Behind the Beheadings: Turning History on its Head
October 4, 2014
Gar Smith / War Is a Crime
The latest beheading claimed by the Islamic State has taken the life of British aid worker Alan Henning. In a propaganda video announcing the murder, a masked ISIS spokesperson threatens to next assassinate an American soldier, Peter Edward Kassig. But grisly as they are, these killings were not "acts of war." They were clearly announced acts of revenge prompted by the resumption of US military intervention in Iraq and US bombs that killed ISIS troops and nearby civilians.
(October 3, 2014) -- When the Islamic State (IS) released a sickening video purporting to show the beheading of American journalist James Foley, a militant chorus of neocon voices thundered: "It's an act of war!" On Fox News' "The Kelly File," Charles Krautheimer excoriated Attorney General Eric Holder for announcing the Department of Justice planned to investigate the murder as a criminal case. "Acts of terror," Krautheimer erupted, are not criminal acts. "They are acts of war!"
This could be open to debate. Under 18 US Code § 2331 the term "act of war" means "any act occurring in the course of (A) declared war; (B) armed conflict, whether or not war has been declared, between two or more nations; or (C) armed conflict between military forces of any origin."
An "act of war" generally requires two or more national, sovereign belligerents. While an attack by a group of dissident insurgents may constitute an act of rebellion, it may not constitute an act of war.
Interestingly, if Washington were to "declare war" on the Islamic State, that might serve to grant diplomatic status to the Islamic forces and thereby acknowledge their claim to having established an "Islamic Caliphate."
There would seem to be a moral argument for intervening against IS, a militant force that routinely executes captured soldiers, murders "infidels" and also has reportedly beheaded children. But there is a strategic caveat: Does bringing force to bear guarantee less violence or greater violence? In short: Is the cure to war, more war?
But there is a more fundamental flaw behind the "act of war" cry.
An Act of War or an Act of Revenge?
What happened to James Foley -- and subsequently to fellow American Steven Soltoff and British citizens David Haines and,most recently, Alan Henning -- was not an act of war but an act of retaliation.
President Barack Obama understood there was a quick and clear path to avoiding the death of James Foley and the threats to ISIS' other US and UK hostages: Simply call a halt to the US' punishing aerial campaign. And the president clearly understood the consequences of continuing to wage a war against ISIS targets: If US attacks continued, American hostages would most likely die.
Barack Obama and his advisors chose the path that they knew would result in the deaths of US hostages. And each time a hostage was brutally murdered, the White House invoked the name of the dead American to help fuel the passion for resuming and expanding a new US military adventure in Iraq.
The timeline (though subsequently muddled by the US media) is clear: The barbaric beheadings, shocking as they were, followed a series of US aerial attacks on ISIS ground forces that killed scores of Islamic fighters and, inevitably, a number of adjacent civilians.
And the use of the term "barbaric" deserves some attention. Certainly, the use of a knife blade to commit a beheading is "barbaric" but is it any less barbaric than blowing someone to pieces with a Hellfire missile? A beheading is a surgical operation with limited impact committed by an individual who is personally accountable and can be held criminally responsible for the act. The use of a Hellfire missile tears entire bodies into heaps of bloody, (Collateral Damage) or breaking into song (see video).
First the Bombs, Then the Beheadings
The IS beheadings did not occur in a vacuum. They were acts of revenge triggered in response to American military attacks. It was America that committed the first "act of war" when it launched an aerial assault inside Iraq on August 8. On that date, US Navy McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighters flew into Iraq and bombed Islamic State artillery units and destroyed an Islamic State military convoy.
Still much of the American media has trumpeted the false narrative that ISIS -- in the form of a masked murderer with a British accent -- was the aggressor. On September 18, the San Francisco Chronicle's Washington bureau correspondent Carolyn Lochhead reported: "Obama had resisted intervening until the Islamic State group beheaded two American journalists and captured several Iraqi cities."
This was a patent falsehood. But it was a widely disseminated falsehood. Still, the cause-and-effect relationship remains: The US began bombing Islamic rebel forces in early August. It was not until 12 days later that ISIS executed James Foley.
