[lit-ideas] Re: Who killed Nick Berg?

  • From: "Andreas Ramos" <andreas@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "Lit-Ideas" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 30 May 2004 12:49:58 -0700

Berg beheading: No way, say medical experts
By Ritt Goldstein, Asia Times Online, May 22, 2004

American businessman Nicholas Berg's body was found on May 8 near a Baghdad
overpass; a video of his supposed decapitation death by knife appeared on an
alleged al-Qaeda-linked website (www.al-ansar.biz) on May 11. But according
to what both a leading surgical authority and a noted forensic death expert
separately told Asia Times Online, the video depicting the decapitation
appears to have been staged.

"I certainly would need to be convinced it [the decapitation video] was
authentic," Dr John Simpson, executive director for surgical affairs at the
Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, said from New Zealand. Echoing Dr
Simpson's criticism, when this journalist asked forensic death expert Jon
Nordby, PhD and fellow of the American Board of Medicolegal Death
Investigators, whether he believed the Berg decapitation video had been
"staged", Nordby replied: "Yes, I think that's the best explanation of it."

Questions of when the video's footage was taken, and the time elapsed
between the shooting of the video's segments, were raised by both experts,
reflecting a portion of the broader and ongoing video controversy. Nordby,
speaking to Asia Times Online from Washington state, noted: "We don't know
how much time wasn't filmed," adding that "there's no way of knowing whether
... footage is contemporaneous with the footage that follows".

While the circumstances surrounding both the video and Nick Berg's last days
have been the source of substantive speculation, both Simpson and Nordby
perceived it as highly probable that Berg had died some time prior to his
decapitation. A factor in this was an apparent lack of the "massive"
arterial bleeding such an act initiates.

"I would have thought that all the people in the vicinity would have been
covered in blood, in a matter of seconds ... if it was genuine," said
Simpson. Notably, the act's perpetrators appeared far from so. And
separately Nordby observed: "I think that by the time they're ... on his
head, he's already dead."

Providing another basis for their findings, in the course of such an
assault, an individual's autonomic nervous system would react, typically
doing so strongly, with the body shaking and jerking accordingly. And while
Nordby noted that "they rotated and moved the head", shifting vertebrae that
should have initiated such actions, Simpson said he "certainly didn't
perceive any movements at all" in response to such efforts.

During the period when Berg's captors filmed the decapitation sequence,
circumstances indicate that he had already been dead "a quite uncertain
length of time, but more than ... however long the beheading took", Simpson
stated. Both Simpson and Nordby also noted the difficulty in providing
analysis based on the video, the inherent limitations presented by this. But
both also felt that Berg had seemed drugged.

A particularly significant point in the video sequence occurred as Berg's
captors attacked him, bringing the supposedly fatal knife to bear. "The way
that they pulled him over, they could have used a dummy at that point,"
reflected Simpson regarding what the video portrayed. Separately, Nordby
said Berg does not "appear to register any sort of surprise or any change in
his facial expression when he's grabbed and twisted over, and they start to
bring this weapon into use".

Subsequently, Nordby said it was likely that the filming sequence was
manipulated at the point immediately preceding this, allowing Berg's corpse
to be used for the decapitation sequence. Nordby also emphasized that the
video "raises more questions than it answers", with the most fundamental
questions of "who are you, and how did you die", being impossible to answer
from it. But broad speculation exists regarding a number of factors
surrounding both Berg's death and the video, and its timing in regard to
revelations of US prison atrocities.

In a May 13 article, the Arabic newsgroup Aljazeera reported that a
Dubai-based Reuters journalist first broke the story, "but while Fox News,
CNN and the BBC" were able to secure the video from the "Arabic-only
website" that hosted it, Aljazeera was unable to locate it. And also on May
13, the Associated Press (AP) reported that the US Central Intelligence
Agency had determined that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was the individual who
beheaded Berg.

