"Al-Qaeda group 'beheads US man.'"

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From the BBC:

Al-Qaeda group 'beheads US man'

Militants loyal to a top al-Qaeda suspect have reportedly released a video on a web site which apparently shows a US citizen being beheaded.

The man says he is from San Francisco, but it is unclear if and when he was taken hostage.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi militants have previously released footage of at least three hostages being decapitated….

On Thursday, the US said all 32 countries in the multinational force in Iraq had agreed not to give in to the demands of hostage-takers.

"We are united in our resolve to make no concessions to terrorists," the State Department announced.

Elsewhere, the victim has been identified Benjamin Danforth.

Update: As reader Dan points out in comments, this tape is (thankfully!) a hoax (read about it here).

Which means that today's grisly tale of death devolves to the passing–apparently of "natural causes"–of Rick "Super Freak" James, creator of one of the greatest grooves of all time, improbable one-time bandmate of Neil Young, and convicted sex torturer whose true legacy may be proving that substance abuse, far more than video, killed the radio star.

For those about to funk (we salute you), here's "Super Freak"'s memorable lyrics.

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  1. So Shannon, what *should* the media report about a terrorist attack? “Random evil men blew up a random building today for some completely unknown reason. No film at 11.” Or should they go the Radio Moscow route and not even acknowledge such a thing has happened? (Because we all know that policy made Radio Moscow a respected, trusted news source for Soviet citizens.)

  2. Apparently, organ failure cause as a result of drug use years down the line is considered “natural causes”.

    “I wish I had more hands, so I could give those titties 4 thumbs down!”

  3. The hoaxer has now opened up the possibility that an administration unwilling to tell the truth could claim that video released by terrorist groups showed only faked atrocities, thereby reducing public presure on it to take action other than it already had planned.

    Thanks, Ben!

    Kevin

  4. The hoaxer did an accidental service in the War on Terrorism. Terrorism only works if people know when it happens.

    If everyone miraculously believed that the WTC fell down because of two simultaneous, coincidental, catastrophic structural failures, wouldn’t that be a big defeat for Al Qaeda? That actual toll from the attack was small — perhaps a third of what the French lost last summer to a heat wave — it is the fear generated that does the work.

    The harder the terrorists have to work to prove that their handiwork isn’t a hoax, an accident, or an ordinary crime, the less damage they can do and the easier it is to catch them.

  5. What did the fingers say to the face?

    SLAP!!

  6. There was an episode of Mad Max in which terrorists interrupted newscasts with footage of buildings blowing up. It turned out the “bombings” were created with special effects, but the resulting fear and confusion equalled anything achievable by real terrorism.
    Virtual terror — the wave of the future?

  7. Except that the tape is a hoax:

    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/news/archive/2004/08/07/state0816EDT0051.DTL

    Cut and paste, because I have no HTML skillz.

  8. Michael wrote: “The harder the terrorists have to work to prove that their handiwork isn’t a hoax, an accident, or an ordinary crime, the less damage they can do”

    Or, to prove their attacks are real, terrorists will feel driven to commit more spectacular attacks in public places so that there can be no denying the truth… Truckbomb driven into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade anyone?

  9. So how did Nick end up on WeddingVendors.com

  10. Abruptly changing the subject from a youngish man murdered by terrorists to an oldish man dead of natural causes? Now THAT is super-freaky.

  11. I agree, Jennifer. That super-freaky post is one you don’t take home to mutha…

  12. I’m freaky, too, but still alive.
    I nearly died of “natural causes” (heart attack) last Monday, and this Monday I will be returning to work.
    Is this a great country or what?

  13. Ahhh, Darkness!

    I’m Rick James, bitch!

  14. Cocaine is a, huh huh, helluva drug.

  15. I think the hoax beheading opens up entire knew opportunities for bloodless terrorism.

    Since the real goal of terrorism is to attack the moral of the broader population the goals of a terrorist could be just as easily accomplished by pretending to kill people and having the media report the simulated event as true.

    The world wide media already assist terrorist by broadcasting their identities, goals and statements every time they kill somebody so helping them along a little bit more doesn’t seem like much of stretch.

    Everybody wins, the media gets a story, the terrorist get their terror, Tom Clancy gets plot lines, politicians get to bloviate and nobody dies.

  16. A voluntary media blackout on the details of terrorist attacks would slow or even stop the attacks.

    We must keep people from having too much information, since such information can cause an overload of choices.

    We must keep people in the dark for their own good.

  17. Anyone ever see that A-Team episode where Rick James played a band leader who was trying to get Isaac Hayes out of prison so he could make a record with him? Man, that was so ironic. I wonder if Isaac Hayes ever visited Rick James in prison.

  18. Sarnath,

    How many people must die so you can be in the “light”?

