Names of the dead

by Chris Bertram on June 9, 2006

I surfed over to the Daily Telegraph’s “obits page”: , looking for someone who wasn’t there, and was struck by the way in which the headline writers dispassionately express the achievements of the dead. So

bq. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — Jordanian terrorist associated with bombings and beheadings of hostages in Iraq.

is immediately followed by

bq. Raymond Davis, Jr — Physicist whose proof that the Sun’s energy came from nuclear reactions won him the Nobel.

Almost as if proving the sun’s energy came from nuclear reactions and beheading hostages were just different ways of spending one’s life. Sadly, I also learned that “Billy Preston is dead”: aged only 59.



inigo jones 06.09.06 at 5:17 am

Is it not somewhat grotesque that this Zarqawi character is given an obituary at all? Perhaps I am mistaken, but it seems to me that taking the time to write and publish an obituary is not merely a mechanical act of fact-reporting, but rather entails an expression of respect for the deceased and sorrow at their ‘passing’. Writing an obituary for such a murderer and criminal is surely much more than he deserves.

Also, in all due fairness, was it strictly necessary to have the picture of the man’s corpse framed?


Chris Bertram 06.09.06 at 5:28 am

I think you are mistaken, IJ. A quick search reveals that serial killers and similar get obits too.


N.I.B. 06.09.06 at 5:51 am

A nobel prize!

He was a pretty good singer/songwriter, too…


Michael Zimmer 06.09.06 at 7:21 am

Also, in all due fairness, was it strictly necessary to have the picture of the man’s corpse framed?

I noticed that right away. They had the photos matted and framed before showing to the press, like proud parents. Wonder if Rumsfeld will put it in his study.


Jo Wolff 06.09.06 at 8:11 am

The best example of this I saw was I think a Times obit of the rap star Ol’ Dirty Bastard. It ended with something like ‘He leaves 11 children of five different mothers’.


abb1 06.09.06 at 8:29 am

Wonder if Rumsfeld will put it in his study.

Well, I know Mr. Rumsfeld has in his office a piece of the plane that hit the Pentagon, mounted on a plate – I saw it on TV.

He’ll probably add something to his collection now; perhaps a jar with guy’s trigger finger in formalin? I’m guessing here.


Brendan 06.09.06 at 8:39 am

Y’see Abb1, you try and be funny and surreal, but reality has a way of beating you.

After all, who could forget….

”Bring me the head of Bin Laden’

The CIA sent a team to Afghanistan days after 9/11 with orders to kill Osama Bin Laden and bring back his head, a former agent has revealed.
Gary Schroen flew out soon after the attacks on New York and Washington, helping to set up the 2001 invasion, he told US National Public Radio.

He recalled his orders from the CIA’s counter-terrorism chief.

“Capture Bin Laden, kill him and bring his head back in a box on dry ice,” he quoted Cofer Black as saying.

As for other leaders of Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan, Mr Black reportedly said: “I want their heads up on pikes.”

Contacted by the radio network, Mr Black would not confirm that these were his exact words but he did not dispute Mr Schroen’s account.

I don’t know what I’ll do about dry ice to bring the head back – but we’ll manage something

Gary Schroen to his commander

The agent told NPR he had been stunned that, for the first time in 30 years of service, he had received orders to kill targets rather than capture them.

But he says he replied: “Sir, those are the clearest orders I have ever received.

“I can certainly make pikes out in the field but I don’t know what I’ll do about dry ice to bring the head back – but we’ll manage something.”


Rob G 06.09.06 at 8:45 am

Would Zarqawi have ever become so notorious without the U.S. propaganda machine looking for Saddam-al Qaeda links? Honourable mention should have been given to his American enablers.


Jasper Milvain 06.09.06 at 8:51 am

The way English newspapers handle obituaries tends to be considerably less honorific than the US version. It may go back as far as The Times on George IV.


Slayton I. Mustgo 06.09.06 at 10:59 am

Weirdly, I was watching Concert for Bangladesh on DVD the night before Preston died – and wondering if Leon Russell was still alive. Never thought to wonder about Billy.


