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Profile: Nick Berg
Nick Berg was a participant or observer in the following events:
Nick Berg. [Source: Associated Press]Nick Berg is an American who will become known for being beheaded on video in Iraq in 2004 (see March 24-May 11, 2004). It will later come out that he had a curious connection to Zacarias Moussaoui. In the autumn of 1999, Berg is a university student in Norman, Oklahoma, where Moussaoui will attend flight school in early 2001. According to Berg’s father, one day Nick Berg is riding a bus to his classes and he meets Moussaoui on the bus. Moussaoui asks him for his password so he can use Berg’s laptop to check the Internet. Berg gives him his password. FBI investigators later will discover Moussaoui’s use of this password, and will interview Berg about it in 2002. Berg will be cleared of any criminal connection with Moussaoui. Jayna Davis, a former NBC reporter known for her controversial investigation of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, calls the explanation as to why Moussaoui had Berg’s password “totally nonsensical.” She will note the low odds of anyone being able to log onto the Internet on a bus in 1999 and will say, “You’re sitting on a bus. It’s a five- to ten-minute ride. How in the world would a stranger sitting next to you say, ‘Hey, can I borrow your laptop computer because I want to log on to your e-mail?’” She also notes that the FBI insists Berg gave his password to an acquaintance of Moussaoui, while Berg’s family insists it was Moussaoui himself on the bus. [NewsMax, 5/18/2004; CBS News, 5/21/2004] The London Times will note that this acquaintance “is believed to have been Hussein al-Attas,” Moussaoui’s roommate when he will be arrested in Minnesota in August 2001. The Times will note that Berg’s “past links to an al-Qaeda terrorist have raised questions in some quarters as to whether he might even have been working for the intelligence services.” [London Times, 5/23/2004]
A video still of Nick Berg being tormented by his captors in Iraq. [Source: Reuters]A video of US citizen Nick Berg being beheaded in Iraq is made public and causes widespread horror and outrage around the world. Berg had been working in Iraq with private companies installing communications towers. On March 24, 2004, he is taken into custody. Berg’s family is sent e-mails confirming that he is in US custody (however, US officials will later claim they were erroneously notified and he was in Iraqi government custody instead). The official reasons for his arrest are “lack of documentation” and “suspicious activities.” Regardless of who is holding him, it is not disputed that he is visited three times by the FBI while being held. On April 5, the Berg family launches an action against the US military for false imprisonment, and the next day Berg is released. Berg stays in a hotel in Baghdad for the next few days, and tells a hotel guest that he had been held in a jail with US soldiers as guards. His family last hears of him on April 9, when he tells them he is going to try to leave Iraq. Then, nearly a month later on May 8, his headless body is found dumped on a Baghdad roadside. Three days after that, on May 11, the video of his beheading is broadcast. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004; National Public Radio, 8/14/2004] The video shows five masked men taunting and then beheading Berg, and one of them claims to be Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Two days later, a CIA official says, “After the intelligence community conducted a technical analysis of the… video, the CIA assesses with high probability that the speaker on the tape is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and that person is shown decapitating American citizen Nicholas Berg.” [BBC, 5/13/2004] However, many doubts about the video and the identity of al-Zarqawi surface:
Berg is seen wearing an orange jumpsuit typically worn by detainees in US custody. At the start of the video, he speaks directly to the camera in a relaxed way. The Sydney Morning Herald will later comment, “It is highly likely that this segment is edited from the interrogation of Berg during his 13 days of custody.”
Then the video cuts to scenes including the five masked men. But their Arabic is heavily accented in Russian, Jordanian, and Egyptian. One says “do it quickly” in Russian. A voice also seems to ask in English, “How will it be done?” Glimpses of their skin look white. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
The masked man identified as al-Zarqawi does not speak with a Jordanian accent even though al-Zarqawi is Jordanian. CNN staff familiar with al-Zarqawi’s voice claim the voice does not sound like his. [CNN, 5/12/2004; Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
Berg is then decapitated, but there is very little blood. Dr John Simpson, executive director for surgical affairs at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, says, “I would have thought that all the people in the vicinity would have been covered in blood, in a matter of seconds… if it [the video] was genuine.” Forensic death expert Jon Nordby of the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators suggests that the beheading was staged and Berg was already dead. He also suggests that Berg appears to be heavily drugged in earlier parts of the video. [Asia Times, 5/22/2004] The Herald comments, “The scream is wildly out of sync, sounds female, and is obviously dubbed.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
Al-Zarqawi is the one shown cutting Berg’s throat with a knife, and uses his right hand to do so. But people who spent time in prison with al-Zarqawi and knew him well claim that he was left handed. [New York Times, 7/13/2004]
The timing of the video also raises suspicions, as it is broadcast just two weeks after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal is exposed, and the shock of the beheadings cause some to claim a moral relativism to justify the US military’s abusive behavior towards detainees. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
Strangely, Al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui somehow used Berg’s e-mail account years before in Oklahoma (see Autumn 1999). US officials call this “a total coincidence.”
The London Times comments that “The CIA’s insistence that al-Zarqawi was responsible appears based on the scantiest of evidence.… Sound experts have speculated that the voice might have been dubbed on.” Further, “There are discrepancies in the times on the video frames.” [London Times, 5/23/2004]
No autopsy is performed on Berg’s body, nor is there any determination of the time of his death. [Sydney Morning Herald, 5/29/2004]
No proper investigation of the circumstances surrounding his death is ever conducted. For instance, the US military will tell Berg’s family that they could find no evidence of Berg’s last days in a Baghdad hotel and that no Westerner stayed in that hotel for weeks. But the Washington Post was able to get a copy of the hotel register with Berg’s name on it, along with the date of his checkout, a list of the things he left in his room, and the exact words he said as he left the hotel. [National Public Radio, 8/14/2004]
It will later be reported that the US military was conducting a propaganda campaign to inflate the importance of al-Zarqawi (see April 10, 2006), but it is unknown if Berg’s death was somehow related to this campaign.
Radio host Glenn Beck, whose conservative talk show is aired by syndicated program provider Clear Channel, rails against Michael Berg, whose son Nick Berg was recently executed by militant Iraqis (see March 24-May 11, 2004). Beck, like his fellow radio conservatives Sean Hannity and Michael Savage, has aired the audio of Berg’s execution on his show in recent days. After his son’s death, Michael Berg criticized the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq; for doing so, Beck calls him “despicable” and “a scumbag.” On his show, Beck directs a question at Berg: “Can you let your son’s body become the same temperature as your son’s head before you turn this into a political campaign against the president—could you do that?” Beck says he would say the same about Michael Berg if he were “a Republican and a supporter of the war and rah-rah George W. Bush and whatever.” He says he refuses to “fake” any sympathy for Berg because of Berg’s criticism of President Bush and the war effort. “I find this guy despicable,” he says. “Everything in me says that. The ‘want to be a better person today than I was yesterday’ says he’s a dad, he’s grieving, but I don’t buy that. I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. I think he is grieving, but I think he’s a scumbag as well. I don’t like this guy at all.” [Media Matters, 5/17/2004]
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