Al-Qaida's rule of threes.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Dec. 5 2005 7:07 PM

Al-Qaida's Rule of Threes

Why are all al-Qaida captives "No. 3"?

Some jobs just seem impossible to keep filled. Hollywood studio head. United States ambassador to Iraq. Editor of the New York Daily News. Defense Against the Dark Arts professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

To these we must now add "al-Qaida's No. 3 official." John Crimmings, proprietor of the New York-based Blogenlust, has been keeping track of al-Qaida third-in-commands captured or killed by our side, and counts no fewer than four.

There's Hamza Rabia, reportedly killed Thursday by an American missile. According to MSNBC, Rabia is said by two unidentified counterterrorism officials to be

head of al-Qaida's foreign operations, possibly as senior as the No. 3 [italics Chatterbox's] in the terrorist group, just below al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahri. They are believed to be hiding in a rugged area along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan.

Before Rabia there was Abu Farraj al-Libbi, who as of May 5 was reported by Fox News to be held in Pakistani custody. Libbi (no relation to the recently indicted White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby) was said not to be "head of foreign operations," as Rabia reportedly was, but rather to be plotting attacks on the United States. Perhaps it amounts to the same thing. At any rate, al-Libbi, Fox reported, was "believed by U.S. counterterrorism officials to be Usama bin Laden's No. 3 man."

Before al-Libbi there was Abu Zubaida, whom Ruth Wedgwood of Yale Law School called "the number three in al-Qaida" on PBS's NewsHour. We don't seem to know much about Zubaida's job description beyond the fact that he was, as the Washington Post put it, "involved with the Sept. 11 plot," which is a bit circular; of course the No. 3 guy in al-Qaida would be involved in the Sept. 11 plot.

Before Abu Zubaida there was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the "alleged mastermind" of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to Fox News, and also "Al Qaeda's No. 3 figure." Mohammed is also apparently al-Qaida's treasurer, having disbursed cash to Mohammed Atta. In one respect, Mohammed's job description is identical to Zubaida's: It apparently requires that the employee be subjected by Central Intelligence Agency interrogators to "water boarding," a form of torture—ahem, I mean interrogation—in which the subject is made to think he is drowning. No doubt the pension benefits have been adjusted upward to compensate.

The obvious question here is whether these four people successively held the position of No. 3 in al-Qaida—in which case, as Jon Stewart has observed on TheDaily Show, the job would appear to be "sort of a raw deal"—or whether counterterrorism officials are inclined to call any reasonably high-ranking Tom, Dick, or Harry "al-Qaida's No. 3" simply for the purposes of propaganda. Another possibility is that our side does this for the purposes of psy-ops, to create confusion among the al-Qaida rank and file about their own organization's true hierarchy. (It isn't like you can get Bin Laden to adjudicate turf wars every time confusion arises over the chain of command.) Yet another possibility is that al-Qaida's management hierarchy is ludicrously top-heavy, and that "No. 3" is a position held simultaneously by many people who in a similarly top-heavy corporation would be labeled "vice president." No matter what the explanation, it's clear that the sweet spot in al-Qaida management is No. 1 and No. 2. After that, job security seems only slightly better than that enjoyed by suicide bombers. My advice: Go with Procter & Gamble instead.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

It’s Not Easy for Me, but I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 23 2014 10:55 AM This Isn’t the Syria Intervention Anyone Wanted
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 23 2014 10:03 AM Watch Steve Jobs Tell Michael Dell, "We're Coming After You"
  Life
The Vault
Sept. 23 2014 10:24 AM How Bad Are Your Drinking Habits? An 18th-Century Temperance Thermometer Has the Verdict.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 9:42 AM Listen to the Surprising New Single From Kendrick Lamar
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 10:51 AM Is Apple Picking a Fight With the U.S. Government? Not exactly.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 11:00 AM Google CEO: Climate Change Deniers Are “Just Literally Lying”
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.