Christopher Ball 06.09.06 at 11:03 am

Did anyone notice how little mention there was in most accounts of the child of yet unknown age that was killed in the air-strike? Also, given the presence of the child and what we know of al Qaeda-affiliated groups views on the role of women, it is more likely that the unidentified woman who was killed was related to the child than it is that she was an Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia lieutenant. The New York Times deeply buried mention of the apparent non-combatant deaths and other outlets seem to have done the same.


jet 06.09.06 at 11:53 am

Rob G,
Perhaps the Kurds in Northern Iraq would take a different view.

Slayton I. Mustgo,
Leon is still alive and touring. He’s got a busy schedule, so you can easily catch him in the states.


abb1 06.09.06 at 11:55 am

So, was this Zarqawi fella a real person or some kind of psyop?

Clearly this thing is giving them much needed relief by pushing the Haditha story off the front pages, but excuse me – who is gonna be the Evil Mastermind now?

Once again, I see lack of planning here, folks, lack of planning, incompetence…


jet 06.09.06 at 12:04 pm

Yes, it is all some elaborate “pysop”[sic] perpetrated by Bushoburton. Zarqawi was just joking when he claimed credit for murders and deaths to make Beslan look like petty crime.


abb1 06.09.06 at 12:34 pm

What’s the point of your comment, Jet? Read my WaPo link:

The Zarqawi campaign is discussed in several of the internal military documents. “Villainize Zarqawi/leverage xenophobia response,” one U.S. military briefing from 2004 stated. It listed three methods: “Media operations,” “Special Ops (626)” (a reference to Task Force 626, an elite U.S. military unit assigned primarily to hunt in Iraq for senior officials in Hussein’s government) and “PSYOP,” the U.S. military term for propaganda work.

One internal briefing, produced by the U.S. military headquarters in Iraq, said that Kimmitt had concluded that, “The Zarqawi PSYOP program is the most successful information campaign to date.”


Rob G 06.09.06 at 12:45 pm

Jet at 3 o’clock. Incoming non sequiturs.


jet 06.09.06 at 12:49 pm

Don’t play coy. The article in no way implies that Zarqawi is some creation of the US as you imply, only that he is the target of serious propoganda efforts. And then to go on and imply that a program that’s been around for several years was intended for media fodder to push Haditha out of the news, is typical of you (and MotherJones).

Perhaps you could give Al Qaeda’s propoganda efforts the same treatment? Or is it not proper for noble god loving westerns to counter propoganda? Too good for us? Not a tool worthy of western ideals?


abb1 06.09.06 at 12:53 pm

Interesting that they list Special Ops as a part of this ‘Zarqawi campaign’. Makes you wonder.


abb1 06.09.06 at 1:08 pm

Well, Jet, to tell you the truth, it wouldn’t surprise me if they had a bunch of snitches around this guy for years, maybe helped him a little bit here and there, maybe financed him a little bit – clearly he was very useful.

That’s what I’m complaining about – the loss of a valuable asset. Millions of taxpayers’ dollars went to build this very necessary persona, and now it’s all wasted and I fear – for purely polictical purposes, as it always is with this administration. They are more political than patriotic. You just can’t trust these people in matters as important as The War On Terror.


jet 06.09.06 at 1:51 pm

You’re dangerously lost in moonbat territory. But still amusing.


Rob G 06.09.06 at 3:04 pm


Thanks for reminding me that it was Kurds who probably started the puffing-up of Zarqawi’s rep.


jet 06.09.06 at 3:12 pm

Rob g,

Yeah, the Kurds puffed up his rep by allowing Zarqawi to assasinate and blow up lots of them.

Your theory that it was American propoganda that allowed Zarqawi to become the successful center of gravity for the insurgency is laughable. It might have more to do with his being the head Al Qaeda honcho in Iraq, with all the support that implies, and his successful ability to pull off high profile attacks in several different countries, inspiring many more to his cause. Yeah, it must have been Fox news and the because Al Qaeda doesn’t have any proven ability to get their message out.

Here’s a cluebat from someone obviously more knowledgable than you, abb1 and your MotherJones wannabees.


Rob G 06.09.06 at 3:38 pm


“Yeah, the Kurds puffed up his rep by allowing Zarqawi to assasinate and blow up lots of them.”

