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The U.S. did not ‘take out’ Qasem Soleimani. It ‘killed’ or ‘assassinated’ him

Media Analysis
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One of the disgusting features of the U.S. effort to provoke conflict with Iran is the widespread use of the euphemism “take him out” instead of “kill” or “assassinate” to characterize the death of General Qasem Soleimani. Those Americans who employ it include not just Trump acolytes, but politicians from both parties, TV reporters, and others who should know better.

Just yesterday evening, the top anchor at the CBS Evening News, Norah O’Donnell, used it in an interview with Vice President Mike Pence. Vox uses it. NPR does. Evan Osnos of the New Yorker says it, and so does Terry Gross, on “Fresh Air.” Democrats do it. And Republicans.

The euphemism has an ugly history. In the late 1970s I reported from Rhodesia, the white minority-ruled nation in southern Africa that eventually won independence as Zimbabwe. Back then, the young white “troopies” who waged a bitter 7-year fight against the national liberation movement regularly boasted of “taking out” the black guerrillas who opposed them. From there, the euphemism migrated, possibly spread by war correspondents who like to talk tough, and today you hear it everywhere in connection with Iran. 

Most obviously, “take him out” is used by people who are either too squeamish or too biased to admit that what the United States did was “kill” someone. But the euphemism has an additional implied meaning, an arrogant swagger. You are really saying that the people your government kills are not fully human. 

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

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33 Responses

  1. Boomer on January 9, 2020, 11:56 am

    Thanks for saying this. Swagger has been a bane of our foreign policy for a long time. I recall the neocons before the second invasion of Iraq. I recall, for example, a press conference a couple of days before the attack started. A reporter asked Junior’s press secretary why the hurry: Iraq had been cooperating with inspections, which were going on until the U.S. effectively told the inspectors to get out or be killed. No WMD had been found. “We still could avoid war,” the reporter said. The Press sec. said “that’s not what great powers do.” And we all remember Junior’s swelling codpiece as he swaggered on the carrier deck to say “Mission Accomplished.”

    The refusal to use the word “kill” is telling.

  2. bcg on January 9, 2020, 12:46 pm

    The late great George Carlin on the use of euphemisms:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuEQixrBKCc

    Anyone for a little enhanced interrogation?

  3. John O on January 9, 2020, 1:15 pm

    “Targeted killing” is another base euphemism. I noticed Susan Rice using it the other day in the first paragraph of her article in the NYT, and, sickened, read no further. The word “kill” does appear in this phrase, but it’s the word “targeted” that is the operative one – making the killing seem somehow the result of rational and careful (perhaps even lawful) forethought. An equivalent phrase would be “premeditated killing”, but we all know the six-letter word beginning with “m” defined by that phrase.

  4. Stephen Shenfield on January 9, 2020, 2:20 pm

    I think the expression comes from treating a conflict as a board game. If you play chess or checkers or go and you capture a piece you ‘take it out’ — remove it from the game. The fact that you achieve that by killing is unimportant.

    • Talkback on January 10, 2020, 4:43 am

      Yep, he is not longer in the game. Similar to “to take someone out of the equation”.

      Contrary to killing or assasinating it also implies that the overall situation has been improved. A major obstacle was removed or complexity was reduced, etc. Sounds completely different than “the US just killed a Iranian general” when it comes to possible consequences.

  5. HarryLaw on January 9, 2020, 3:24 pm

    Watching Trump [The godfather]and his Generals [made men] at the Press conference felt like I was watching ‘the scum of the earth’ It would be understandable if the Iranians have contracts out on all of them. I hope those scumbags are soon sleeping with the fishes.

  6. JaapBo on January 9, 2020, 4:44 pm

    Even stronger: it was a war crime!
    The laws of war only allow proportional violence. The killing of 25 Iraqi’s and the liquidation of Soleimani were clearly disproportional, so war crimes!
    They are similar to the Israeli strategy (described by Zeev Maoz in ‘Defending the holy Land’) of ‘escalation domination’, always hitting back disproportional, so always committing war crimes.

