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(DV) Rajiva: Preview of Abu Ghraib in New Orleans







Preview of Abu Ghraib in New Orleans
by Lila Rajiva
October 13, 2005

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Less than two weeks ago, on September 29, US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein ordered the government to release fresh evidence -- 87 photos and 4 video tapes -- of detainee torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib which the ACLU had sought in a lawsuit brought against General Richard Myers in 2003.

But for anyone looking for confirmation that brutality and abuse is not a wartime aberration but a homegrown reality in American law enforcement, there’s no need to wait. An Associated Press Television News tape from New Orleans provides a sneak preview.

64-year-old Robert Davis was hit at least four times in the head last Saturday night as he stood outside a New Orleans bar near Bourbon Street. As he seemed to resist, flailing at his attackers, four officers -- three white and one light-skinned -- dragged him to the ground and then kneed and punched him twice, leaving him with blood flowing from his arm into the gutter. Another white officer, Stuart Smith, an eight-year veteran of the department, then ordered APTN producer Rich Matthews and his cameraman to stop shooting. When Matthews held up his press credentials, the officer grabbed him, pushed him backward over the car, and punched him in the stomach while letting loose a stream of profane invective. A mug shot shows Davis, who was booked for public intoxication and resisting arrest, with his right eye swollen shut, an abrasion on the left side of the neck, and a cut on his right temple.

None of the officers were newbies, and though they claimed that they were severely stressed by conditions in New Orleans, the truth is the department has had more than ten years of repeated charges of racism, brutality and corruption. During the hurricane, police were involved in looting as well -- apparently making off with nearly 200 cars from a dealership. Davis is the latest proof that drinking while black -- or even just watching others drink -- is an offense punishable by severe beating and even death in America.

Remember the hideous torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in August 1997? Louima was simply unlucky enough to be standing outside the Rendez Vous Club in Flatbrush, Brooklyn, NY, when the police came to break up a fight. He was repeatedly beaten and tortured in the anus with a toilet plunger. Six officers were involved and many others witnessed the barbarity but not one of them or the many people who witnessed the beating intervened or decried it. Louima was delivered to emergency care at Coney Island Hospital where the officers patched together a flimsy cover story that blamed his intestinal injuries on consensual homosexual sex. When Magali Laurent, a nurse at the hospital, blew the whistle, there was an uproar of outrage. This was supposed to be business as usual. That’s the same business that showed up on our newspapers last year when the imperial military and the court press proclaimed itself shocked, shocked! at the sexual torture of Iraq civilians in prison.

Only two years ago in November 2003, another black man, 41-year-old Nathaniel West, who had  passed out drunk outside a fast food restaurant in Cincinnati, was beaten to death by five white and one black policemen wielding metal nightsticks. Tapes showed that the unarmed West resisted. But who wouldn’t if he/she were being clubbed in the head by six men? Jones was beaten at least a dozen times for several minutes even after he had fallen to the ground and been subdued. Only when he ceased breathing did the assault stop. He died minutes after he was taken to emergency care.

The routine assault and looting of Iraqi civilians caught up in searches and random detentions in Iraq are not anomalous, as we are told solemnly by imperial apologists, but the export of racist homegrown brutality endemic in our law enforcement. Abu Ghraib is the return of this repressed, violent underbelly of America's “liberal” state.

Lila Rajiva is a free-lance writer in Baltimore and the author of The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the US Media (Monthly Review Press, September 2005). She can be reached at: Copyright (c) 2005 by Lila Rajiva

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