  19. “The harder the terrorists have to work to prove that their handiwork isn’t a hoax, an accident, or an ordinary crime, the less damage they can do and the easier it is to catch them.”

    Good point Michael.

    Doing a large number of hoaxes and sending them to Arab news networks may also discourage them from broadcasting the videos and images. These decapitation videos are not only made to demoralize supporters of the coalition, but also to embolden the terrorists’ own supporters.

  20. Sarnath,
    How many people must die so you can be in the “light”?

    Funny, I don’t recall demanding advance knowledge of military movements or anything. I suppose it’s unreasonable to want to know if the World Trade Center was destroyed or a Marine barracks was bombed.

  21. Sarnath,

    Small scale terrorist attacks occur exclusively to gain media access. The beheadings currently in vogue fall definitely in this category. If the beheaders could not gain planet wide publicity from the murders they would not commit them. We cause people to die by consuming media stories of the prior murders. More people had died because of news stories than of any leaked intelligence.

    We are trapped in a feedback loop. The more we pay attention to these murders the more often they happen. The only way to break the feedback loop is to ignore them and boycott the dissemination of the terrorist demands. Broadcasting the terrorist demands serves no positive function save to empower the terrorist and to sell media.

    We cannot ignore mass casualty attacks but we can ignore the myriad individual murders that eventually build to those attacks. If we starve terrorist of the attention they need to grow when their organizations are small, we won’t have to deal with large scale attacks later on.

  22. “but we can ignore the myriad individual murders that eventually build to those attacks”

    Shannon, are you a registered member of the Communist Party? No really, I mean it. A writer I am presently working with works with this cute little communist girl. She’s moved into the Cabrini Green public housing are here in Chicago (not gone yet) to make some kinda insane point, and she talks just like that, you know individuals don’t matter a hill o’beans in the face of the greater good stuff.

    And the papers she gives us to read, they sound just like that too.

    I don’t know, but you is a tad bit scary. I am never happy when I hear “we can ignore the myriad individual murders”. You can, but me, nope, I’m not buying. Individuals do matter. And Yep, that’s the weakness that terrorists do exploit. But I’m more than a little proud to live in a country where individuals, their rights, and their lives, do matter.

  23. We cause people to die by consuming media stories of the prior murders.

    So, an informed public is the greatest threat to public safety?

    In other news, the Oceania News Network is reporting that we won a massive victory over Eastasia with the aid of our eternal allies in Eurasia.

    Seriously, though, I sort of agree with the sentiment that some threats get disproportionate attention. Traffic accidents are and always will be a greater threat to the average citizen than terrorism, statistically speaking. But while I might prefer that the press voluntarily prioritize coverage in a more rational manner, I would never blame the press for the actions of these thugs.

  24. Another thought:

    Say that the press gave less attention to individual murders committed by terrorism.

    Suppose also that, be it coincidence or consequence, the public showed less support for various aggressive measures favored by Shannon in our war on terrorism.

    Could people say that the press is down-playing the heinous crimes of these terrorists to undermine support for aggressive and necessary measures?

    Suppose that the very same people behind, say, the beheadings later committed a large-scale act. People could say “If the press had payed more attention to these thugs when they were ‘only’ be maybe the American people would have demanded action to prevent [insert subsequent large-scale attack here].”

    I don’t claim to know for certain what the most responsible/rational approach to journalism is, hence I’m reluctant to go beyond criticism and actually apportion blame. I might gripe about the press, but I try not to blame them for things. Ultimately, the greatest responsibility lies with those who use information, not those who disseminate it.

  25. CORRECTION:

    “If the press had payed more attention to these thugs when they were ‘only’ beheading people then maybe the American people would have demanded action to prevent [insert subsequent large-scale attack here].”

  26. I’m enormously averse in principle to regulating media content, no matter how noble the purpose. I wouldn’t for a moment, therefore, support Shannon’s plan, even as I fully concur with her motivation. If we could dry up the media benefits, the motivation for terrorism would go away. Similarly, if police had unlimited rights of search and seizure, and all weapons were banned, crime would diminish dramatically.

    I should also note that I have had occasion to personally practice Shannon’s “modest proposal”. I participated in a “National Security Decision Making game” session ( http://www.nsdmg.org/ ) at a gaming convention back in 1995 or so. I played the part of Egypt, and was informed that a Suez Canal ferry had been sunk by a bomb, presumably by one of two terrorist organization players. Unfettered by a free press, I made a public announcement that the sinking had been the result of an accidental boiler explosion. For what it’s worth, I wasn’t bothered by terrorists for the balance of the game.

