2004: Ken Bigley, Iraq War hostage

Add comment October 7th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 2004, the British civil engineer turned hostage Kenneth Bigley was executed by his captors in one of the Iraq War‘s ghastly beheading videos.

Bigley was kidnapped on September 16 along with two American roommates from their shared house in the Mansour district; the whole trio was employed by a Kuwaiti contractor on construction projects in U.S.-occupied Baghdad.

The Zarqawi-led terrorist group Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad issued immediate demands on these three men’s lives for the release of women prisoners held by Iraq’s occupiers, and released videos of the beheadings of the Americans, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley, when those demands went unanswered.

Bigley’s situation dragged on much longer, and embroiled Tony Blair’s British government in a damaging political spectacle. The terrified Bigley was made to plead for his life in multiple videos released by his captors. In one, dressed in an orange jumpsuit echoing the notorious American prison at Guantanamo Bay, the 62-year-old prisoner denounced the P.M. with the words, “Tony Blair is lying. He doesn’t care about me. I’m just one person.”

Despite this charge, there were indeed several attempts to free Bigley, short of the red line of actually meeting the ransom demand. The Irish government, which importantly had not dirtied its hands by participating in the war, discovered that Bigley had a claim on Irish citizenship; thinking it might thereby have greater credibility to intercede, Dublin issued Bigley a passport and sent Gerry Adams on the diplomatic offensive, to no avail. It’s also been reported that Bigley was nearly extricated by an MI6 operation that got so far as to load him, armed, into an escape vehicle before the ride was intercepted at a militants’ checkpoint.

Instead, on October 7, the militants read a statement denouncing the occupation of Iraq and then cut off Bigley’s head for the cameras, to great grief in Bigley’s home city of Liverpool. The footage has circulated online.

The Spectator provocateur and (already) M.P. for Henley Boris Johnson — who today occupies Blair’s old digs at 10 Downing Street thanks in no small part to New Labour’s eagerness for the Iraq blunder — filed an editorial notable for its incendiary meanness on the topic of (so the title says) “Bigley’s Fate”, somehow absurdly tied to a shot at Bigley’s hometown for a 1989 crowd crush disaster at a football pitch.

A request by the authorities for a minute’s silence [at a football match] in memory of Mr Ken Bigley, the news of whose murder by terrorists in Iraq had broken the previous day, was largely and ostentatiously ignored. Yet the fact that such a tribute was demanded in the first place emphasised the mawkish sentimentality of a society that has become hooked on grief and likes to wallow in a sense of vicarious victimhood …

we have lost our sense of proportion about such things. There have, as a correspondent to the Daily Telegraph pointed out this week, been no such outbreaks of national mourning whenever one of our brave soldiers is killed serving his country in Iraq.

The extreme reaction to Mr Bigley’s murder is fed by the fact that he was a Liverpudlian. Liverpool is a handsome city with a tribal sense of community. A combination of economic misfortune — its docks were, fundamentally, on the wrong side of England when Britain entered what is now the European Union — and an excessive predilection for welfarism have created a peculiar, and deeply unattractive, psyche among many Liverpudlians. They see themselves whenever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it. Part of this flawed psychological state is that they cannot accept that they might have made any contribution to their misfortunes, but seek rather to blame someone else for it, thereby deepening their sense of shared tribal grievance against the rest of society. The deaths of more than 50 Liverpool football supporters at Hillsborough in 1989 was undeniably a greater tragedy than the single death, however horrible, of Mr Bigley; but that is no excuse for Liverpool’s failure to acknowledge, even to this day, the part played in the disaster by drunken fans at the back of the crowd who mindlessly tried to fight their way into the ground that Saturday afternoon. The police became a convenient scapegoat, and the Sun newspaper a whipping-boy for daring, albeit in a tasteless fashion, to hint at the wider causes of the incident.

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2009: The brother of an Iraqi rape victim

Add comment May 26th, 2019 Headsman

Wikileaks published this incident report from the monumental trove of war secrets leaked at incredible personal cost by whistleblower Chelsea Manning.