Another non sequitur. What is it with you?

The Kurds pushed the idea of Zarqawi-Al Qaeda links (gee, maybe because he was blowing them up), and the U.S. ate them up as a way to link Saddam to Al Qaeda.

Now, can you address this directly, rather than falling back on dismissive sarcasm (which seems to be wingnut default mode these days)?

“Your theory that it was American propoganda that allowed Zarqawi to become the successful center of gravity for the insurgency is laughable”.

Well, it may be laughable, but it’s not my theory, and it’s much more than I wrote. You’re just making shit up, now. Ann Coulter territory.


Charles S 06.10.06 at 12:04 am


Are you aware that while Zarqawi named his group Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, that he is not considered to have had much actual connection to Al Qaeda?


abb1 06.10.06 at 7:07 am

…moonbat territory…

The same people who are fighting international terrorism and insurgencies now, were fighting international terrorism and insurgencies in Central America little more than twenty years ago.

In the process they trained, financed and armed various groups; Salvadorian army, for example. Those freedom-fighting groups happened to hack many more heads than your friend al-Zarqawi. Here’s how William Blum describes one incident:

On 28 January 1982, President Reagan certified to Congress that the El Salvador government was “making a concerted and significant effort to comply with internationally recognized human rights” and that it was “achieving substantial control over all elements of its own armed forces, so as to bring to an end the indiscriminate torture and murder of Salvadorean citizens by these forces.” The language was that imposed by Congress upon the administration if the flow of arms and American military personnel was to continue.

Two days earlier, the American and foreign press had carried the story of how government troops had engaged in a massacre of the people of the village of El Mozote in December. From 700 to 1,000 persons were reported killed, mostly the elderly, women and children. When a very long, detailed account of this incident appeared eventually, in 1993, it became more apparent than ever that this was one of the most repulsive and cruelest massacres of the 20th century carried out by ground troops face-to-face with their victims–people hacked to death by machetes, many beheaded, a child thrown in the air and caught on a bayonet, an orgy of rapes of very young girls before they were killed … “If we don’t kill them [the children] now, they’ll just grow up to be guerrillas,” barked an army officer to a reluctant soldier…


Joshua W. Burton 06.10.06 at 10:06 pm

Note that Ray Davis and al-Zarqawi both did their most important work underground.

The moral objection to trophy photos of the latter is quite well expressed by Deuteronomy 21:23, I think. (Underlining the point, Rashi explains: “This is comparable to twin brothers. One became king, while the other was arrested for robbery and hanged. Whoever saw him would say, “the king is hanging!”)


nick s 06.10.06 at 10:18 pm

Perhaps the Kurds in Northern Iraq would take a different view.

Well, they had ample opportunity to deal with him when he was hanging out in the area they controlled. Or, y’know, call in an airstrike on him from their US buddies, who were very good at bombing stuff in northern Iraq.


Actually, by that metric, weren’t the Kurds as culpable as the Taliban for allowing terrorist camps on their territory?


nick s 06.10.06 at 10:23 pm

It might have more to do with his being the head Al Qaeda honcho in Iraq, with all the support that implies

Or, alternatively, none. ‘jet’ could call himself the leader of the American branch of the Judean People’s Front, but that wouldn’t imply any support. Jason Burke wrote about the shift from loose franchising to ideological branding a couple of years ago, and al-Z appears to have been the best example. He was a low-rate crook turned copycat jihadist in Afghanistan, and was a low-rate copycat jihadist in Iraqi Kurdistan whose low-rate operation was boosted more than somewhat by the abrupt removal of Iraq’s government.


Stentor 06.11.06 at 6:52 pm

Huh? Do you think Telegraph readers are that stupid or morally bankrupt that they can read “bombings and beheadings” and not surmise that Zarqawi was a bad guy? Do the headline writers need to hold their hand by adding “and threfore he was an evil bastard”?


Thomas 06.13.06 at 3:02 am

I think we are ALL, liberals included, thrilled to see this maniac gone. But we can refrain from insulting a man who’s son was beheaded on a television? He’s been though quite a bit, no? You would ve NO IDEA what’s that like,eh? Perhaps calling him “insane” is a tad insensitive…..even if he says something you dont agree with.

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