Sex and Other

Drugs and
Rock 'n' Roll

Media and

Society (and

Politics and Other


Casual Fridays

Rantings and

In and Out:
Sex Advice from our Staff Dominatrix

Employee of the



Who We Are

Write for Us!

Invest in Anti-

Play Our Theme Song
by Simon Inns
(MP3 format; 1.5 MB download)

Donate to the Cause!

Welcome to the ghetto!


African-Americans can Empathize with Tourtured Iraqis


by Rayfield A. Waller



Every conscious African American in this country is feeling galled by the hideous photos depicting the torture of Iraqi detainees, but for more reasons than Americans might think. It isn't only photos but the mendacity of government officials seeking to distance themselves from those ugly images, that is galling us.

President Bush, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs Chair General Richard B. Myers, General Ricardo Sanchez who last November authorized military intelligence to go into Iraqi prisons, and a host of congressional members are all mouthing the same platitudes: "this isn't the America I know," "This isn't what Americans are are like," "These individuals (soldiers shown abusing detainees) are an aberration," and words to that effect.

Well, this IS the America African Americans know. Most bizarre of all the sound bites seeking to rationalize or minimize the atrocity unfolding before America as a mirror to show us who and what we really are, are Rumsfeld's sly verbal gymnastics in seeming to take responsibility, not really for the brutal policy of torture itself, but for the public ugliness of "those unthinkable pictures" which make him "feel terrible." As if the public relations disaster the White House has suffered were more grievous than the perverse acts no public relations ploy could ever smooth over.

We wonder in the wake of Rumsfeld's duplicitous statements, what is the real offense to him? That U.S. military intelligence, the CIA, mercenaries, and private, corporate operatives hired by the Pentagon seem to have deliberately planned and implemented a policy of psychological, physical, and sexual humiliation and torture against detainees in order to "break" them? Or is it that there are photos for all the world to see of that policy being dutifully carried out?

The same or similar policies have been planned, implemented, and carried out many times in U.S. history: in the Philippines where thousands of Filipino civilians under U.S. occupation were butchered by American troops; in Viet Nam where thousands of Vietnamese civilians were shot, raped, tortured, and burned alive by napalm under the direction of General Westmoreland; at Attica where dozens of men were murdered, beaten, stripped naked and humiliated by the New York National Guard; at Wounded Knee where Native Americans were shot down like dogs by the FBI; against Fred Hampton who was assassinated in his sleep by the FBI during a COINTELPRO operation; in Waco Texas where men women and children were burned alive by the ATF after having been subjected to psychological torture for several days; on the so-called "Highway of Death" in Kuwait where, following a cease-fire, helpless Iraqi soldiers and civilians were cut down by American helicopter and jet pilots using them for bombing and target practice; against American protester, Rachel Corrie, gruesomely murdered by an American-made bulldozer driven by an Israeli soldier, the photographs of which were never seen in the mass media but only on the internet; and most likely also at this very moment against the nameless, faceless Arab detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

The 370th and 372nd Military Police Company, and private defense contractors such as CACI International were allegedly given carte blanche to weaken and to break detainees using humiliation and abuse. Military officers allegedly ordered American soldiers to "soften up" detainees, encouraging them to outdo one another in imagining ways to heighten Arab humiliation.

African Americans recognize the sick smiles and sadistic leers on the faces of the tormentors—these are the same faces we have seen kicking, beating, urinating on, and lynching us continuously from the era of post reconstruction through present day. Yet, we instinctively know also that it is the height of mendacity to ignore Pentagon contracted corporations like CACI International and their government clients while demonizing young men and women encouraged and/or ordered to engage in torture. Those young, seemingly all or nearly all, Anglo soldiers were acting tactically. We can see, and already know from the lessons of history anyway, that CIA and corporate forces are ultimately behind these acts as those who originated them as strategic policy.

We know that women, as always, make easy scapegoats. Pfc. Lynndie
England, pictured standing over a naked detainee at the end of a leash, and Army Reserve Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was punitively relieved of command of the detention centers in Iraq, were not alone in the abuse, and neither woman originated the policies that they were likely ordered to carry out against detainees. Detainees, by the way, are what the Iraqi victims are, not prisoners awaiting trial by jury, convicted felons, 'evildoers' (whatever the hell that is), monsters or demons, but detained suspects, Iraqi citizens guilty of civil infractions, and in some cases, accused pickpockets. The American State Department and the Pentagon freely admit that perhaps as many as 90% of those detained were never accused of, or conclusively proven to be, "terrorists" or "insurgents."

The mass media are implicated. Newsreaders and journalists alike are now using language to make banal and trivial the decidedly Texan, oil barony of corporate evil now directing our foreign policy. Talking heads from Russert to Cokie Roberts to Rather are shying away from the words "torture" and "rape" to describe the torture we have already seen and the reported child abuse and rape that as of this writing, the Pentagon has seen in photos and videos of but has yet to release. The news media instead has been juggling more opaque terms like "abuse," and "maltreatment." They describe the administration as engaging in "damage control," and describe not the reality of torture but the "perception" created by pictures of torture.