AAA MISSION/OPERATION: IRAQI FREEDOM VI / CJSOTF-AP

BBB WHO: MAJOR ABBAS MOHAMMED ARDANI (HADITHAH SWAT CDR)

CCC WHAT: ALLEGEDLY TRANSFERRED A HADITHA SWAT PRISONER TO FACILITATE EJK. (MNC-I CCIR #8)

DDD WHERE: 38S KC 57632 80544, HADITHAH DISTRICT IP STATION

EEE WHEN: 26MAY2009

FFF WHY: MAJ ABBAS (SWAT CDR) HAD PERSONAL GRIEVANCES WITH THE PRISONER.

GGG DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF EVENT: ON 25MAY09, MAJOR ABBAS (SWAT CDR) AND COL FARUQ (DCOP) TOLD NSWDET-7D1 LEADERSHIP THAT THEY WERE GOING TO DELIVER TWO DETAINEES TO AL HADR IN THE NORTH BECAUSE THERE WAS MORE INCRIMINATING EVIDENCE ON THE TWO DETAINEES IN AL HADR THAN IN HADITHAH. WHILE TRAVELLlNG NORTH, MAJ ABBAS ORDERED HIS CONVOY TO PULL OVER AND TRANSFER THE TWO DETAINEES TO HIS UNCLE AND FOUR BROTHERS. ACCORDING TO COL FARUQ, THE AL HADR IP FOUND ONE OF THE DETAINEES DECAPITATED AND THE OTHER WAS RELEASED BY MAJ ABBAS’ FAMILY MEMBERS. MAJ ABBAS IS CURRENTLY IN IP CUSTODY.

OVER A YEAR AGO MAJ ABBAS WAS RELIEVED AS HADITHAH SWAT CDR DUE TO HIS ALLEGED INVOLVEMENT IN THE RAPING OF A FEMALE LOCAL NATIONAL. THE BEHEADED DETAINEE IS REPORTED TO BE THE BROTHER OF THE RAPED FEMALE WHO ALLEGEDLY KILLED MAJ ABBAS’ BROTHER IN RETALIATION FOR THE RAPING OF HIS SISTER.

Closed 090530

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2004: Fabrizio Quattrocchi, “I’ll show you how an Italian dies!”

Add comment April 14th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 2004, Italian mercenary Fabrizio Quattrocchi was executed by Iraqi insurgents.

A former Italian army corporal turned baker, Quattrocchi (English Wikipedia entry | the vastly more detailed Italian) hired on with an American contractor in the Iraq fiasco as a private security guard at €8,000 per month, intending to save enough to start a family.

Instead, Quattrocchi was seized as a hostage outside Baghdad with three comrades on April 13, 2004, by the “Green Brigades,” one of that era’s many ephemeral bodies of militants. The other three* were held (and eventually freed unharmed via a June 2004 special forces raid) further to an unsuccessful ultimatum demanding Italian withdrawal. Quattrocchi, by contrast, was executed the very next day after capture — seemingly to prove that the kidnappers meant business after Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi greeted news of the men’s capture with a vow that he would never give in to “blackmail.”

A video of the murder was delivered to Al Jazeera TV, which has never aired it in its entirety. However, it became known via second-hand reports of those who had viewed it, and eventually from a partial airing of the video, that just prior to being shot Quattrocchi spat defiant last words to his executioners:

'I'll show you how an Italian dies'
From the London Times, April 16, 2004.

Then he was shot dead,** and dumped in the grave he’d been forced to dig for himself.

Thanks to these last words, which Berlusconi and his foreign minister Franco Frattini immediately pinned to a bloody banner, Quattrocchi’s memory has been the subject of partisan rancor in Italy. The left has disdained to celebrate a gun for hire in a disastrous imperial foray; the right has honored his patriotism and conferred a medal of valor upon him in 2006 — arousing some protest since this recognition has not been extended to regular Italian soldiers who fell to terrorist attacks in Iraq, nor to less bellicose murdered hostages like Enzo Baldoni.