On August 12, ISIS sent Foley's parents an emailed warning that their son would be executed in retaliation for US airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq. The email read, in part:
We have left you [the USA] alone since your disgraceful defeat in Iraq. We did not interfere in your country or attack your citizens while they were safe in their homes despite our capability to do so! You were given many chances to negotiate the release of your people via cash transactions as other governments have accepted.
We have also offered prisoner exchanges to free the Muslims currently in your detention like our sister Dr. Afi Sidiqqi, however you proved very quickly to us that this is NOT what you are interested in.You have no motivation to deal with the Muslims except with the language of force….
Now you return to bomb the Muslims of Iraq once again, this time resorting to Arial [sic] attacks and "proxy armies", all the while cowardly shying away from a face-to-face confrontation! You do not spare our weak, elderly, women or children so we will NOT spare yours!
You and your citizens will pay the price of your bombings!
The first of which being the blood of the American citizen, James Foley! He will be executed as a DIRECT result of your transgressions towards us!
In the video of James Foley's execution, the ISIS spokesman specifically ties the commencement of US bombing attacks to Foley's fate:
Today, your military air force is attacking us daily in Iraq. Your strikes have caused casualties amongst Muslims. You're no longer fighting an insurgency, we are an Islamic army and a State that has been accepted by a large number of Muslims worldwide, so effectively, any aggression towards the Islamic State is an aggression towards Muslims from all walks of life who have accepted the Islamic Caliphate as their leadership.
So any attempt by you, Obama, to deny the Muslims their rights of living in safety under the Islamic Caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people.
James Foley's final statement (a prepared statement that may or may not have represented Foley's actual thoughts) reinforced the point that his fate was an outcome of renewed US bombing in Iraq, stated that the US decision to launch bombing raids on ISIS was the "last nail in my coffin":
I call on my friends, family, and loved to rise up against my real killers, the US government, for what will happen to me is only a result of their complacency criminality…. I wish I had more time. I wish I could have the hope for freedom to see my family once again, but that ship has sailed. I guess all in all, I wish I wasn't an American. [Read the complete statement below.]
The Beheadings Were Not Shown
Another surprising media misstatement involved the videos themselves. The US media -- from TIME, The New York Times and The Washington Post on down -- routinely and repeatedly claimed that the IS videos "showed the beheading" of hostages. (In fact, the actual act of the beheading was deleted. See details below.)
With this excuse in hand, the videos were scrubbed from the Internet -- along with the videotaped final statements of the victims and the anti-US commentary of the IS executioner. (Many people refused to view the videos because they believed they depicted a gruesome "beheading.")
The response of the media/government complex was schizophrenic. On one had the government claimed the videos provided justification US retaliation. On the other hand, government pressure made it impossible for the American public to assess the criticisms of US global military policies that were cited as justification for the killings.
The critical political content was the major reason the videos were released in the first place. The beheadings were simply a barbaric tool in the IS public relations tool kit. Government pressure to promote the videos as propaganda tool while denying the public an opportunity to watch and judge the content.
In the UK, ABC reported, merely watching the James Foley video could expose viewers to a terrorism charge. At the same time, Twitter and Facebook were tracking down everyone who posted the video and were deleting their accounts.
Those who did watch the videos before they were purged from the Internet, expressed surprise. Popular Resistance, writing on TopInfoPost noted:
The most interesting thing about the video is that despite the hype in the media, there was no actual beheading in the video. The TIME article headline was not an accurate description of the video. There was a dead body that was, as many in the media have said, 'purportedly' a beheaded James Foley, but the actual act of beheading is not shown. The video does show someone purportedly using a knife to saw at Foley's neck, but there is no blood and seems to be no actual cut.
We have seen the videos out of Syria, which are truly atrocious, or the video of the beheading of Daniel Pearl a journalist killed by Al-Qaeda, but unlike those there was a strange absence of blood in this video. The supposed killer just puts the knife to Foley's neck, saws back and forth for a few moments and no blood comes out. Then it cuts to a shot of a severed head over a dead body.
Why didn't the most brutal terrorist group, according to western media, show the actually bloody murder to get the full terrorizingeffect? And why hadn't the lack of that scene been a crucial part of the media's coverage?
Are Beheadings Not 'Barbaric' When Done by Allies?