Thus, much of the most trenchant and critical analysis of these events, certainly the most historically contextualized critique, is happening not within our co-opted media but among ourselves, in personal correspondence, in public and private conversations, and on the Internet. That is the legacy, in many ways, of the anti-globalist movement, which uses e-mail, the Internet, and cell phone technology to create a non-official, non hegemonic public discourse, and to force to force that discourse to a critical mass.

In just such a correspondence I have had with feminist, Italian-American professor, Perri Giovannucci, who is a scholar of Mideastern geopolitics, I have found at least one American woman cultural critic who is less generous than I toward the women implicated in these crimes, but her analysis, in a correspondence she sent me recently, amounts to the same recognition of the unseen corporate forces behind the torturers, and it is an example of the kind of trenchant, fundamental and historically contextualized critique that has been missing in the media:

I was thinking about Lynndie England yesterday. You know that she has been spirited off to an army base somewhere and is being kept from public scrutiny because she is. . . get this. . . pregnant? Yes I know that she was a pawn. It reminded me of the Handmaid's Tale. You know that part where they throw a man, an apprehended government subversive, to the oppressed screaming bacchantes to tear to pieces? I'm sure that they told Lyndie and the other women who have taken part in these atrocities and humiliations "here's your chance girlie to get even with the Muslim sexist pigs. . . you know what they do to THEIR women. . . give 'im a good one up the___. This is for the BURKA .. . etc. . ."

I know this because sexist pigs always love to tell you how misogynist those OTHER men are. Having said that, Lyndie and others like her were WILLING pawns. I'm oppressed. But I wouldn't do that to another human being for any reason. Every woman knows she could be overpowered by any man at any time and beaten, raped, murdered, and this, if for no other reason, is why the women should have empathized with the detainees. What really disgusts me is that these victims were totally defenseless. . . the victims I am speaking of are the DETAINEES, of course, not the women pawns: what disgusts me is not the detainees' defenselessness per se but the fact that the women took advantage of the defenselessness to abuse them.

The burka is not typical of Iraq of course, but of Afghanistan under the Taliban—I am referring to the burka in the context of the anti-Arab propaganda most likely used by the CIA to egg on the women pawns. . . The photos, to me, show the deliberateness of Lyndie and the others—I mean that what they did was premeditated, at least enough to stop and pose for the camera. It also suggests to me that they were being set up. Ultimately they were the stupid pawns of their CIA and mercenary bosses, yes.

(Prof. P. Giovannucci, Dept of English, Barry University, Miami Shores, Florida; from the author's correspondence)

Sadly, African Americans can immediately identify with images of torture of Arabs because of an ongoing legacy of psychological, verbal, and physical violence, brutality, and torture constantly meted out against us here in America. We, just like poor Whites, gays and lesbians, and other Americans of color, are abused by this country's police forces (e.g. Amadou Dialo and Elinore Bumphus), criminal justice system (e.g. the Cook County jail system's well documented brutalization of Black women), and medical industrial complex (e.g. the Tuskegee Experiments).

Ultimately, the most galling thing then is the self-serving lie of omission now being perpetrated by the Bush administration in general, Donald Rumsfeld in particular, by major media analysts and by various state department officials who have yet to name and condemn the policy of CIA and corporate culpability in these war crimes.

Since the war's inception after all, there has been a deliberate policy from the White house down to the level of the Abu Ghraib prison, to weaken, even throw away the Geneva Conventions and to discard any veneer of civilized conduct in the waging of mechanized war. Shadowy, neo-fascist entities such as CACI International get leeway, and paychecks issued on taxpayer accounts, to tear-ass across the world robbing, killing, raping, and torturing human beings in the name of America, and of "fighting terrorism."

I have long feared that the entire history of brutalization of African Americans was essentially practice for the real goal of America's ruling elite: the eventual brutalization and enslavement of every American, and eventually of the entire human race under a global regime of plantation-style slave labor, illiteracy, surveillance, and bodily degradation—in short, the very state of involuntary servitude under a peculiar institution that Black slaves endured in the United States prior to emancipation. If indeed, that is the direction the corporate owners are headed in-toward finally "owning our souls," then all our sorrows have just begun. Frantz Fanon warned about the eventuality of just such an evolution from brutalization of colored people and Jews throughout the early 20th century to this global brutalization with America at the rudder.

Rumsfeld, then, has far more to apologize for than the embarrassment of what is only the latest ugly picture made by the brutality of American foreign policy and of corporate fascism. African Americans know this only too well.



