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Iced Berg Admin moves to get ahead of events
Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Zepps Commentaries
May 18, 2004

A buddy of mine came up with what might be the best line in this very weird election year: "George Bush: he keeps his head when others are losing theirs."

Of course it's sick. All the very best political humor is.

I finally did watch the videotape of the decapitation of Nicholas Berg. It didn't start out real high on my list of fun things to do in my spare time, but as the questions mounted about the exact circumstances under which the events portrayed in that videotape occurred, I finally decided I just had to see for myself.

The tape is of poor quality, and the events it claims to depict are certainly lurid enough -- a living man has his head sawn off, film at eleven.

And naturally, the conspiracy theorists are having a field day. The most popular theory is that Berg was killed in Abu Ghraib, and that his executioners were Americans.

I find that unlikely.

But having seen the tape, and having read dozens of often-contradictory accounts of the events that led up to Berg's death, there are two things I'm reasonably sure of. First, that video did not show a living man getting his head sawn off, and second, that the whole series of stories leading up to that video is riddled with inconsistencies and unlikely circumstances.

First, the tape itself. Much has been made of the white plastic lawn chair and the revolting yellow cement wall that appears behind Berg in the video. Lawn chairs of that description can be found in Abu Ghraib, as can that sickly yellow wall. Of course, chances are good you can find both in your own neighborhood, possibly in your own house. One of the terrorists is wearing sneakers, supposedly (I can't tell for sure), but as with the chair and the institutional paint job, both are fairly common in Iraq.

One disturbing element, though: Berg is dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit. There is no record of terrorists ever dressing their captives in orange prison jumpsuits. Indeed, the only people in Iraq who do so are the Americans.

As for the "killing" itself, I believe the body was already dead when the decapitation began. The hooded man begins sawing from underneath, and since the body was lying prone on its stomach at the time, this mean the man was sawing through the carotid artery. In a living person, this would result in blood jetting out as far as twenty feet. Between the camera angle and the poor quality of the tape, it's possible that there was profuse bleeding, and it simply wasn't visible on the dark floor, but moments later the head is held aloft, and there is no blood dripping from it. The body was essentially motionless as the sawing began, except for one guy "holding it down" although in reality, it looked to me as if he was pulling on the shoulders in order to make it look as if the body yet retained some life. Only the parts by his hands moved. The rest was still.

If "Kill Bill" had been produced by Ed Wood instead of Quentin Tarentino, this might have been the result.

I had been planning to say that the only things we knew for sure were that Berg had been killed, and that his decapitated body was found on an overpass in Baghdad on Saturday, May 8th. Except that second part is open for conjecture. In its initial report to AP, the HQ said only that the body "showed signs of trauma". Under the circumstances, that description is a mastery of understatement. Hannibal Lecter's victims showed signs of trauma, too. No autopsy, body cremated. So we'll never know for sure how Berg died, or what we're actually seeing on that tape.

If the events surrounding the tape seem strange, the contradictions and improbabilities leading up to his supposed capture are simply mindboggling.

He went over to Iraq in mid December, 2003, apparently to see if there was money to be made building radio towers and other electronic infrastructure. He returned stateside February 1st, but then returned to Iraq in March. He was planning to return home again on March 30th, since contract work in Iraq, where the resistance had reduced the planned 25,000 construction projects to less than 500, was scarce, and increasingly dangerous. However, he was supposedly arrested by Iraq police (US Toadies, Inc) and tossed in jail sometime after March 23rd. AP reported that "U.S. officials insist Berg was arrested by Iraqi police for involvement in Œsuspicious activities.' The Mosul police chief has denied that. An April 1 e-mail from a U.S. consular official in Iraq, provided by Berg's family, said he was being detained by the U.S. military." Off the record, some officials claimed that he might have been arrested by the Iraqi police because he was Jewish, and had had his passport stamped in Israel, where, it's reported, he went to learn to speak Arabic. The Iraqi police still deny having arrested and held him, incidently, and the military now claims their report that they held him was in error. It's worth noting that Berg's parents are strongly of the opinion that the Iraqi police, puppets of the American regime in Iraq, would never have held any American, Jewish or not, for ten days without the knowledge and consent of the American authorities there. Coalition spokesman in Iraq, Dan Senor, has stated that the FBI visited Berg three separate times while he was in the Iraqi police jail, so it seems likely that a) the Iraqi police did hold him, and b) the American government knew about it.

If the Iraqis thought he was an Israeli spy, there were at least items they could point to that would foster that suspicion. The guy was Jewish, and had prepared for his trip to Iraq with a stop in Israel, supposedly to learn Arabic. It wouldn't take excessive levels of paranoia to conclude he might be an Israeli spy.

