The Language of Empire, Monthly Review Press, December, 2005 was the first study of the media coverage of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. You can buy it on Amazon or at Rediff.com.
It has been cited by several academic theses and a range of peer-reviewed journals from Duke University’s Journal of Radical History to Georgetown University’s Journal of Communication, Culture & Technology, MIT’s Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Cambridge University’sReview of International Studiesand The Oxford Art Journal – which has an international reputation for rethinking the political analysis of visual art, as well as by media activists in California and criminologists in Australia.
Examples of books citing it include “Justice Ignited,” Martin et. al., Rowman & Littlefield, 2006; “Engaging News Media,” Mark Kelley, Cowley, 2006; Prisoners of War, Arnold Krammer, Greenwood, 2007; and “Isla historico e Islamismo politico,” Osvaldo Coggiola, 2007.
It was one of the first books to show that torture in the US military was not a random mistake but part of a deliberate policy and the very first to ask why there were no pictures of Iraqi women being tortured.
It was also the first to analyze the discrepancies in the Senate Hearings.
LOE is used as a reference work in university libraries here and abroad across a number of disciplines – international law, politics, history, criminology, media studies, prison studies, Middle Eastern studies, art, human rights, and critical theory – at around 300 universities including Yale law school. It has been used as a text at several colleges, including St. Andrews and Amherst.
It was briefly in the top 10 political books in its category on Amazon in 2006 in the US, Germany, and in Canada, even though it was reviewed in no mainstream outlet. The material was picked up unacknowledged by several journalists in the mainstream media, including a senior editor at a prominent DC political magazine, who followed my work for several months, corresponded with me, turned down a request to review the book and then used ideas and leads from it without a footnote citation.
My pieces on Goldman Sachs ran two years before mainstream journalists came to it this September.
I also wrote, “Why It’s Time to Sell Goldman”, Money Week, July 2006
“Hanky-Panky At the Counting House”, Dissident Voice, June, 2006.
“Is the IMF Involved in Gold Price Manipulation,” Dissident Voice, June 2006.
For the political and philosophical position from which I wrote the book:
Press Release synopsis:
What Does the Murder of Nicholas Berg Have to Do with Abu Ghraib?
The ancient myth of Prometheus connects a murdered contractor, the torture of prisoners, and the emergence of a new form of fascism in American.
The Language of Empire is a study of how and why the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib was white-washed by the American media. Tracing the connections between such apparently unrelated incidents as the videotaped beheading of the American contractor Nicholas Berg and the massive siege and bombing of Fallujah, it builds a compelling case that the torture of Iraqi prisoners was not an aberration but systematic, rehearsed, and in line with the history and policies of the U.S. military.
It explains why American journalists and commentators ignored or defended what happened.
It shows that the torture was committed by Delta forces and Marines, not just low-level reservists; that it was directed at innocent civilians, not terrorists.
It proves that it had to have had high-level planning and support.
It explains why it had to be religious and sexual.
It explains how the language of multiculturalism, humanitarianism, and even feminism had to be hijacked to justify neo-colonial policies and argues that the “War on Terror” is simply propaganda used to justify an unprovoked and illegal war.
The Language of Empire shows why the law and the courts are not the answer to Abu Ghraib but a part of the problem.
Torture is the sign of the emerging police state in America. –This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From the Back Cover
“With a calmness and clarity of purpose worthy of Virgil, Lila Rajiva leads us step-by-step into a darkness none of us want to confront. But face it we must, if we have any hope of derailing the mad machinery of death and torture unleashed on the world by the Bush Imperium. The horror chambers of Abu Ghraib have become a stomach-turning symbol of the official sadism of the Iraq war. A tragic excess, say some; the work of a demented few, say others. But Rajiva looks deeper, exposing how the perverse logic of torture has infected the language and psychology of the American imperial project, from its sycophants in the press and its evangelists in the pulpit. Her book is an unsettling expedition into the political consciousness of cruelty.” —
JEFFREY ST. CLAIR, coeditor of CounterPunch and author of “Grand Theft Pentagon”
“Lila Rajiva has written a citizen’s report on the scandal of Abu Ghraib. With the eye of a forensic scientist, she assembles material from the media and reframes it in such a compelling way that I am led to conclude that we, in the U.S., have lost our moral compass. Our government knew the extent of the damage and yet, aided by the media, managed to disguise its culpability. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to see America become what it has not yet been.” —
VIJAY PRASHAD, author of The Karma of Brown Folk and Darker Nations: The Rise and Fall of the Third World
“There can be no mistaking the putrid stench clinging to the events, processes and mentality described with the eloquence of excruciating precision in this fine study by Lila Rajiva. It is that of Nazism, by any other name. Hence, like the good Germans before us, today’s good Americans bear an unequivocal obligation—morally, legally, and in every other sense—to do whatever is necessary to expose the myriad Eichmanns, large and small, residing within our ranks. As The Language of Empire makes abundantly clear, to shirk such responsibility is to forfeit claim to any humanity we might still possess.”