  7. John Douglas on January 9, 2020, 10:07 pm

    I’m not sure that “taken out” is a euphemism or at least that this in the reporter’s motive for it. By and large Washington-based reporters are groupies whose greatest need is to be on the inside. So they adopt the language of those they have a need to be near, a chique and cool language to show they are at the center of power. “Soleimani was an important “player” in Iran’s “game plan” in the ME. So he was “taken out” (presumably, of the “game”). So cool, unflappable and unimpressed with all this messiness they stand aside, in the manner of one who’s seen it all before.

  8. Jackdaw on January 10, 2020, 12:38 am

    And how many Americans did Soleimani ‘kill’?

    Hundreds?

    How many thousands of Syrians did Soleimani help slaughter?
    Can I say ‘slaughter’? Is that all right with you, James? To say ‘slaughter’?

    • Talkback on January 10, 2020, 8:01 am

      Jackdaw: “And how many Americans did Soleimani ‘kill’?”

      It depends on whether the US or Israel fabricates the evidence.

    • Misterioso on January 10, 2020, 10:07 am

      @Jackdaw

      Then there’s the accelerating rot within “Israel.”

      https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-our-hit-men-1.8258863

      “Our Hit men,” by Gideon Levy, Haaretz, Dec. 12/19

      “Israel loves to revel in its bloody memories – how we killed, how we eliminated, how we murdered, what heroes we were. Every so often another so-called documentary, which is nothing but propaganda in favor of murder, extols Israeli heroism, always worshipfully, always with admiration for the heroic hit men, always with a sly, knowing wink, without asking questions, without casting doubt, without serious debate.

      “There aren’t many countries that send kill units to off their enemies in their sleep, in front of their wives and children, let alone boast about it, running to tell their friends, as the Hebrew joke goes, and even turning these murders into a positive value as the media cheers them on. Israel murders, and the media marvels.

      “Even if it were possible to somehow understand the motivation or even the justification for the murders and targeted killings — which were never particularly wise — making the murders into exemplary behavior is unthinkable. Perhaps it’s an unavoidable necessity — very doubtful — but a source of pride? Mass entertainment? Murder as amusement?

      “Instead of the assassins being ashamed of their actions and perhaps expressing regret one day, they are the heroes of our times.

      “Thus, last week Kan public television broadcast a movie on the planned wholesale elimination of the entire Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip, which thankfully was not executed. (Operation Anemone Picking, the plan was called, and it was described as the ‘dream of every intelligence agent.’) Now Channel 13 is broadcasting ‘Reshimat Hisul’ (‘Hit List,’ another exemplary series, which surveys Israel’s murders and praises their executors to the high heavens.

      “This week’s episode dealt with the glorious assassination of Khalil al Wazir, known as Abu Jihad, whose heroic elimination in Tunisia in 1988 had already been the subject of segment on the investigative television magazine ‘Uvda.’ Any Israeli documentary series worth its salt must have at least one targeted killing per season.

      “The formula is grotesque. They are written like popular thrillers, with appropriate background music and re-enactments. But the message is bloodcurdling: There are murderers among us, some of them national leaders; not only are they considered heroes, but some are regarded as the most moral and ethical politicians. Take Moshe Ya’alon, for example, whose middle name is honesty. He has one ultimate test, he said in the film about Abu Jihad’s murder, ‘the test of looking in the mirror.’ A real ‘Mr. Morality.’

      “If Ya’alon can look at himself in the mirror after a murder, it’s a sign that the murder wasn’t a murder. A new test in the theory of ethics is born.

      “Ya’alon the thinker also has a philosophy: ‘In my philosophy there is no mission impossible,’ said one of the great hopes of Kahol Lavan, spouting yet another cliché. Everything is possible, including the idiotic elimination in Tunis of a man who could have become a partner for peace.

      “There are two common threads to all these heroic stories: The assassins almost always had more blood on their hands than the assassinated, including the blood of innocents, and the assassinated were always replaced by people more extreme and dangerous than they. There has never been an assassination that halted terror; there has never been a murder that caused an entire people to surrender. They will never tell you this in these glowing reports.

