Buy: “Abu Ghraib and the American Media”

The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media (Monthly Review Press, December, 2005) was the first study of the media coverage of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

It’s built around essays I wrote in Dissident Voice in July 2004 about the absence of women in the torture photos coming out of Abu Ghraib. You can check the articles out on this blog. A closing chapter, The Tower of Babel, was published early in 2005 in Counterpunch.

This was one of the first books to show that the torture was not a random mistake but part of a deliberate policy and to ask why we saw no pictures of Iraqi women being tortured.

It was the first to analyze the discrepancies in the Senate Hearings.

LOE is used as a reference work in university libraries across a number of disciplines – law, media studies, art, international relations and critical theory – at around 300 universities all round the world from Yale law school and Johns Hopkins University in the U.S., to Heidelberg University in Germany and Monash Institute in Australia.

It was an Amazon political best-seller in 2006 in Germany and in Canada.

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—the Guernica of the 21st century—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, illegal, and savage 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


Ali Eteraz, author, philosopher and counsel for Abu Ghraib prisoners:
“an incredible book about Abu Ghraib and torture.”

John Bellamy Foster, noted scholar and activist:

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 like Hannity and Limbaugh, but also revealing the shameful and often racist 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:

by Suhayl Saadi (work included in the top 100 Scottish novels of all time):

Abu Ghraib and the American media, a review
28th July, 2006

by Suhayl Saadi

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 enquiry” 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.

Sadly, “the silence in which liberal ideology commits war crimes” and which is bemoaned and protested against by many – journalists and non-journalists – within the USA itself is made that bit deeper by the vacuum into which this superbly cogent book has fallen.

Not just in the USA, but more generally perhaps, mainstream media and governments alike would do well on occasion to turn the mirror back on themselves.

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:

“The Prometheans of today acknowledge no limits except of their own imagining, and at least for now the world that they find themselves in allows them the self-indulgence of that imagining. With such absolute power comes absolute corruption, only not the corruption that the law easily unmasks, the simple corruption of bribery and chicanery. The occupation of Iraq displays ample evidence of that as well, but the deeper corruption that rots the institutions of America today is one legitimated by law, whose presence is revealed not in the courthouse but in the solitary recesses of prison cells hidden from the light. Torture is the insignia of this corrupt power. Torture is the deadly proof of the metastasizing cancer of American empire.” [p. 186]

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.


y Patricia Goldsmith (Island Park, NY USA) – See all my reviews

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. As Rajiva says:

“. . . it is at the public’s imagination that the new war is directed, with its black psychological operations that erase the boundary between civilian and military, war and peace, state and non-state. Civilizational war is a literary creation, a narrative spun out of whole cloth of psychological operations by spy agencies whose masters stand to benefit from such a war. . . .

“Return again to the pictures from Abu Ghraib. What if Al Qaeda is only a pretext? What if the war ON terror is really a war OF terror? Who would benefit? What if Abu Ghraib were not the anomalous exception in an open society but a gathering shadow of darkness that creeps day by day over a society that was really never as open as it claimed to be? What if a society that has wrestled with one too many demons has come to resemble some of them?”

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.
Dear Lila Rajiva:

Thank you ever so much for that beautiful article on Ron Paul. You are a sweet heart of the true political journalism.

Edward Tkacik

WW2 combat veteran

Cressona PA

S. Sherman Left Eye on Books:

“in toto the book provides a vivid, compelling portrait of the Abu Graib 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.”

Lenin’s Tomb

“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. – 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

Media Mouse

Lila Rajiva has written an excellent four part series on Iraqi women and torture examining the treatment of women in Iraq.

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…..


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