Keep your eye on the ball By William Bowles

19 May 2004

Rumours abound on the Web, many if not all are impossible to substantiate but very quickly get transformed into ‘fact’. For progressives, this can be very damaging not to mention energy sapping, pursuing empty lines of inquiry that lead to us taking our eye ‘off the ball.’

The Berg decapitation video appeared at a very fortuitous time for the imperium, of that there can be no doubt. But unusually, the unfortunate Berg has disappeared off the video screens as quickly as he appeared when one would have thought that his horrific execution would have been milked for all its worth by a complicit corporate media. Compare the media’s treatment of the Berg execution to the four mercenaries who died in Fallujah for example, sufficient to warrant a wholesale assault on Fallujah and the deaths of an estimated 1200 Iraqis and perhaps 100 American soldiers.

And although the initial headlines screamed about the “barbaric act”, there has been no followup investigation by the media. The statements made by the US government have been accepted at face value and left at that. So what’s different about the Berg execution?

Well for one, there’s the events leading up to and surrounding Berg’s murder. Above all, the missing four weeks prior to his assassination, between his release from custody on or around April 5 and his body being found on May 8. Berg was last seen at a hotel in Baghdad on April 10 and was apparently heading for Kuwait, Jordan or possibly Turkey.

Then there’s the ‘confusion’ surrounding who exactly had custody of him, with conflicting stories coming out of the US authorities in Iraq and later from the State Department.

First the denial of his being detained by the US that was later changed following very public denials by the Iraqi authorities that they had him (although it seems they may have initially detained him and then handed him over to US authorities) that was followed by the admission that he had been visited by the FBI three times during his two weeks in detention, though was he in Iraqi detention or the US?

For some it has become the basis for an elaborate conspiracy, with a lot of hypotheses doing the rounds, none of which have much in the way of evidence to back them up, not that this doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a conspiracy, merely that there is no real evidence to support one – yet.

As I reported last week, there is a lot of very suspicious stuff surrounding Berg’s murder, not the least of which is the almost immediate response from the CIA that the reportedly deceased Al-Zaqwari was “almost certainly” the voice on the video. Moreover, if he is still alive, according to reports, he only has one leg, lost it is said, during a bombing raid by the US in Afghanistan. Quite clearly, none of the five men on the video is missing a leg.

The various and sundry reports that have appeared about the veracity of the video are at best circumstantial and at worst pure speculation.

The location: It is claimed by those who say the video is a fake that it was shot in Abu Ghraib. This is based upon two pieces of ‘evidence’; the ubiquitous plastic chair and the colour of the wall. First the chair. These stackable white plastic garden chairs are produced in their millions and sold right across Africa and Europe. They come in two colours, white and green.

The colour of the wall. Aside from the atrocious quality of the video, it proves nothing about its location, the colour could be coincidence or simply a result of a bad copy of the video. A white wall will pick up all kinds of shades depending on the lighting conditions.

The five masked men. The bullet-proof vests it is claimed are only worn by Americans, what this assertion is based upon I have no idea. The weight of the terrorists. Conspiracists claim that “Arabs are not pudgy”, an ludicrous piece of racial stereotyping if I’ve ever heard one. One is wearing what appear to be white sneakers (trainers), again it is claimed only American wear white sneakers although what this is based upon, is not stated.

Their weapons. One assertion claims that the AKs they’re holding are Israeli copies. Again, even if true it proves nothing, Iraq is awash with weapons.

The most damning ‘evidence’ is the US-issue orange jump suit that Berg is wearing and the actual video itself that has been heavily edited and, as one critic puts it, where’s the blood that would inevitably spurt out if he was alive when decapitated, raising the issue that he could well have been already dead. But again, by itself it proves nothing about who murdered him.

Could it be that if a serious investigation of the video and the events surrounding his death was made, it would reveal that it was a fabrication? Critical to this is the fact that the actual beheading was not shown, we hear only a scream off-camera, followed by a man holding Berg’s head. Moreover, there is no expression on Berg’s face that one assumes would be one of horror and pain if, as the video purportedly shows, he had been murdered only seconds before. The edited video is very conveniently lacking the conclusive proof of his actual beheading whilst still alive even though all the news reports talk of the video of his beheading, the video doesn’t actually show Berg being beheaded.

The Arabic spoken by the man reading from the statement if it is Al-Zaqwari who is/was Jordanian, is according to one source, very bad Arabic and not spoken with a Jordanian accent. But again, we don’t know who is speaking, so it means nothing by itself. And in any case, isn’t Al Zaqwari meant to be dead?

The other assertion, that the video was uploaded from London is without any kind of foundation, based as it is merely on the London address (that ini reported last Friday) for the domain registration for al-ansar.biz or al-ansar.net, thus proving that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. There is no evidence whatsoever that the video was uploaded from London or indeed information for any other location.

These then are the major claims of critics that the video is a set-up but I believe the real truth lies elsewhere than with the video and short of some kind of ‘revelation’ it may well prove impossible to determine what actually happened to Berg or who was behind it.

First an update. 18/05/04, the Iraqi police have arrested four men in connection with the death of Berg but no information on who they are or what their connections are as of today (19/05/04).

Who detained Berg and why?
An Associated Press story dated 13 May five days after Berg’s body was found in Baghdad, gives a conflicting account of events:

“WEST CHESTER, Pa. – A U.S. diplomatic official in Iraq told the family of slain American Nicholas Berg in early April that he was being detained by the U.S. military, according to e-mails provided by the family Thursday.