—WARD CHURCHILL, author of A Little Matter of Genocide and On the Justice of Roosting Chickens –This text refers to the Hardcover edition. Available at Amazon.com.
Ali Eteraz, author and counsel for Abu Ghraib prisoners:
“an incredible book about Abu Ghraib and torture.”
John Bellamy Foster, editor and scholar:
“For those seeking a grasp of the full moral and political dimensions of the current U.S. torture regime we strongly recommend the new Monthly Review Press book The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media by Lila Rajiva. Not only does Rajiva expose the reality of U.S. torture of prisoners, she also uncovers the media’s complicity in legitimating such practices.”
Reclaim the Media:
The book is a model of in-depth, citizen media analysis, not only skewering craven propagandists, but also revealing the shameful double standards which have undergirded the main stream of Iraq war coverage in the US. Rajiva’s book also offers an unflinching and clear-worded analysis of the role of torture and terror in contemporary American foreign policy.
Asians in Media Magazine:
Abu Ghraib and the American media, a review
28th July, 2006
by Suhayl Saadi (whose writing has been included in the top 100 Scottish novels of all time)
This book is a convincing dissection of the manner in which language is often used by media to support state power structures, with a particular focus on the current situation in Iraq.
Rajiva’s central thesis is that the US media’s role is to mask both the “systematic lawless practice” evinced through Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, the rendition of suspects etc., and the nature of the power behind it.
The Language of Empire portrays the nominal commander, Brigadier Janis Karpinsky as a fall guy. Only a handful of the 1,800 photographs from Abu Ghraib received wide exposure. These lurid images of scourging and penance, Rajiva argues, effectively displacing the facts of assault, rape and murder in favour of a redemptive trailer-trash soap opera.
The Orwellian use of moral language and even the mechanisms of law themselves develop political and power issues into legal ones……
And so, the book continues, the invasion and occupation of Iraq was portrayed in some quarters as being essentially a virtuous act, undertaken in pursuit of liberation.
Rajiva blames this on “corporatisation of both civil society and military,” the rise of the Public Relations industry, the “autism of Western historians”, the deep psychological wound inflicted by the defeat in Vietnam and the inculcation of fear among the populace.
The murder of Nicholas Berg swept Abu Ghraib off the air and seemed to be portrayed by the US media retroactively to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq and to some extent to ameliorate the actions committed at Abu Ghraib.
Rajiva argues that the mainstream US media avoids foregrounding the well-documented reports of, for example, the rape of women in Abu Ghraib as such reports and images would tend to debunk the liberation narrative.
The Language of Empire also delineates the role of the CIA, the complicity of the medical profession in Abu Ghraib and the worrying synergism between the corporate state and fundamentalist Christian Zionism….
Of course, the USA is far from alone when it comes to issues of this sort and more discourse still ensues there than in many other parts of the world and one could argue that the enormous military power of the contemporary USA understandably tends to focus critique on this particular state above all others…..
With lucid rationality and a meticulously referenced research base, Rajiva forensically pulls apart the workings of the state and the corporate media alike and makes a strong argument that too often, the latter can end up effectively serving the former…….
She calls for a “broad, popular inquiry” into this whole area.
The Language of Empire should be on every journalist’s bookshelf and would form part of a growing canon comprising analytical critiques of the media published by the likes of (in the UK) Greg Philo, David Miller, Robert Fisk, John Pilger and Robin Ramsay and (in the USA) Sheldon Rampton, Sy Hersh, Michael Moore et al.
Suhayl Saadi is a writer.
His novel, Psychoraag, was short-listed for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, won a PEN Oakland Award in California.
Prison Essays, by political prisoner, Mumia Abu Jamal:
Writer Lila Rajiva argues, in her remarkable *The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media* (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2005), that the tortures at Abu Ghraib prison on the outskirts of Baghdad shows something deep and ugly in the American state:
“Rajiva tells us many of the stories from Iraq that have been largely whitewashed from the safe coverage that the corporate media airs. She tells us the many cases where Iraqi women were raped by Americans, and subjected to public humiliations.
Perhaps if more Americans read, saw or heard such accounts, they would not be mystified by the steady growing of the insurgency in Iraq, which is surely fueled, in part, by how Americans treated Iraqi men and women in prisons there.”