In a September 17 interview on Democracy Now! Phyllis Bennis elaborated on an article she had published in The Nation in which she pointed out that acts of criminal brutality were happening on both sides of the Syrian/Iraq conflict.
According to Bennis, "The New York Times was the only mainstream media outlet that reported … that the Free Syrian Army -- the so-called moderate part of the Syrian rebels, who the US wants now to increase aid and military support and training and arming -- that the Free Syrian Army had itself beheaded six captives. Six prisoners that they had control of, they beheaded them, right after shooting to death -- right after the shooting death of an American who had been caught by ISIS."
(Barak Barfi, a spokesperson for Steven Sotloff's family, raised another inconvenient truth that was not widely reported. Barfi pointed out that the so-called "moderate" Syrian rebels that Washington has chosen to support were the same ones that first captured, then sold Steven Sotloff to ISIS.)
Human rights organizations have also expressed concern over the number of beheadings by officials in Saudi Arabia. During the first three weeks of August, Saudi executioners decapitated more than one prisoner per day. On August 18, four family members were beheaded for smuggling marijuana. A day later, another Saudi was beheaded for committing an act of "sorcery." In the first seven months of 2014, the Saudis beheaded 41 victims. No one in the US government condemned (let alone mentioned) these apparently "acceptable" beheadings.
And it is not just our Allies that commit acts of barbarism. America itself is also culpable.
The President Invokes Victim's Names to Justify War
Speaking from The Edgartown School in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts on August 20, President Obama somberly declared: "Today, the entire world is appalled by the brutal murder of Jim Foley by the terrorist group, ISIL." The president then went on tooffer the following characterization of ISIS: "They have rampaged across cities and villages -- killing innocent, unarmed civilians in cowardly acts of violence. They abduct women and children, and subject them to torture and rape and slavery." (Worth noting: nearly every one of these crimes also has been ascribed to US forces during American assaults on Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.)
Speaking from Estonia after ISIS made good on its promise to execute reporter Steven Sotloff, President Obama condemned ISIS and insisted "Their horrific acts only unite us as a country and stiffen our resolve to take the fight against these terrorists." And then, the Commander-in-Chief used the occasion to further ramp up the rhetoric of war:
It's not only that we're going to be bringing to justice those who perpetrated this terrible crime against these two fine young men. The United States will continue to lead a regional and international effort against the kind of barbaric and ultimately empty vision. Our objective is clear, and that is: degrade and destroy ISIL so that it's no longer a threat, not just to Iraq but also to the region and to the United States.
Looking at the timing, the lost opportunities and the rhetorical escalation, one comes away with an apprehension that this president (like many presidents before him) had engineered a casus belli -- allowing the sacrifice of innocent American lives to provide an excuse for war that would outrage and galvanize the American public against the latest "barbaric enemy" to threaten the world.
Look Who's Funding ISIS: Some of our Closest Allies
In her Democracy Now! interview, Phyllis Bennis tried to draw attention to the bloody hands behind ISIS's rampage across the border from Syria into Iraq. According to Bennis:
Saudi Arabia is the source of the largest amount of money, from what all the reports are indicating, that is going to ISIS as well as a host of other Islamist and other organizations…. Some of it probably comes from the government, although that's never been confirmed. But this is a very tightly controlled society where, if there was an interest by the government in stopping its own citizens -- whether they are Saudi princes or ordinary citizens, who are the source of a huge amount of the money funding these organizations, including ISIS -- it could be contained.
Bennis concluded by pointing out the close military ties between Washington and Riyadh:
The Saudis don't want to talk about that alliance with the United States. But there is $60 billion worth of arms that they've been engaged in buying from the United States over this last two years. Many of those arms are the ones ending up in the hands of ISIS. It's US arms and it's Saudi arms that are ending up there.
Whether it's individuals or whether it's part of the government, that money is coming to a large degree from Saudi Arabia, from other parts of the region, as well -- from Qatar, from Kuwait, from UAE, from a number of countries -- but Saudi Arabia is very much at the center of this.