“U.S. government officials have said Berg, who was found dead last weekend in Baghdad, was detained by Iraqi police March 24 in Mosul and was never in the custody of American forces. A State Department spokeswoman said Thursday night that the diplomat in Baghdad had been given erroneous information by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority when she e-mailed the Berg family.

“To back its claims that Berg was in U.S. custody, the family gave The Associated Press copies of e-mails from Beth A. Payne, the U.S. consular officer in Iraq. “I have confirmed that your son, Nick, is being detained by the U.S. military in Mosul. He is safe. He was picked up approximately one week ago. We will try to obtain additional information regarding his detention and a contact person you can communicate with directly,” Payne wrote to Berg’s father, Michael, on April 1.

“Payne repeated that Berg was “being detained by the U.S. military” in an e-mail the same day to Berg’s mother, Suzanne.

“On April 2, Berg’s mother again wrote to Payne, saying she still hadn’t been given a contact person in Iraq to talk to about her son.

“Our local FBI agent has informed us that the FBI recommended his release, but we have heard nothing,” Suzanne Berg wrote.

“State Department spokeswoman Kelly Shannon said Payne’s information came from the Coalition Provisional Authority. The authority did not tell Payne until April 7 that Berg had been held by Iraqi police and not the U.S. military.

“As Mr. Berg had been released, the consular officer did not convey this information to the family because he was released, thankfully,” Shannon said. “And we thought he was on his way.””

“Berg’s father told AP,

“The Iraqi police do not tell the FBI what to do, the FBI tells the Iraqi police what to do. Who do they think they’re kidding?”

The US account also conflicts with the initial reports that stated Berg had rejected an offer of a flight back to the US. According to the State Department, Berg told an American diplomat in Baghdad that he preferred to travel on his own to Kuwait because he thought the trip to Baghdad airport was “too dangerous”. Although this sounds strange coming from a man who had spent his time traveling around Iraq unaccompanied.

Nicholas Berg also had Iraqi relatives:

“Michael Berg told the AP that Nicholas’ paternal aunt, now dead, married an Iraqi man named Mudafer, who became close to Nicholas. In one of the e-mails, Nicholas Berg describes going to the northern city of Mosul, where he introduced himself to Mudafer’s brother, identified as Moffak Mustaffa.

“Berg notes, “My presence … made him more concerned (about his own safety and probably mine too) than I’ve been the entire time I’ve been here.””

So how does this information connect to Berg’s disappearance? There are so many unanswered questions about Nicholas Berg that so far have not been addressed.

Moreover, according to the Iraqi authorities:

“Senor referred questions about the reason for Berg’s detention to the Iraqi police. In Mosul, however, police told the AP they had no knowledge of the Berg case. Police official Safwan Talal said the only American arrested there in recent months was a woman who was released soon afterward.”
Washington Post 13/05/04

So who detained him and why? Was it a question of mistaken identity? Consider the following extract from a news report in the St. Petersburg Times (FLA) dated May 13:

“Knight Ridder Newspapers reported that Berg told friends in Iraq that Iraqi police arrested him because he had a Jewish-sounding last name and an Israeli stamp in his passport.

“They thought he was a spy,” said Hugo Infante, a Chilean who works for the United Press International news service and lives at the Fanar Hotel [where Berg was staying prior to his disappearance].

“Infante, 31, said Berg didn’t seem particularly alarmed about his arrest and detention in Mosul.

“He wasn’t mad. It was adventure for him,” Infante said, a view echoed by another friend, Andrew Duke, who said Berg shook off his detention.

“He was looking forward to going home,” Duke said.

“Since Iraq remains under U.S. military occupation, it seems unlikely that the Iraqi police would have held Berg, or any other American, for such a length of time without at least the tacit approval of U.S. authorities.

“Berg told his family that U.S. officials took custody of him soon after his arrest and he was not allowed to make phone calls or contact a lawyer, his father said.

“Kimmitt said U.S. forces kept tabs on Berg during his confinement to make sure he was being fed and properly treated because “he was an American citizen.”

“But the three FBI visits suggest American authorities were concerned about more than Berg’s well-being. They may have had their own suspicions about what the young American was doing in Iraq.

“During a briefing Wednesday, Senor confirmed that Berg had registered with the U.S. Consulate in Baghdad but insisted he “was not a U.S. government employee, he has no affiliation with the coalition and to our knowledge he has no affiliation with any Coalition Provisional Authority contractor.”

“However, in a Jan. 18 e-mail, Berg said his company had been announced as an approved subcontractor for a broadcast consortium awarded a contract for the U.S.-controlled Iraqi Media Network. “Practically, this means we should be involved with quite a bit of tower work as part of the reconstruction, repair and new construction of the Iraqi Media Network,” he wrote, referring to the network, operated by the Harris Corp. of Melbourne, as “something like NPR in the U.S.”
www.sptimes.com/2004/05/13/Worldand nation/Mystery_shrouds_hosta.shtml

But most telling of all is why in the light of the original coverage of Berg’s murder and the political mileage being extracted from it in the US press, has the story all but disappeared and why were the US authorities so quick to claim that he was murdered by Al Zaqwari when there is not a shred of evidence to back up this claim?

And why has there has been no post mortem or autopsy report that would most definitely determine the cause and time of death. An autopsy would also reveal whether or not he was alive when decapitated.

The real question to ask is why has there been no serious examination of the events surrounding Berg’s murder by the media, that in turn, allows the speculation surrounding his death, all of which leads me to suspect that this was a Psy-Ops that went seriously wrong and has led to it being played down.

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