Amazon reviewer, Patricia Goldsmith (Island Park, NY, USA):
This book is a must-read. A combination of CIA torture expert Alfred McCoy and political language expert George Lakoff, with a strong dash of investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, Rajiva’s book explores the black depths of our culture in an attempt to answer the question that was immediately and explicitly forbidden in the days following 9/11: why did this happen?
But when you start digging under the bland layers of media propaganda, you have to be willing to follow wherever the evidence leads. You have to be willing to ask the big questions, the ones that our corporate media exist to distract us from….
We should all return again to those pictures, and then take a good hard look at the latest headlines: the commuting of Scooter Libby’s sentence, the military failure in Iraq, the dark warnings that we’re due for another terrorist attack, the extreme rightward shift of the Supreme Court. It’s time for citizens to put it all together and start pushing back before the darkness becomes permanent.
Whether we like the questions or not, they are essential, precisely because they are forbidden. And whatever answers you ultimately come up with, Rajiva’s book is an indispensable start for exploration.
S. Sherman, “lefteyeonbooks.org”:
“In toto the book provides a vivid, compelling portrait of the Abu Ghraib torture and is ultimately convincing in arguing that this is part of the essence of the American intervention in Iraq, rather than an unfortunate failure. Rajiva’s argument that this is rooted in a belief in the exercise of power for the sake of power, among virtually all levels of the civilian and military authorities, is unsettling, as is her dissection of the discourses of legalism and moral purity used to obscure the crimes. The idea that torture is central, not marginal, to the occupation will linger with you.”
“Ideology”, says Lila Rajiva, “prevents the citizens of the state from recognising its violence and allows the state to rewrite the general terrorising of a population through detentions and torture as the inevitable and just operation of law.”
That’s in her excellent book The Language of Empire, an examination of American state violence and political culture in light of Abu Ghraib. The ideology, in Rajiva’s account, derives from the myth of Prometheus, America as a rebel taking on the international political and legal establishment lodged atop Mount Olympus. America stealing fire from the world powers to give to the powerless, those states with weak capacity. This myth doesn’t so much conceal as provide a semi-coherent story to account for a global system of bribery, coercion, dependency and corruption.
Chris Floyd (Empire Burlesque):
www.chris-floyd.com/index.php?option=com_jomcomment&jc_task=rss&contentid=1043&opt=com_content – 18k –
Anyone who wants to do further reading on this subject should pick up a copy of Lila Rajiva\’s superlative book \’The Language of Empire – Abu Ghraib and …
Review by Seth Sandronsky, also published at Z Space.
“Rajiva decries a media narrative that erases vital history and, bogged down in political and legal minutiae, reinforces rather than critiques the official view of Iraq’s invasion and occupation as liberation. She strengthens her case by the placing of editorials and reports from the U.S. right wing and “mainstream” press into a historical context. Thus, for her, “the establishment media” (the western media news feeds like AFP and Reuters, the media conglomerates like CBS and Fox) “will continue to erase the colonial legacy of the modern world and present Abu Ghraib as an aberration, and yet present the policy behind it as somehow vital to a righteous ”war on terror.”” Rajiva argues succinctly that the absence of this contextual view from the mass media indicates its importance.
In addition, she explains how media coverage during Senate Armed Services Committee Hearings on the Iraq torture scandal was derailed by the beheading, in Iraq, of Nicholas Berg, an American-Jewish citizen and contractor. To deconstruct Berg’s tale (he, a GOP operative, was supposedly on a humanitarian mission), Rajiva turns to the mythic figure of Prometheus, the Greek titan. A stress on individualism and optimism was at the core of the media’s empathy with Berg. But Rajiva points out, it was “another instance of the extraordinarily skewed and inadequate news coverage that has left American audiences with no sense at all of the suffering inflicted on Iraqis during the ongoing pacification of their country, a suffering measured beside which a single death, however excruciating, does not have an equal political significance.” Berg in Iraq was an honored victim. But the tens of thousands Iraqis who perished during and after the U.S. invasion (following 14 years of trade sanctions, weapons inspections and U.S./UK bombing missions), were effectively deemed unworthy of the humanizing portrayal that Berg received. In the process, the media assiduously helps to create a flawed view of the world and the place of U.S. citizens within it.
In her final chapter, Rajiva turns to the relationship between media and religion. Charges that Israel oppresses the Palestinians have been judged by papers such as the New York Times to be evidence of anti-Semitism. And the U.S. Christian Right has, successfully, amplified this distortion of geopolitical reality. Meanwhile, the Jewish state’s continuing theft of Palestinian land has fateful consequences for the present. “It is this secular history that provides the context for the emergence of the anti-Arabism whose visible face we see in the extraordinarily demeaning images of Abu Ghraib,” Rajiva writes.
