Islamic State (IS) member Mohammed Emwazi aka Jihadi John was killed by an American drone strike on Thursday night in Raqqa. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was criticised for stating his preference would have been for arrest of the said individual, but it’s the only rational position to hold.
The state would have us believe the case is as follows: Emwazi murdered Western hostages on camera, had declared war on the West and was plotting further attacks against Western targets. Where he resided was too well protected by the Islamic State for safe extrapolation, so the threat was removed at source.
Firstly, without getting into the conspiracy realm, there is very little verifiable evidence in the court of public opinion with which to convict Emwazi. Even if you accept he is the masked figure, we can only say for sure he is complicit in the production of murderous propaganda in which British and American citizens were killed. The masked figure is never actually shown drawing blood from the orange jump suited hostages. It’s all implied in the sickly slick productions. In the context of Islamic State, where beheading is something of an initiation rite for new recruits, there must exist an element of doubt as to who actually killed the hostages.
The same Jihadi John figure did appear (masked) in a gross snuff film of the beheading of 16 Syrian pilots where he verifiably committed a murder. As utterly horrific as that is, Western powers are supporting attacks on Assad forces with arms supplies, so the sudden concern for those forces looks illogical. What is obliteration with an RPG or evisceration with a knife between friends?
We are left with taking the assurances of the Washington Post and other media outlets the masked figure is Emwazi, even though they had previously thought at least three different British Jihadis were the person under the mask, or the assurance of the intelligence community they have evidence to connect Emwazi with the masked man.
In the context of a different kind of murderous propaganda, the Iraq dossiers case for war, I would think the assurance of Western Intelligence agencies on the subject of the Middle East carries all the weight of gnat’s dung. It is also worth remembering, court cases based on facial recognition of persons wearing a mask has been thrown out in the North for much lesser offences due to uncertainties in the analysis. Surely the ultimate sanction of murder should require an even higher certainty? Would not a court of law, where the evidence is heard by his peers, be the best place to iron out the inconsistencies and attribute blame? Otherwise, we are in the realm of claiming our extrajudicial killing is more morally correct than their extrajudicial killings.
There is the remarkably prescient line from the film, A Man for All Seasons, the story of Sir Thomas More, who stood up to Henry VIII when he rejected the Catholic Church to obtain a divorce and remarriage. In this scene Sir Thomas rejects the chance to manufacture the arrest of someone whose perjury will lead to his own death:
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
In refusing to operate outside the law, Sir Thomas highlights the importance of the rule of law, which we are surrendering with drone strikes. This is a key point. It’s not about demanding due process for Emwazi's benefit, or others like him (I am not a good enough Christian to inhabit that space); it’s about demanding due process for our own sakes. It’s about ensuring there is no punishment without an individual’s transgression. Killing Emwazi, if all that is alleged of him is true, might make us safer in the near term, but the practice of extrajudicial killings is one that endangers us in the medium to long term, and to a much greater degree, given the level of intrusion into our lives the state also demands. Such extraordinary power cannot be entrusted to those paranoiacs who distrust their publics so much nothing must remain private from their eyes. As such, it’s no comfort that drones are only used against terrorists at present. We need only look at the "misuse" of anti-terror laws such as Section 44, being used against anti-war protesters or 11 year old girls to know how flexible definitions can be.
The media can no longer be trusted to monitor the excesses of those in power, and they may serve some covert function in the drone programme because one novel new tactic appears to be in play with flushing out their targets, and it plays on their fear, ego and paranoia.
I first noticed it with the Junaid Hussain drone killing, a weird story appeared in the British newspapers a week or so before stating his wife, fellow mujahir (and ex-punk band bassist), had been seen in Birmingham with two teenage Asian boys. If you are a jihadi away from home and reading that your wife has left the country, you might be tempted to break cover and check where she is, or your family in the UK checks if it's true by emailing you thus allowing drones to get a trace on their target. Similarly with Jihadi John, apparently keeping a low profile since the last hostage video featuring Kenji Goto, and paranoid of spies according to journalists he chaperoned around Mosul, stories appeared in the media of him leaving IS after angering it's leaders, and was currently hiding out in Libya. Fantastical stuff, enough to concern a worried UK based family to check his wellbeing perhaps?
One way of testing this is: the other Jihadi Beatle, George aka Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary (originally thought to be John by the media), was "spotted" in Turkey, a broken man wanting to return to the UK, after growing disillusioned with the Islamic State. So perhaps it's just a matter of time until he is droned in Syria?