The Beheading of Steven Sotloff

ISIS Steven Sotloff Beheading Aegis AcademyAs with the murder of James Foley, the video production is smartly produced, well scripted and designed and is intended to the tell Muslim world that the “Islamic State” is in control. If you have not read the analysis of the James Foley beheading, I would encourage you to do so first, as it was the precursor that set the stage for this second production. Once again, I do not recommend that you watch the video as you will merely witness the brutal murder of a helpless human being. There is, unfortunately, an underlying sophisticated message that is well communicated.

This video also starts out with a clip of President Obama responding to the James Foley beheading stating “America will continue to do what we must.” Not what we should, not what is right, not what he wants to do, but what “we must.” Despite his typically clear and engaged speaking style, ISIS has again chosen a clip in which Obama looks tired and emotionally disconnected from the message. They could not have chosen a clip in which he looks more reluctant or hesitant. This is not a critique of Obama, as that speaking style is not his norm, and certainly there are clips in which he does not appear defeated and or exhausted. From their perspective, this was again an intelligent choice visually portraying the leader of the free world as weak, unsure of him-self and/or reluctant.

At the end of his remarks Obama states that America is “standing alongside others.” ISIS directly addresses this statement in their closing remarks. This message is titled a Second Message to America, and opens with Mr. Sotloff introducing himself with his full name and states “you probably know who I am by now.” This reference is explained when we look at U.S. and western news reporting of Mr. Sotloff as the “forgotten journalist” shortly after the James Foley beheading. He would be highly unlikely to make a general assessment that people did not know of his plight on his own.

Mr. Sotloff calmly and succinctly makes the case that Obama’s foreign policy is not meeting its endstate and asks why he is having to pay with his life stating “Am I not an American citizen?”. This is intentionally designed to draw a distinction between America and Obama to the Muslim world. They saw what happened when Bin Laden attacked America, and what a united America is militarily capable of. ISIS has been diligent in tying its actions to Obama and his policy and in attempting to claim that those actions do not represent the will of the American people. His last sentence is an emotional appeal to the audience that America’s foreign policy is failing as evidenced by its inability to protect him.

He addresses the broader failure of American foreign policy in the region citing thousands of lives and billions of dollars lost “fighting the Islamic State.” This statement is intended for the Muslim audience who largely see Iraq as an American defeat. ISIS is telling Muslims that they were responsible for America’s defeat. He closes this paragraph ending in “So where is the American people’s interest in re-igniting this war?”. This again emphasizes to the Muslim world that America is not united with the actions of it leadership.

Mr. Sotloff then goes on to reference the campaign promises of Obama during his first and second presidential campaigns (Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo). He states “nearing the end of your term having achieved none of the above” starkly pointing out the lack of stated campaign achievements in a further attempt to distance American air strikes from American support to their Muslim audience.

As with Mr. Foley, Mr. Sotloff is far too calm for a person who believes his execution is at hand. He speaks with a measured tone; he sounds tired and speaks with the pace of one who is almost bored with his rehearsal. This is probably due to excessive repetition, as I did not see any similar indicators of fatigue in Mr. Foley’s speech prior to his murder.

The camera cuts to another energetic, engaged speech by what appears to be the same murderer from Mr. Foley’s video. He states “I am back Obama… because of your arrogant foreign policy” again opening with a statement attempting to emphasize that the actions of the administration do not align with the American peoples interests. He references specific airstrikes, many of which occurred prior to the beheading of James Foley which could indicate this video may have been produced shortly after the Foley beheading.

If Mr. Foley and Mr. Sotloff were held in proximity to each other, he would have noticed his absence in the past two weeks. It is unlikely that he would have been able to make the assumption that he was not dead. It is quite possible that they were not held together, but alternatively, based on the Mosul Dam reference, this and the next few executions may have been filmed in the past.

The physical contact between the murderer and Mr. Sotloff does not evoke the response of a person who thinks they are about to be decapitated. In fact, when his murderer grabs his chin, he appears to relax, which is indicative of someone not expecting to experience pain. This would only occur with repeated practice and extensive conditioning. At the point Mr. Sotloff’s murderer begins to cut he attempts to stand, which is the only indication of resistance that we see before the screen cuts to black.

Again, there are no screams of Allah-u-Akbar, references to god or religion, no arterial bleeding, or other gore to disconnect the viewer from the message. The entire video is presented in an almost transactional manner. The next scene is Mr. Sotloff’s head laid out on his stomach. Similar to Mr. Foley’s who’s head was placed in the center of his back. The blood is dark and has started to congeal indicating there has been a considerable amount of time between the murder and the final pan across the decapitated body.

The last scene is of a British citizen, David Cawthorne Haines, in an orange jumpsuit at the feet of the Islamic State’s Murderer. He addressed Obama’s “Standing along side others” comment with “We take this opportunity to warn those governments that have entered this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone.”

The key emotional components that ISIS wants to communicate to the Muslim world is Obama’s weariness juxtaposed with the enthusiasm of the Murderer who, to the intended audience represents the Islamic State. They are attempting to demonstrate that Americans have a resigned acceptance of their fate – even at the moment of their death. They continually attempt to separate American actions from the will of the American people so as to avoid what is largely viewed in the Muslim world as Al Qaeda’s primary mistake.

The message is designed to communicate three themes. First , there is a deep wedge of dissatisfaction between America and the administration giving hope that we may again abandon our chosen course. Second, to demonstrate to the Muslim world that America is powerless to stop the Islamic State from pursuing its goals. Third, the Islamic State is still in control and will continue to pursue its objectives regardless of American air-power. This video is designed to instill confidence in the longevity of ISIS.

The beheading of Steven Sotloff was not a message to America, it was a second message to would be jihadists who have yet to join the cause.

Our prayers to the family of the most recent victim of ISIS.

About Author

Patrick Henry – President at Aegis Academy

Patrick HenryPatrick Henry received his operational training and experience from the U. S. Government, 22 years of which were spent in the Marine Corps where he served in the Reconnaissance, Infantry and Intelligence fields. During his active service, he spent more then seven years deployed overseas in combat, operational and training assignments. After the military, Pat worked as a contractor and as the Director of Operations at a private paramilitary company, specializing in training special operations forces and providing protective services to select private clients. His education consists of an MBA from the University of Southern California (USC), and a BS from San Diego State University with an emphasis in Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology and a minor in Psychology. He holds an extensive list of security and training related certifications from a variety of government and nationally recognized entities. He currently sits on the advisory committee at USC’s Master of Veterans Business Program, and is an active member of Infraguard and the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS). He has been a guest speaker at ASIS, the San Diego Industrial Security Awareness Council and other private organizations on physical security, travel security, and competitive intelligence collection counter-measures.

First Published at Aegis Academy

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