      “’One shot with a .22, and the guard was dead’ — applause. ‘If he had shot the girl [Abu Jihad’s daughter] he would have taken it very hard’ — how moral we are. And the naked truth: ‘In the end you’re pleased that you’ve killed someone.’

      “At a certain point they weighed whether to also assassinate the neighbor, Abu Mazen; ‘Two birds with one stone, but not every Abu is on the same scale,’ said a voice of reason, and thus the life of Mahmoud Abbas, today the Palestinian president, was saved. Had he, the embarrassingly moderate leader, been taken out at the time, it would have also been considered an incredible success for Israeli intelligence, just like that murder of his neighbor on the Tunis beach.

      “Keep on telling us about more and more assassinations. It says quite a lot about us.”

      • Jackdaw on January 11, 2020, 5:23 am

        Can’t believe you wrote all that.

        You must have a lot of spare time.

      • Talkback on January 11, 2020, 11:32 am

        Say Jackdaw, which Israeli general or politician should be assassinated, because of the numbers of killed Nonjews s/he was responsible for.

        If you are afraid to say “all of them” just don’t answer. If you think that they only should be assasinated, if they are Nonjews then answer: “None of them.”

      • Jackdaw on January 11, 2020, 12:56 pm

        @Talkcrap

        Soleimani was a part-time general, and a full-time terrorist, a designated terrorist same as bin Laden and al Baghdadi.

        What Israeli general orders a busload of tourists murdered while they are on vacation in Europe?

        Don’t answer, just make another pathetic distraction.

      • Talkback on January 12, 2020, 6:50 am

        Jackdaw: “@Talkcrap”

        @ Infantile Zionist

        Infantile Zionist: “What Israeli general orders a busload of tourists murdered while they are on vacation in Europe?”

        The kind of Israeli general that orders killing of childrens, elders, handicapped, medics and journalists who would otherwise find themselves expelled by Israeli politicians, while being on vacation in Europe. Do you actaully know Israel’s state terrorism doctrine called the Dahiya doctrine?

        Since you don’t answer my question I have to assume that any Israeli general or politician who’s responsible for state terrorism and killing innocent Palestinian civilian or collectively punishing them should be assasinated, too.

    • James Canning on January 10, 2020, 10:46 am

      @Jackdaw

      How many hundreds of thousands of people have been killed as a result of the idiotic US invasion of Iraq in 2003. An invasion Iran opposed.

    • Mooser on January 10, 2020, 1:57 pm

      “Can I say ‘slaughter’?” “Jackdaw”

      You are in a tough spot, “Jackdaw”! If only there was a pro-Zionist site at which you could express yourself freely, but we know how that worked out.
      So here you are, at a site which censors any post which makes Zionism or Zionists look good.

  9. James Canning on January 10, 2020, 11:05 am

    The Iranian general indeed was assassinated, and this fact should not be obscured. Bravo.

  10. PaulMerrell on January 11, 2020, 5:20 am

    In our legal system, an intentional homicide is known as “murder.”

    • Jon66 on January 11, 2020, 12:48 pm

      Obviously wrong. Homicide is the killing of one human by another. Murder is a specific type of intentional homicide, but not all intentional homicide is murder.
      If a police officer shoots an armed felon that is not murder.
      If a woman is defending herself against a rapist and shoots him with the intent to kill him tat is not murder.
      If a soldier kills another soldier that is not murder.
      Etc.

  11. lonely rico on January 11, 2020, 1:27 pm

    You must have a lot of spare time.
    Jackdaw’s devastating critique of Gideon Levy !

    There are murderers among us, some of them national leaders
    Gideon Levy.

    According to Norman Finkelstein, Israel is a country of murderers. Palestinian Israelis, who are not considered real Israelis, cannot be tarred with this brush. They are not permitted to join the IDF (Murder Inc.), the birthright and license of every Jewish Israeli to murder and destroy.

    Gideon Levy is an extraordinary journalist, speaking truth to power in the den of iniquity which is Israel.
    I salute his honesty and courage.