Rayfield Waller is a professor, editor, cultural critic, and staff writer for The Michigan Citizen, a Detroit weekly newspaper. He can be reached through

Posted May 16, 2004 12:32 AM




Hello Mr. Waller, I just read your opinion story titled "African-Americans can Empathize with Tourtured Iraqis" and I have a question for you. I'm white, live near the beach, and enjoy what many would call a "cushy" lifestyle. I tell you this so that you understand my perspective. I believe that the United States creates more opportunity for more people, and provides a better standard of living for more people, than any other organization the world has known. Do you agree? We more or less stole the Southwest US from Mexico, and I think it's worked out pretty well. All you have to do is cross the border from Tijuana into San Diego to see why I think that territory is doing better under our management. The United States has its problems, but name the countries that put more wealth, freedom, and opportunity into the hands of a higher percentage of people. Your list will include a handful of places that feature much smaller, more homogenous societies. Then name the countries that put more wealth, freedom, and opportunity into the hands of more non-whites. That will also be a short list made up of smaller, more homogeneous societies. I thought parts of your story were valid. I think Rumsfield is just as sorry that Abu Ghraib came to light as he is about anything that happened there. But how can you make this statement? I have long feared that the entire history of brutalization of African Americans was essentially practice for the real goal of America's ruling elite: the eventual brutalization and enslavement of every American, and eventually of the entire human race under a global regime of plantation-style slave labor, illiteracy, surveillance, and bodily degradation--in short, the very state of involuntary servitude under a peculiar institution that Black slaves endured in the United States prior to emancipation. Slave labor, illiteracy, surveillance, and bodily degradation are not the engines of wealth. The ruling elite here understand that for them to maximize their wealth the underclass must be incentivized and productive. There are benefits in that for the rest of us, no matter where our ideology lies. If 100% of the Iraqis followed Bush like sheep until he handed the country back to them they'd also realize those benefits for a greater number of their people than they had ever known. If you have time to reply I'd be interested to see how you respond. Respectfully, Stephen Johnson

Posted by: Stephen Johnson at October 4, 2008 6:04 AM

Mr. Johnson; First of all, my article is an article—a critical analysis in fact, and not an "opinion story." This is an important point, inasmuch as your letter is a critique, not a fan letter, or a "rant" or anything other than exactly what it is. Being clear about words and contexts are important right now in American history. It is crucial to be clear with words. I hope that does not sound harsh. I don't mean for it to. Literacy is my profession because I am a teacher and a journalist. Two professions crucial to democracy that are right now under vicious attack by the thugs who run this country—the ruling class. Why? So that they can convince citizens like you that America is as you call it, "an organization" rather than what it truly should be: a democracy. I'm certain, by the tone and diction of your critique you do not belong to that ruling class (don't let the skin color you think you see when you look into your mirror fool you). You, my brother, are oppressed, just as the majority of the American population is, if for no other reason, then because you apparently have been deprived of a true education, and have been filled with the most mendacious propaganda about the ruling class which you think has given you so much simply because you live on one of the rapidly diminishing beaches still left in the wake of the rape of the natural environment (I'd lay you odds, Mr. Johnson, that the tide washing up onto your beach contains so many low level toxins and pollutants that you might not think your life was all that "cushy" someday if you should contract cancer from them). At any rate, your cliche argument that five hundred years of mass murder, genocide, slavery, wage slavery, exploitation, war, rape, chattel domination of women (even white women!) and brutality by the ruling class, their armies, their CIA, and their corporations are somehow a phantasm or not to be even addressed as that much due to the sophistry that "the rulers know that the 'engine' of wealth doesn't run well on the blood of the people" is just too sadly naive to comment on. You say: "The ruling elite here understand that for them to maximize their wealth the underclass must be incentivized and productive. There are benefits in that for the rest of us, no matter where our ideology lies." All I can suggest to you is that you read Howard Zinn's "A Peoples' History of the United States." That's a good place to begin. Try also, anything by Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Also, the books of Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Wolf or Angela Davis. I used to live in a beach environment—Miami. Beautiful weather, I made a decent living, had a beautiful Italian American girlfriend and lived in an exclusive community (Coral Gables) where I never had to see any serious poverty or serious Black people if I chose not to. Can't say that I liked Miami very much. It takes a lack of consciousness and lack of books and newspapers to feel okay about yourself there, even with a beautiful Italian American girlfriend—though she sure helped. Which, of course, is just how it is there: no books, no consciousness, no newspaper. I went to an Ivy League school (Cornell) which is how I can tell you for sure, that the ruling class is not stupid. Just brutal. They do not believe their own propaganda. They want you to believe it, Mr. Johnson. You even more than me. I know I'm oppressed, I'm Black. You, they can fool by telling you your Irish, Italian, Jewish, Polish, and Scottish ancestors getting kicked in the ass, indentured, exterminated, and forced into peonage for a hundred years doesn't matter because you are no longer ethnic but "white." Please understand that even if you are BLACK, this all still applies. Two words: Colin Powell. In short, free your mind, Mr. Johnson. Your skin will follow. Respectfully, Ray Waller

Posted by: Ray Waller at October 4, 2008 6:05 AM



Copyright 2001-2010
Powered by
Movable Type 3.33
Logo design by Molitorious