Sunday, November 15, 2015

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Death Of A Beatle

Daithi O’Donnabhain examines the recent death of Islamic State member Mohammed Emwazi aka Jihadi John. Daithi O’Donnabhain is a regular commenter on TPQ.

Daithi O’Donnabhain

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?


Anonymous said...

Thought provking article. See also Max Hastings article in the Daily Mail "I say good riddance but admit to qualms".

There is little at issue if drones have been used to kill combatants within a war zone and there will be no international lawyers making any case for Emwazi. Who drones kill is not often at issue but more the location is for instance when a drone stikes a target in Pakistan this can give rise to questions about the soveriengty of a 'peaceful nation' that could be seen as an act of aggreesion beyond the actual lawfullness of any killing.

Though is is hard to know what value the right to a fair trial would play in any case that would surely attract closed material proceedings?

DaithiD said...

Thanks Christy ,I thought the location issue was dodged by the US not admitting they are behind them? The crass celebrations of his death Friday were short lived weren't they?

Anonymous said...


They were overtaken by bigger news --until I saw this I had forgotten all about Emwazi. The author raises the question about there being a distinction between being thought to have carried out beheadings than actually being the person who did it. My suspicion is that ISIS did not want to show that when it came to it Emwazi just did not have the stomach to do it himself. Should it matter if he did not actually do it if he wanted to pose as the perpetrator? Does it matter if he was in a war zone or neutral and out of bound territory? For me the real question about drone strikes is how many times do they get it wrong in or out of a war zone?

I recall objections from republicans about 'shoot to kill'. How I recall it being explained to me was that being ambushed was not the issue but that if the Brits wanted to deny they were fighting a war then they could not use 'shoot to kill' operations under civil law. Shoot to kill ambushes were, as I understand it, an acceptible form of engagement in a declared war. If that is the case then it matters little if Emwazi was ambushed from 20 or 20000 feet away.

DaithiD said...

Christy, he definitely had the stomach for slicing a pilots head off , so on balance I think he could have given the hostages the same, but this is what the court should of decided on,with all the other ambiguities like his face and voice being distorted. Shoot to kill is power no governments should have, generations before us strived so hard to restrict the power of the state, ours is too lazy to see their erosion and it's implications. We may have to learn the lessons of how unnacountable governments turn tyrannical again the hardway.

Anonymous said...


In a war situation the rules of engagment allow for shoot to kill. He was killed in what ISIS considers its capital so I don't think Emwazi was unlawfully killed by any international law standards. Had he been captured then sure he could have been put on trial.

But then should all ISIS fighters be captured to be put on trial rather than killed? I am all for humane war ethics but any expectation that the Brits or US should have only captured Emwazi is to put an unreasonable burden on them. They have the burden not to kill the wrong people which they often fail to do. We can't really complain when they get the right person, in the war zone, they couldn't reasonably capture him alive, so they took him out -that is warfare. Slicing one man's head off is a war crime, participating in lining many defenceless noncombatants up to be beheaded is a crime against humanity, participating in the extermination of ethnic groups or minorities is Genocide -take your pick he was up to his balls in them all. I cannot say that he didn't deserve what he got.