Tit for tat executions are no way to counter ISIS

Convicted suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi was executed Wednesday in a misguided act of retaliation for ISIS's murder of a captured Jordanian pilot. (Still from Jordanian TV)
Convicted suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi was executed Wednesday in a misguided act of retaliation for ISIS’s murder of a captured Jordanian pilot. (Still from Jordanian TV)

Before we cheer Jordan for being tough on terrorism with the execution of failed Iraqi suicide bomber Sajida Al-Rishawi and other Islamist prisoners let’s take a second to consider the implications.

As soon as the so-called Islamic State threatened the life of captured Jordanian pilot Muahd al-Kasesbeh and demanded the release of Ms. al-Rishawi, Jordan’s response was clear “if you kill your captives we will kill our captives.”

First off I am not writing this to take a stand on capital punishment but for the record I oppose it.

Secondly I am not writing this to take a stand on the war against ISIS but for the record I support it.

This is a question of justice. Should we capture and kill terrorists to stop terrorism and punish horrific crimes? Or should governments simply use the death penalty as a negotiation tool the way terrorists do?

Once the unspeakable images of the so-called Islamic State’s brutal torture and murder of the Jordanian pilot emerged, like clockwork Jordan sank to the level of the enemy it claims to be fighting. Dispensing with justice, the Hashemite Kingdom has behaved like a terrorist entity by killing Islamist prisoners, not for their crimes or supposed crimes but as a naked act of retaliation, hostage for hostage.

In a perverse irony ISIS has ridden into Iraq and Syria under the black flag like the cavalry and helped save the dictators of the Middle East. ISIS has given justification for the existence of brutal and illegitimate regimes and an excuse for them behave like terrorists themselves. The leaders of tyrannical and occupying governments are offering condolences for America’s dead hostages in public while smiling behind our backs about how convenient this all is for them.

A video released by ISIS shows Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasesbeh captured after his plane crashed in a lake near Raqqa, Syria in early January.
A video released by ISIS shows Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasesbeh captured after his plane crashed in a lake near Raqqa, Syria in early January.

Sajida al Rashawi was always a pawn in this sick game between terrorists and dictators.

The clearly troubled woman was a pawn of al Qaeda ten years ago when she walked into the Amman Radisson Hotel and tried to blow herself up in the middle of a wedding party. She was a pawn when Jordanian TV broadcast her image, confused and displaying a mock up of her explosive device. al-Rishawi was a pawn of ISIS when they demanded her release knowing full well that she would be killed because they had already murdered the Jordanian pilot.

She was a scapegoat when she was hung on Wednesday, not for the crime she failed to commit but for the crimes of a terrorist army comprised largely of men who were children when she was first thrown into one of Jordan’s black holes. On Wednesday morning she was brought out blinking into the light and immediately hung. It’s unlikely she ever had a good grasp on what had happened to the world over the past decade. She may have died almost ignorant of the last three Gaza conflicts, the revolutions sweeping the Middle East, the war in Syria or the rise of the Islamic State itself.

This was not justice, but a simplistic act of retaliation.

Reasonable doubts remain about the degree of her culpability and her mental state. According to al-Rashawi’s lawyer her husband Ali Hussein Shamari, coerced her into going to the Radisson with a bomb strapped to her. Many across the Arab world are still perplexed as to why al-Qaeda in Iraq would target a hotel full of prominent Muslims and Palestinian security personnel, as opposed to a western target. In all likelihood she was a sacrificial lamb in Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s vendetta against a Jordanian government that had previously imprisoned him for possession of explosives.

She could have been an easy recruit after two of her brothers were killed fighting against the Americans in Iraq. Her lawyer claims that her confession was extracted under torture and her perplexingly simple statements on Jordanian TV after the attacks certainly lend support those claims. Now with her hasty execution many of the potential further leads around the 2005 terrorist attack will remain unresolved and are buried with her.

The author (2nd from left) with members of the Syrian Civil Defense in Azaz, Syria last year. (Courtesy photo)
The author (2nd from left) with members of the Syrian Civil Defense in Azaz, Syria last year. (Courtesy photo)

Make no mistake Sajida al Rishawi lived as a terrorist, but she was killed as a hostage by the King of Jordan.

King Abdullah is well spoken and familiar with the West. He played a part on an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation and he is a trained helicopter pilot who looks very cool in his flight suit. This suaveness should not excuse what amounts to executions by decree, which are more reminiscent of the middle ages than a modern world. The internet is full of disgracefully sycophantic images of the king in military garb looking like a “badass” as Business Insider put it. There are also rumors flying around that the king will be “personally leading the strikes against ISIS.”

If you are paying close attention and reading beyond the headlines of Jordan’s “revenge” the executions should serve as a reminder that people can be easily fooled into accepting medieval behavior from leaders wrapped in the veneer of modernity.

Apart from the pettiness and absurdity of Jordan’s retaliation there are larger questions at play: Should Jordan let ISIS dictate who they execute and when? Is a terrorist entity allowed to have influence on the “courts” of a foreign country? Do we eliminate terrorists to end terrorism or do we do it as a method of communication with other terrorists?

We can’t expect ISIS to stop hostage killings, but is this the kind of behavior we should accept from our allies? If the anti-ISIS coalition starts killing its hostages,where does it end?

How long can this remain a fight we deserve to win?

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