Exactly how many “suspected No 2 ISIS leaders” are there?

Yet again, all of the usual suspects have collaborated with the US government by spamming across the media the “news” that the suspected “No. 2 ISIS leader” du jour has reportedly been taken out by Predator drone. Anyone with any semblance of a memory capacity must be wondering how many of these “No. 2” evil leaders there can possibly be! The latest No. 2, Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali, was described by the White House as the Islamic State’s “Baghdad military emir and the emir of Ninawa Province.” Clearly, we should be very impressed that the target suspected to be Al-Hayali has now reportedly been eradicated from the face of the earth. Then again, maybe it was just somebody who looked like him.

The journalists dutifully parroting the “news” fed to them by the Pentagon are usually careful to qualify the announcements. The culprits are “suspected” and the fact of their demise is “reported”. No facts are ever really being exchanged in these announcements, which serve the purpose only of conveying the impression that the government is working hard to keep all of us safe. In reality, most readers of the headlines (usually too busy to digest the full article) now appear automatically to elide from their mind the words ‘suspected’ and ‘reportedly’ as they read, thereby arriving at the felicitous conclusion that, in fact, the “No 2 ISIS leader has been taken out!” Now No. 3 is the new No. 2, and he’s up next!

Some of the media outlets are helping even more, by changing ‘suspected’ to ‘likely’, or even dropping the qualifications altogether and appending, “says White House” to the end of the headline or embedding it more deeply within the article itself. Here’s an example of how the original, guarded announcement is subsequently picked up and redisseminated to “confirm” that in fact we are being kept safe:

Chalk up another high-value militant killed by a U.S. drone strike,” exults Brendan McGarry at the opening (the first line) of an article for Defense Tech.org.

If it later emerges, as has happened in the past, that the “suspected militants” were really tribal elders meeting to resolve a dispute in a jirga, or a group of happy families congregating for a big wedding, or a Bedouin camp of utterly harmless people, or even a grandmother picking okra in a large field all alone, nearly none of the mainstream media outlets ever seem to want to bother sharing the emended news. What would be the point of depressing their devoted readers and listeners? And why risk the loss in ratings, when there is so much other, more upbeat news to report?!

Instead, the big newspapers persist in focusing on the most recent round of “suspected” militants “reportedly” slain. Small wonder that most Americans continue to scratch their heads and puzzle over the perennial question: “Why do they hate us?”


For more information and related criticism, see We Kill Because We Can, Chapter 9: Death and Politics