* The other captives were Salvatore Stefio, Maurizio Agliana, and Umberto Cupertino, all like Quattrocchi Italians in their mid-thirties. Stefio would later be prosecuted and acquitted for unauthorized recruitment of security contractors.

** About a month after Quattrocchi was slain by gunfire, the grisly beheading of hostage Nick Berg inaugurated a different epoch in Iraq’s stagey hostage murders.

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2004: Nick Berg, by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Add comment May 7th, 2016 Headsman

Twenty-six-year-old American communications contractor Nick Berg was beheaded a hostage in Iraq on this date in 2004 — allegedly by the personal hand of Al-Qaeda in Iraq chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

A veteran of the mujahideen who drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Zarqawi spent most of the 1990s in a Jordanian prison but was amnestied just in time to rejoin militant Islam before it became a post-9/11 boom industry.

Zarqawi’s Jordanian terrorist group Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, founded in 1999, transitioned with the American invasion of Iraq into the Al-Qaeda franchise in that country, a feared prosecutor of the sectarian civil war there, and the lineal forbear of the present-day Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL).

It also became a lusty early adopter of the emerging beheading-video genre: an ancient penalty perfectly adapted for the digital age.

This ferocious group was a severe mismatch for Berg, a Pennsylvanian freelance radio tower repairman (and pertinently, a Jew) who set up his Prometheus Methods Tower Service in the northern city of Mosul* in the months following the 2003 U.S. invasion. This was also around the time that American occupation forces’ abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib came to light — a powerful excuse for blood vengeance.

Berg vanished from Baghdad in April 2004, and was not seen in public again until the whole world saw him: the unwilling feature of a May 11 video titled Sheik Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slaughters an American infidel with his hands and promises Bush more.

“We tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls,” a voice says. “You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins … slaughtered in this way.”

Warning: Mature Content. This is both a political document of our time, and a horrifying snuff film. Notice that Berg appears in an orange jumpsuit, a seeming allusion to Muslim prisoners being held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay.

Twenty-five months later to the day, Zarqawi was assassinated by a U.S. Air Force bombing.

* As of this writing, Mosul is occupied by Zarqawi’s creation, the Islamic State.

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1990: The October 13 Massacre

Add comment October 13th, 2014 Headsman

This date is the dolorous anniversary of the “October 13 massacre”, a bloodbath wrapping up the Lebanese Civil War when the Syrian army executed hundreds of captured Lebanese.

The intractable war, which dated back to 1975 and made “Beirut” a 1980s watchword for conflict, had boiled down* to two rival governments: a Maronite military government based in East Beirut under the leadership of Michel Aoun, and the Syrian-sponsored Muslim government in West Beirut putatively headed by Selim al-Hoss. Over the course of 1989-1990 Aoun’s “war of liberation” against the occupying Syrian army all but emptied the city of Beirut.

Thanks to a complex political schism, Aoun was also ensconced in the city’s presidential palace from which he issued decrees denouncing and rejecting the political settlement that was supposed to return the country to normalcy.

Unfortunately for him — and moreso for the prisoners who are the day’s topic — Aoun was also supported by Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein. In August 1990, Hussein invaded Kuwait, precipitating an American attack on Iraq in response.

As this latter operation involved the U.S. attacking a Muslim oil-producing state with military resources it deployed for that purpose the politically sensitive sands of a neighboring Muslim oil-producing state, the U.S. spent the last months of 1990 working the Middle East diplomatic circuit to bring the region’s governments on board for the impending bout of ultraviolence.

Syria’s particular carrot was the green light to finish off Aoun — who, simultaneously, had of course been deprived of aid from the now-preoccupied Iraqis. This the Syrian army did with a massive attack on Beirut’s presidential palace beginning at seven in the morning on October 13th. The palace was overcome by 10:00 a.m., but resistance continued elsewhere throughout the day from pro-Aoun militias who had not received word of that gentleman’s surrender and escape to the French embassy.**

Several hundred people were killed during the onslaught into pro-Aoun enclaves. An unknown number of these ballparked to around two or three hundred are thought to have been killed by summary execution after capture (or after intentional rounding-up). A Lebanese nurse claimed that at the nearby village of Dahr al-Wahsh “I counted between 75 and 80 [executed] … Most of them had a bullet in the back of their heads or in their mouth. The corpses still carried the mark of cords around their wrists.” Other captured Lebanese fighters were reportedly deported to Syria and never heard from again.

