of a threat neutralization nature to date and CITF believes that techniques have destroyed any chance of prosecuting this detainee. If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, DOD interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done the “FBI” interrogators. The FBI will be left holding the bag before the public.”

I suppose that the documents were supplied in paper form, with the omitted sections blacked out. At least, that's what been shown in past facsimiles of similarly released documents. But in the version on the web site, the missing stuff is replaced by all-caps REDACTED, as in the paragraph above.

This has become standard usage, I think. However, oddly enough, dictionaries don't seem to recognize this usage in any specific way.

The American Heritage says that redact means

1. To draw up or frame (a proclamation, for example). 2. To make ready for publication; edit or revise.

Merriam-Webster's 3rd Unabridged has

1 obsolete : to lower in condition or quality : REDUCE *being a little prodigal in his spending, redacted his estate to a weak point— Robert Monro*
2 [back-formation from redaction] a : to put in writing : make a draft of : COMPOSE, FRAME *council of ministers ... engaged in redacting the two proclamations— W.G.Clark* b : to select or adapt for publication : EDIT, REVISE *historical accounts redacted for the modern reader*

The Oxford English Dictionary gives two senses "in modern use":

a. To draw up, frame (a statement, decree, etc.).
b. To put (matter) into proper literary form; to work up, arrange, or edit.

These various glosses are not inconsistent with the usage to mean DELETED ON PURPOSE, but they don't give the reader any reason to expect that redacted would be used in such cases, as opposed to (say) edited or deleted or removed.


Posted by Mark Liberman at December 21, 2004 11:38 PM