And the US-Saudi alliance is such that if the US chose to challenge the arms sellers in this country, who are making a killing on this new war, this Iraq War 3.0, we might say -- if they were to prepared to challenge those arms suppliers, and thus challenge the Saudi government, there could be a real effort to put a stop to the funding and arming of these terrible organizations like ISIS.
Lost Testimony in the War of Words
After the IS hostage videos were falsely described as containing actual footage of beheadings, they were quickly removed from online viewing. This act of censorship prevented much of the public from hearing the full statements of the victims and the executioner contained in the videos. The brutality of the IS executions cannot be fully understood without listening to the justifications offered by the killers. Here are transcripts of the complete statements contained in three IS execution videos.
Transcript of Video: The Final Words
Of US Hostage and Journalist James Foley
I call on my friends, family, and loved ones to rise up against my real killers, the US government, for what will happen to me is only a result of their complacency criminality.
My message to my beloved parents: Save me some dignity and don't accept any meager compensation for my death from the same people who effectively hit the last nail in my coffin with the recent aerial campaign in Iraq.
I call on my brother John who is a member of the US Air Force: Think about what you are doing. Think about the lives you destroy, including those of your own family. I call on you, John, think about who made the decision to bomb Iraq recently and kill those people, whoever they may have been. Think John, who did they really kill? Did they think about me, your and our family when they
made that decision? I died that day, John. When your colleagues dropped that bomb on those people they signed my death certificate.
I wish I had more time. I wish I could have the hope for freedom to see my family once again, but that ship has sailed. I guess all in all, I wish I wasn't an American.
Transcript of Video: The Final Words
Of US Hostage and Journalist Steven Sotloff
I am Steven Joel Sotloff.
I'm sure you know exactly who I am by now, and why I am appearing before you.
And now it is time for my message.
Obama, your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be for the preservation of American lives and interests, so why is it that I'm having to pay the price of your interference with my life.
Am I not an American citizen?
You've spent billions of US taxpayers dollars and we've lost thousands of our troops in our previous fighting against the Islamic State.
So where is the American people's interests in reigniting this war?
From what little I know about foreign policy I remember a time when you could not win an election without promising to bring our troops back home from Iraq, from Afghanistan, and to close down Guantanamo.
Here you are now Obama, nearing the end of your term, having achieved none of the above, and seemingly marching us, the American people, into a blazing fire.
The man who appears to wield the knife seems to have a British accent that has been disguised. His statement suggests he is the same fighter who killed James Foley last month. Below is a transcript of what he says:
I'm back Obama. And I'm back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards Islamic State, because of your insistence in continuing your bombings in Amerli, Samarra and Mosul Dam despite our serious warnings. You, Obama, have yet again through your actions, killed yet another American citizen. So just as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people.
Transcript of Video: The Final Words
Of UK Hostage David Haines
My name is David Cawthorne Haines.
I would like to declare that I hold you David Cameron entirely responsible for my execution. You entered voluntarily into a coalition with the United States against the Islamic State just as your predecessor Tony Blair did following a trend amongst our British Prime Minsters who can't find the courage to say no to the Americans. Unfortunately, it is we, the British public, who will pay the price for our parliament's selfish decisions."
The man the Western media has nicknamed "Jihadi John" then says:
This British man has to the pay the price for your promise Cameron to arm the Peshmerga against the Islamic State. Ironically, he has spent a decade of his life serving under the same Royal Air Force that is responsible for delivering those arms.
Your evil alliance with America, which continues to strike the Muslims of Iraq and most recently bombed the Haditha Dam, will only accelerate your destruction. And playing the role of the obedient lapdog, Cameron, will only drag you and your people into another bloody and unwinable war.
The footage then shows another British hostage paraded before the camera.
"Jihadi John" says:
If you, Cameron, persist in fighting the Islamic State then you like your master Obama, will have the blood of your people on your hands.
Transcript of Video: The Final Words
Of UK Hostage Alan Henning
I am Alan Henning.
Because of our Parliament's decision to attack the Islamic State, I -- as a member of the British public -- must now pay the price for that decision.
To which the masked man adds:
The blood of David Haines is on your hands, Cameron.
Alan Henning will also be slaughtered. Obama, You have started your aerial bombardment in Sham [Syria], which keeps on striking our people. So it is only right that we continue to strike the necks of your people.
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