She is no academic who constructs a theory of empire, media and torture and leaves it at that; rather, she concludes with a heartfelt appeal “to the media of the future, to Web-based activists, citizen journalists and people of conscience to uncover the whole truth of the imperial conquest of Iraq and the overt and hidden savagery on which it rests, for which Abu Ghraib is the deepest and truest emblem.”
Lila Rajiva has written an excellent four part series on Iraqi women and torture examining the treatment of women in Iraq.
Kate Cloud is the former director of Political Research Associates, the former executive director of RESPOND (an agency assisting battered women), and serves on the Peacework Program Committee.
Language of EmpireRemember Abu Ghraib? Once Saddam Hussein’s most notorious prison, the huge complex was converted into an American military prison after the US invasion of Iraq in April 2003. Most of us had never heard of Abu Ghraib until reports of torture, complete with horrifying photos, were made public a year later. In The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media, Lila Rajiva examines the US government and mainstream media’s discourse following the torture disclosures, peeling away the layers of misinformation, distortion, omissions and re-framing to reveal the cold and calculated ideology of empire.
The images are seared into our minds. US military personnel laughing at a pile of naked Iraqi bodies. The iconic silhouette of a hooded prisoner, his wired hands extended. Snarling dogs snapping at exposed genitals. Yet these are just a fraction of the incidents documented by hundreds of photos and witness testimony. Most of the evidence, including the rape and torture of Iraqi women and children, was judged by the press, the Pentagon, and Congress to be too disturbing for the American public to view and discuss.
After a flurry of righteous indignation and promises to investigate, the Abu Ghraib story was quickly eclipsed by the Republican and Democratic conventions, and the sensational accounts of the beheading of American Nick Berg. Of course, partial investigations were conducted, though the command structure has had impunity, and the public’s attention has been focused on legal fine points as if any crimes committed were against the US system of justice rather than the flesh and blood of Iraqi human beings.
By exposing the political context in which the abuses of Abu Ghraib took place, Rajiva demonstrates that such pornographic violence is not only predictable but inevitable, a necessary component of the corporate elite’s quest for “full spectrum dominance.” The author analyzes the American media’s portrayal of the Abu Ghraib crimes through the lenses of race, religion, and gender, leaving the reader with a stark reminder that these events can only be understood in relationship to government actions such as the rendition of certain prisoners to countries that torture, the savaging of our right to privacy, our right to hear the charges against us, and our right to speak freely.
Rajiva addresses the phenomenon of a neoconservative power so vast and comprehensive in its reach and scale that it is virtually invisible to the majority of Americans. Part research and analysis and part polemic, this book is difficult reading, both in terms of its grisly subject matter and in its organization, which could have benefited from closer editing. Still, in a time when the corporate-controlled American media filters out any challenges to the status quo of inequality and sanitized violence, The Language of Empire provides an important dissection of the mechanisms of imperial power in all its monstrous excess.
The State of Nature
What motivates the US aggression in Iraq?
Rajiva offers a number of answers. There is the ‘Promethean’ ideology of the Bush administration: “a fascination with advanced technology not only of weaponry but especially of communication and information … a tendency towards secrecy, covert actions, and the creation of extra legal channels, an emphasis on maneuverability, flexibility, lightness and speed in the deployment of forces, a radical reordering of the military that blurs the line between military and civilian functions … The embrace of privatization and of operational models drawn from business.”
The Prometheans are obsessed with the construction of an information web that can capture everything; at the same time they are focused on secrecy and obfuscation. The blasting of the ‘Barney’ theme song over and over at a detainee locked in a container in the desert is paradigmatic; the humor of the music choice obscuring the reality of the torture…..
“The Christian does not look first at the shining image of his own salvation, the national myth that feeds his secret self-sufficiency, dancing in the mirror of the delightful burden of liberating others from their unlikeness to himself. Yet this is what we hear from thoughtless pulpits that sink our hearts in a shallow sea of faithless consolation. When will we turn the mirror on ourselves and feel the illusions which our violence needs, or, in the words of Lila Rajiva,”When the villainy is ours but the fault lies at higher levels of the state, the language ceases to form a personal narrative and disaggregates into the shapeless jargon ofvbureaucracy, shifting attention away from the actors to the process, diffusing their responsibility like pixels on a screen.”(p. 84)
“Nearly every one of you needs to get a copy of “The Language of Empire” by Lila Rajiva and read it cover to cover…twice. It’s not a long read, but densely packed with examples of how our thoughts and loyalties are manipulated. Most of you are caught in the us-vs.-them, Republican-vs.-Democrat false dichotomy. It really is a matter of needing to back away from the tree you’re examining to see that there’s a whole forest. It’s a matter of perception, and our current government is one giant PSYOP. How do I know? I work in the heart of it, and I see it every day I’m at work…..”