There are several other atrocity accounts collected here. This two-part documentary on the end of the Lebanese civil war available on YouTube has several participants’ perspectives (including Aoun’s) on the chaotic situation marking the war’s last days: 1, 2.

* This is quite a gross oversimplification of a fractious civil conflict in which innumerable blocs continually rearranged their alliances.

“I had a chart on my wall of the constantly proliferating militias — four dozen or so by the time I left in 1985 — and their constantly shifting alliances and enmities,” one former Beirut denizen wrote recently. “Allies one day could be trying to kill one another the next, even within sects, over issues that had digressed far from their common cause.”

** Aoun went into exile in France, returning in 2005 when the Cedar Revolution finally drove the still-occupying Syrians out of Lebanon. He has served in the Lebanese parliament since that time, leading the country’s largest Christian party.

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2007: Taha Yasin Ramadan, Iraqi Vice-President

1 comment March 20th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 2007, Saddam Hussein‘s former Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan was hanged for helping conduct the 1982 Dujail Massacre of Shia Iraqis in revenge for an assassination plot against Saddam.

Pushing 70, the Kurd was a longtime pillar of the Iraqi Ba’ath party and had served in a variety of posts since it took power in 1968. For instance, he brought his management expertise to the Ministry of Industry: “I don’t know anything about industry. All I know is that anyone who doesn’t work hard will be executed.”

He was noted for his role in orchestrating Saddam Hussein’s terrifying 1979 internal purge.

While the first operations of America’s 2003 invasion took place on March 19, it was March 20, 2003 local time that the land invasion proper commenced. That made Ramadan’s execution a fourth-anniversary gift to the occupier’s preposterous foreign policy blunder.

Which was all too bad, since Ramadan had also floated a 2002 plan to avert conflict: have Saddam Hussein fight a duel with George W. Bush. Of course, the offer was declined. “An irresponsible statement,” replied the spokesman of a government that was at that moment engaged in a mendacious campaign to justify its coming aggressive war with creative fables about Iraq’s nuclear capacity.

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2010: Chemical Ali

Add comment January 25th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 2010, American-occupied Iraq hanged Ali Hassan al-Majid — Saddam Hussein‘s cousin and longtime aide, better known as Chemical Ali.

Ali Hassan al-Majid as the King of Spades in the U.S. invasion force’s playing-card deck of wanted Iraqis.

Al-Majid acquired his chilling nickname for the notorious March 1988 attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja.

That day, after an appetizer of conventional bombing, Iraqi jets dropped a cocktail of multiple chemical weapons — mustard gas, sarin, tabun, and VX, give or take — killing up to 5,000 people.

“It was life frozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame,” wrote the ethnically Iranian BBC correspondent Kaveh Golestan,* who arrived on the scene after the bombardment.

“It was a new kind of death to me. You went into a room, a kitchen and you saw the body of a woman holding a knife where she had been cutting a carrot. (…) The aftermath was worse. Victims were still being brought in. Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl’s mouth and she died in my arms.”

It was the most emblematically ghastly event in a running ethnic cleansing campaign of the late 1980s, also headed by al-Majid.

The Halabja attack was the last of four separate death sentences Chemical Ali racked up after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and it was handed down just a week before he stood on the gallows. The larger Kurdish genocide campaign as a whole was a separate death sentence from Halabja; there were also two others for his brutal suppressions of Shia uprisings in the 1990s.

He met all his tribunals defiantly, refusing to enter a plea and then openly embracing the atrocities imputed him. “I am the one who gave orders to the army to demolish villages and relocate villagers,” he once spat in court. “I am not defending myself, I am not apologizing. I did not make a mistake.”

* Himself a casualty of the Iraq War: Golestan was killed when he stepped on a landmine in 2003.

