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The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media


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 America.

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.

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, co-editor 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

Table of Contents

  1. Graphic Evidence I: Photographs
  2. Framing a Narrative I: Politics as the Personal
  3. Framing a Narrative II: Politics as Law
  4. Graphic Evidence II: Videotape
  5. Context I: The Violence of Virtue
  6. Theater of Pain
  7. Prometheus
  8. Context II: Virtual Violence
  9. The Torture Trompe L’Oeil
  10. Tower of Babel



Lila Rajiva is a web activist and freelance journalist based in Baltimore. She has an advanced degree in politics from the Johns Hopkins University and has taught at the University of Maryland. Her writings can be found on Dissident VoiceCounterpunch, and Alternet, among others.

SKU: mrp1196 Categories: ,
Topics: Imperialism Places: Middle East

Publication Date: November 2005

Number of Pages: 176

Paperback ISBN: 9781583671191