  27. SD,

    ‘So Shannon, what *should* the media report about a terrorist attack? “Random evil men blew up a random building today for some completely unknown reason. No film at 11.” ‘

    Sounds good for a start. The ugly truth is that terrorism is a media phenomenon. Terrorist do not have the firepower to do serious damage to the physical infrastructures of military and economic power so they attack morale. The can only attack morale if the media will spread news of the attack beyond the immediate vicinity of the attack. Terrorist kill people to get on the news, period.

    Media is so central to the success of terrorism that in principle if the media just reported fake attacks as real it would accomplish the same political effects as a real attack, hence my modest proposal.

    We have reached the point where a handful of teenagers can kidnap a random individual out of a population of hundreds of thousands, murder that individual on video and the international media will then spread their message all over the planet. Clearly, the media is feeding these murders.

    A voluntary media blackout on the details of terrorist attacks would slow or even stop the attacks. Nothing says we have to reward murders by spreading their message each time they kill.

  28. Does anyone else find it amusing that Shannon accuses us of attacking a strawman and then says: “It appears you accept the idea that a few individuals must die such that the collective can stay ‘informed.'”

    Being generally informed about the identities of terrorists and the motives for their attacks no more “causes” people to die than being informed about the process by which melanoma develops in turn causes skin cancer. Terrorists are still quite willing to carry out their attacks even without large-scale media attention (see,e.g., terrorism in the Soviet Union, Nazi-occupied Europe, etc., where the “official press” would make no mention of such things). On the other hand, suppressing information (whether by government command or private conspiracy) inevitably discredits the media, fuels conspiracy theories, etc. But then again, since Shannon believes every word George W. says is the pure, unvarnished truth, I guess she doesn’t need to read anything other than White House press releases to know what’s going on in the world.

  29. Small scale terrorist attacks occur exclusively to gain media access. The beheadings currently in vogue fall definitely in this category. If the beheaders could not gain planet wide publicity from the murders they would not commit them. We cause people to die by consuming media stories of the prior murders.

    And, of course, once people find out that their uncles, husbands, mothers, daughters, etc. were decapitated or otherwise killed by terrorists, they won’t try to tell anyone about it when the news media keeps quiet. And other people certainly won’t hear about it by word of mouth or, say, some global computer network. And once news of that (fails to, of course) spread, people surely won’t conclude that the media is desperately trying to suppress news of terrorism and thus lying to them…and they won’t learn to distrust or disregard the media and find ways to spread the news about terrorism without it.

    Of course not.

  30. “and they won’t learn to distrust or disregard the media “. Really!/R

  31. “Could people say that the press is down-playing the heinous crimes of these terrorists to undermine support for aggressive and necessary measures?”

    That’s certainly the line at NatRev, WND, etc., which literally are convinced that the failure to run footage of the 9/11 attacks every day is part of a plot by the Evil Liberal Media(tm) to undermine support for the War on Terrorism. (And lest anyone think I’m exaggerating, a recent issue of National Review had a picture of the burning WTC with the headline, “The Picture the Media Doesn’t Want You to See” next to it.) This, of course, willfully ignores the documented fact that the major broadcasters and cable news networks cut back on airing the footage at the request of airline executives, since repeatedly showing a jetliner plowing into a building doesn’t inspire people to go out and take plane flights.

  32. Shannon Love wrote: “Terrorist[s] do not have the firepower to do serious damage to the physical infrastructures of military and economic power …”

    How does SL know this with such certainty? Even if SL was correct about current terrorist capabilities, does this justify skepticism and complacency about _future_ threats?

  33. If yall are finished kicking the crap out of that little strawman, the real debate is over here.

    Since nobody questioned my assertion that terrorist kill for media attention I assume you all accept it. It appears you accept the idea that a few individuals must die such that the collective can stay “informed.” Chilling.

    I never argued for any kind of involuntary restrictions on the press, never even hinted at it. The media chooses every day how much of a story to tell. The media does not report information that they believe will cause someone to die in criminal matters why shouldn’t the same standard apply to terrorism?

    Currently, the media does everything possible to get the terrorist message out. They broadcast the name of the organization, they repeat their press releases near verbatim, they broadcast video and photos the terrorism themselves produce. They even seek out interviews with the killers or their representatives. In most cases, the media does nothing that these murders would object to in the least.

    The media knows they are being manipulated. The know that people are dying exclusively to produce the stories they sell and yet they continue. They actively reward the killers at every step and when we consume such irresponsible media we are just as guilty.

    We cannot and do not have to pretend that people are not being killed but we are not required to voluntarily build a soapbox for their killers from their bodies. The media should report that an attack occurred but it should not report the name of organization that claims credit or their demands or goals. They should not seek out interviews or air materials that the terrorist produce.

    In short, killing someone for publicity should make a group information pariahs. We should boycott listening to them until they stop killing. Committing a terrorist act should put one on the road to obscurity not world wide fame.

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