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1992: 42 Iraqi merchants

3 comments July 26th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1992, 42* Baghdad merchants who were among several hundred rounded up over the preceding 48 hours were executed at Saddam Hussein‘s command at Abu Ghraib prison and the Interior Ministry compound.

A year and change on from the close of the Gulf War, Iraq’s economy was groaning under a murderous program of economic sanctions.

The merchants were accused of profiteering by manipulating food prices — a chilling threat to businessmen, but one that had little power to arrest the wreck of Iraq’s economy. Prices for food, and everything else, were spiking under the blockade.

“Hardly any Iraqi trader sent anything to his country from our warehouse” after the executions, according to a Jordanian exporter quoted by Reuters.** “They tell us even if the goods are given to them for free, they are not ready to risk their lives.”

These executions have put some former Iraqi officials at risk of their lives in American-occupied Iraq.

The country’s longtime Deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, was tried for his life in 2008-2009 for ordering these executions; Aziz received a 15-year sentence.†

But at the same trial, two of the late dictator’s half-brothers, Watban Ibrahim al-Tikriti and Sabawi Ibrahim al-Tikriti, drew death sentences for the same affair.

Just days ago as of this writing, those two gentlemen were transferred from American to Iraqi custody, where they figure to be put to death very soon — though this is a matter of ongoing political wrangling.

* It’s not completely unambiguous to me that the “42 merchants” at issue in several post-Saddam trials were all executed on July 26 (though Amnesty International seems to think so); the roundup and execution process was less than orderly. But it’s certainly the case that at least many died this date.

Some testimony and trial documents related to the incident are available in pdf form here.

** Chicago Sun-Times, Aug. 3, 1992.

† Aziz has subsequently received a death sentence in a different and politicized case; that sentence was internationally condemned and Iraq’s president has stated that he will never implement it.

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2007: Seven Tuareg and Arab civilians

Add comment December 9th, 2009 Headsman

On this date two years ago, seven civilians were apparently summarily executed by Niger security forces in that country’s long-running internal conflict with its Tuareg population.

Extrajudicial executions have been a recurring event (among the other usual charms of warfare) in Niger’s fight against the Mouvement des Nigériens pour la Justice (MNJ).

Amnesty International charged that these were among 13 civilians executed in a four-week span, possibly in retaliation for MNJ armed attacks.

A close relative of one of the dead told Amnesty International: “We were waiting for our relatives in Agadez when we saw their vehicles arrive driven by soldiers. We asked them where our relatives were. They refused to answer and then, as we insisted, they agreed to drive us to the place where the seven were buried.”

The people who identified the bodies said that they saw numerous signs on the victims of cigarette burns and whipping as well as many bullet wounds to the face and chest.

The nomadic Tuareg people of Niger’s (and neighboring Mali’s) northern Sahara territories have a long-running history of rebellion against the southerly federal government stretching back into the colonial period. (There’s a very detailed pdf paper on the subject here.)

These executions, which also swept up Arab businessmen, were part of the most recent (as of this writing) incarnation, a 2007-2009 campaign that seems ostensibly to have simmered down for now.

But the lucrative, contentious, and damaging (to the Tuareg) uranium mining industry that fuels the conflict (and that put Niger in the American news for the Bush administration’s duplicitous attempt to impute nuclear ambitions to Iraq in order to justify invading) still remains … and that fact seems to promise more bloodshed yet to come.

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2006: 27 at Abu Ghraib Prison

3 comments September 6th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 2006, 27 hanged in Baghdad’s notorious Abu Ghraib Prison.

It was just days after the American occupation forces handed back to the Iraqi government control of Abu Ghraib, scene of such iconic contributions to the annals of human rights abuse as this:

Iraqi prisoners would soon miss the old boss.

In the first (known) mass execution since the reign of Saddam Hussein — whose own turn at the gallows was just a few months away — 26 men and one woman were hanged on a variety of terrorism, murder and kidnapping charges.

“This is the message I have for the terrorists,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in announcing the executions. “We will see that you get great punishment wherever you are. There is nothing for you but prison and punishment.”

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