    • Jon66 on January 11, 2020, 2:15 pm

      “ Palestinian Israelis, who are not considered real Israelis, cannot be tarred with this brush. They are not permitted to join the IDF (Murder Inc.), the birthright and license of every Jewish Israeli to murder and destroy.”

      Another lie.
      Arab Israelis are not conscripted but are ENCOURAGED to join the IDF.
      https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37895021

      But please don’t let the facts stand in the way of your argument.

    • mondonut on January 11, 2020, 2:20 pm

      @lonely rico , They are not permitted to join the IDF

      Not true. Arab Israelis are not conscripted but they are free to join.

      • lonely rico on January 11, 2020, 6:40 pm

        Jon 66 & mondonut

        I did not mention “Arab” Israelis

        Please read my comment, where I refer to PALESTINIAN Israelis.

        Are PALESTINIAN Israelis welcomed into the IDF (Murder Inc.)?

        Trained to use high-powered sniper rifles to murder men, women, and children in Gaza?
        Trained to fly F35 missile strikes on unarmed prisoners in Gaza?
        Trained to use bulldozers to murder American girls sickened by house demolitions?
        Trained to brutalize, mistreat, and torture thousands of children incarcerated by the Jewish state?

        I thought Palestinians were better than that.
        My bad.

      • mondonut on January 12, 2020, 1:47 pm

        lonely rico , I did not mention “Arab” Israelis

        Palestinians are not Arabic? Who knew?
        But if these mythical PALESTINIAN Israelis you are referring to include Arabic, non-Jewish citizens of Israel who happen to identify as ethnically Palestinian – then the answer is still yes. They can join the IDF if they choose to.

      • echinococcus on January 12, 2020, 2:46 pm

        “Palestinians are not Arabic? Who knew?”

        Of course they are Arabs, silly. As Palestinians, they are the owners of all of Palestine,
        which Mauretanians, Saudis, Iraqis,
        or also Litvaks, Bessarabians, Brooklynites or other invaders are NOT.

        That’s why they must be called Palestinians.

      • Jon66 on January 12, 2020, 4:40 pm

        Someone should tell Ayman Odeh.
        “ Odeh says, “We represent those who are invisible in this country, and we give them a voice. We also bring a message of hope to all people, not just to the Arabs, but to the Jews, too”.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayman_Odeh
        But of course the Mondo crowd knows better than the people themselves.

  12. Vera Gottlieb on January 11, 2020, 3:06 pm

    Both the US AND israel are playing with fire…a fire they won’t be able to extinguish. Shame on you, israel!!! You stand to lose the most but in your hatred of Iran don’t seem to realize this.

  13. eflash on January 12, 2020, 11:54 am

    “Targeted killing” and “take out” can more accurately be called extra judicial killings. This is what I teach in my classes, where I tend to adopt human rights and international legal terminology. Ultimately a rogue act outside of the bounds of international (and moral) law, no matter how heinous the individual’s crime. Just think how much could have been learned from Bin Laden and Al-Baghdadi if they had been arrested and tried in a court of law.

    • echinococcus on January 12, 2020, 1:55 pm

      Teach me, o Teaching One, how subtle the propaganda is that brings up “how heinous the individual’s crime” and “Bin Laden and Al-Baghdadi” when discussing Suleymani. Impressive: this technique should be tagged implausible deniability…

    • Talkback on January 12, 2020, 2:36 pm

      eflash: “Just think how much could have been learned from Bin Laden and Al-Baghdadi if they had been arrested and tried in a court of law.”

      Maybe, but the US wants to make ISIS happy. And ISIS is over the moon right now.

  14. echinococcus on January 12, 2020, 7:13 pm

    Let us count the assassins, while we’re at it.

    Trump has invoked the 2002 AUMF for committing the murder of an invited official guest of Iraq, holding a diplomatic passport, through US-controlled airport security. See the reports from the Congress briefing.

    The 2002 AUMF was voted enthusiastically by the whole of Congress, including Sanders, of course, to the single exception of Barbara Lee.

    Every “yea” voter to the AUMF and every one approving the renewals or opposing the cancellation of it is complicit.

    It’s not only Trump who’s the unspeakable beast. It’s every one of us, too.

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