Monday, May 10, 2004


Rudy Giuliani's handling of prisoner abuse should be a lesson for the Bush administration

Mayor Giuliani was blamed for the actions of a few bad cops

President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld are facing a barrage of criticism over what happened to the tortured Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. There have been calls for Rumsfeld to resign and Bush has, once again, been forced to defend his decision to go to war. Critics have assailed the Bush Administration, even going so far as accusing it of implementing a policy which led to the offensive actions taken at the prison. The criticism that has been aimed at the very top of the government echoes what happened in 1997 in New York City.

In the summer of 1997, Rudy Giuliani was mayor of New York. He was up for re-election that fall against Manhattan Borough President Rush Messinger. Allegations of prisoner abuse erupted that summer concerning a Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima. Louima was arrested in August outside a Brooklyn nightclub. Police had been called to break up a fight and somehow Louima got involved and was arrested for striking a cop. At the station house, Louima was taken to a bathroom in handcuffs, and was tortured by a broom stick. His subsequent wounds were serious and he was taken to the hospital. The media pounced on the story of police brutality. However, the story really exploded when Louima explained, from his hospital bed, to gathered print and television reporters that before a police officer violated him with the broom handle, the cop shouted "it's Giuliani time!" This touched off a firestorm of controversy that affected race relations, politics, the NYPD and of course, Giuliani.

Torture victims have been exploited for political gains

Longtime Giuliani critics took the "Giuliani time" comment and ran with it. They said that this one sentence indicated that Giuliani was presiding over a paramilitary police city-state that preyed on the weak and vulnerable, especially minorities. They assailed his aggressive Quality of Life initiatives as barbarian, draconian and racist. Giuliani constantly fended off questions about his leadership style and whether he was to blame for what happened in the Brooklyn station house bathroom. There were calls for Giuliani's police commissioner, Howard Safir, to resign.

Giuliani and Safir did not back down when faced with such strong criticism. Giuliani condemned the actions of a few police officers (Justin Volpe was sentenced to 30 years in jail for violating Louima) but he defended the vast majority of good police officers who risk their lives every day. Giuliani was strong in defense of his policies, leadership style and stewardship of the city but he never took the blame for the actions of a few bad apples in the police department.

Al Sharpton told Louima to lie that a cop said "it's Giuliani time!"

In the aftermath of the Louima case, it turns out that no officer ever screamed out, "it's Giuliani time." Abner Louima himself recanted the accusation and said that someone suggested he give that story to the media in order to gain maximum exposure. Many have openly concluded that Al Sharpton told Louima to make that incendiary statement.

The Bush Administration looks like it's following Giuliani's example. Bush officials have rightly apologized for what happened to the Iraqi prisoners. But, no one should be taking the blame for the actions of a few people who caused a lot of harm to the Iraqi prisoners and even their fellow soldiers in the military.

There are many other good opinions about the Abu Ghraib case including those at Citizen Smash, Winds of Change, Deans World, Blackfive, Outside the Beltway, PowerLine, Daily Pundit, Pejmanesque, Joshua Claybourn, Balloon Juice, PoliBlog, Watcher of Weasels, Daily News Brief, Instapundit, Andrew Sullivan, Little Green Footballs.


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