Odder was the American suspicion that he might be an al-Qaida operative. Initially it was reported that he was questioned in 2002 because Zacarias Moussaoui was in possession of his password to a college email account. Later the story was changed to read, "an e-mail address traced to him [...] was used by an acquaintance of terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui." Odd as it may seem, the FBI concluded that this wasn't enough evidence to throw Berg's ass in jail forever or until he got a trial, whichever was longer.

Nobody knows why he was detained, but he was detained, and the Americans knew about it and approved. He was released on the 6th, and was last seen on the 7th, when he was planning to get out of Iraq any way he could.

That was the last anyone saw of him until his body turned up on that overpass. And the video didn't come out for a day or two after that.

The parents filed suit for his release, and while it's unlikely the suit had anything to do with it, he was released on April 6th. By then, Iraq had blown sky high, and it was dangerous for Americans to wander the streets of Baghdad. Hell, it was dangerous for MARINES to wander the streets of Baghdad in Humvees.

He called his folks, told them he was coming home -- and that was the last anyone saw of him alive.

Just how he wound up in the hands of al Qaida terrorists is perhaps the biggest mystery of all. In order to accept the story given, we have to assume that Nicholas Berg, an American Jew, was wandering the streets unescorted in an orange prison jumpsuit, but still carrying his passport, complete with Israeli stamp.

Now, if that was me, I think I might be feeling a little bit exposed, doing that. Since there isn't anything beyond the description of him as "an idealistic Bush supporter" to suggest severe mental illness, it seems likely that Berg would not be wandering the streets of Baghdad, walking and looking American, wearing an orange jump suit, and carrying a passport that made it clear to anyone reading it that he was Jewish. Do orange jumpsuits even have pockets? If not, where exactly did he keep his passport?

Terrorists don't dress their captives up in orange jumpsuits. That's strictly an American custom, and in Iraq, prisoners get to wear an orange jumpsuit if they're lucky, and they don't catch the interest of the American squad slut at the local prison.

Which is why the fact that he was dressed in such an outfit strikes me as disturbing.

We have the Americans and Iraqis both simultaneously denying and confirming that they held him in custody, with each saying the other had him. He is released, and then somehow ends up in the clutches of al Qaida, still wearing the orange jumpsuit. OK, maybe he just liked the color orange and didn't mind attracting stares in a land largely devoted to killing American, Jews, and Bush supporters. Talk about your "three strikes law!"

It was announced within three days of the release of the tape that the leader of the group was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The conspiracy buffs made much of the fact that al-Zarqawi was either a) missing a leg since 2002 or b) dead since 2003 or c) both, but what caught my attention was the speed with which they confirmed the identity of a man wearing a hood and loose clothing and not speaking in his usual voice. (I don't think he was; the quality of the tape was such that it was hard to tell what species were making those sounds). Remember, this is the same intelligence outfit that needs three weeks to confirm that a higher-quality tape was made by an undisguised Osama bin Laden. Seems easy enough: six-foot-six, 130 pounds, check. Distinctive voice, check. Unmistakable face, check. OK, we'll run it through the computers and get back to you in three weeks.

And yet they could identify the masked man as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in three days. Amazing.

Did Americans "let him be captured" by al Qaida in the hopes they would pull an atrocity and hopefully galvanize public opinion back to the administration's side? Certainly the timing was good.

If you think people aren't capable of that sort of savagery, reflect on this: some dirtbag disc jockey, a really low piece of shit, referred to Berg's father as a "scumbag" on the air the other day. Berg's crime? Criticizing Putsch. Nothing more than that. So yes, the right wing is savage enough to attack a grieving father.

In a world where the Putsch administration is pushing everyone to "fight the evildoers," strange things are happening. Our once-proud military have been transformed into sadistic prison screws, and once honorable Americans are swearing that torture and mass killing is necessary to fight terrorism.

But Macedonia deserves special mention: they were under severe pressure from the Putsch junta to join the fight against terrorism in 2002, but lacked the resources to make any real contribution. The Putsch junta was waving large amounts of economic incentives under their noses if they would stage something to show they had joined the fight against terrorism (yes, the US was bribing people to fight terror just a year after 9/11, incredible as that seems). In September of 2003, Macedonia grandly announced that troops had corned seven members of al Qaida in the hills and, in a fierce firefight, had killed all of them.

Suspicions popped up almost immediately. The Macedonian government was booted out of office in February, and the new center/left government promised a fair and open investigation. The result: the seven "al Qaida cell members" were just some poor yokels the government lured to the mountains and then shot, so they could present America with evidence they were allies in the fight against evildoers and reap great prizes as a result.

It's not known at this point if they got those economic benefits or not.

As I said, I don't believe Americans mutilated Nicholas Berg's body in Abu Ghraib.

However, I do believe they turned him loose where al Qaida could grab him in the hopes that his inevitable death would give Putsch a bounce in the polls.

If I ever meet that lowlife disc jockey, I can point to the White House and give him a demonstration of what a real scumbag is.

Posted: May 19, 2004


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