Since Secretary of State Colin Powell's United Nations presentation of
February 5, 2003, al-Zarqawi has been portrayed as the single most dangerous
element facing the Bush administration's "war on terror". Powell's UN
presentation has since been widely accepted as empty; nevertheless,
al-Zarqawi appears to have surpassed even Osama bin Laden as the
administration's No 1 terror target. And on May 15, Brigadier-General Mark
Kimmitt, the Coalition Provisional Authority's chief Iraq military
spokesman, declared that al-Zarqawi will be eventually caught, though that
may prove particularly difficult.

On March 4, Brigadier-General David Rodriguez of the Joint Chiefs of staff
revealed that the Pentagon didn't have "direct evidence of whether he's
[al-Zarqawi] alive or dead", providing commentary on the nature of prior
"evidence" linking al-Zarqawi to attacks and bombings. But that same day, AP
reported that an Iraqi resistance group claimed al-Zarqawi had been killed
the April prior in the US bombing of northern Iraq.

Speaking off the record, intelligence community sources have previously said
they believe it "very likely" that al-Zarqawi is indeed long dead. Such a
fact makes al-Zarqawi's alleged killing of Berg difficult to reconcile, and
there has been broad speculation that blaming al-Zarqawi is an
administration ploy. Further anomalies surrounding Berg's death have fueled
added speculation.

According to e-mails sent from a US consular officer in Baghdad, Beth Payne,
to the Berg family, Nick Berg was being held in Iraq "by the US military in
Mosul". A May 13 AP report notes that a US State Department spokesperson
subsequently said this was untrue, an error, and that Berg was being held by
Iraqi authorities. But another May 13 AP report quoted "police chief
Major-General Mohammed Khair al-Barhawi" as claiming that reports of Iraqi
police having held Berg were "baseless".

And Berg is seen on the beheading videotape in what appears to be US
military prison-issue clothing, sitting in what appears to be a US
military-type white chair, virtually identical to those photographed as used
at Abu Ghraib prison. However, the taking of hostages has occurred in the
region, and beheadings are not unheard of.

According to a February 2003 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), on
September 23, 2001, radical Islamists captured a group of 25 Kurdish
fighters in the Iraqi village of Kheli Hama. "Some prisoners' throats had
been slit, while others had been beheaded," HRW reported, noting that the
television station KurdSat had broadcast pictures of the dead that September
26. The report also noted that a videotape "apparently filmed" by those
committing the atrocities had been found.

The strict Islamist community in Iraq denied that the acts were committed by
their people, stating that the incident was fabricated.

Additional reports of beheadings also exist, with the victims usually noted
as killed with a bullet before the beheading occurs. But HRW's report also
raised an issue that the Berg video's makers, and Berg's father, both
raised: prisoner exchange.

HRW noted that Iraq's radical Islamists did pursue exchanges of captives,
and the Berg video specifically noted that his captors claimed they were
killing him as their attempts to exchange Berg had been rebuffed by US
authorities. Berg's father, Michael, has pressed the administration of US
President George W Bush as regards what the facts of this allegation are,
with the administration denying any knowledge that such a trade was offered.
And added questions still exist.

Because Iraq's radical Islamists speak in a particular manner, and live by a
closely proscribed code, apparent contradictions between these ways and the
way Berg's captors appeared has generated speculation. Some observers have
speculated on the possibility that the individuals weren't native Arabic
speakers. Conversely, it is reported that in Saudi Arabia, where Sharia law
allows for beheadings in cases of severe crimes, the condemned is heavily
drugged with tranquilizers prior to the execution, reportedly leaving them
in a state similar to that which Berg appeared in during parts of the video.

Again, Nordby emphasized that the video "raises more questions than it

Ritt Goldstein is an American investigative political journalist based in
Stockholm. His work has appeared in broadsheets such as Australia's Sydney
Morning Herald, Spain's El Mundo and Denmark's Politiken, as well as with
the Inter Press Service (IPS), a global news agency.

(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact
content@xxxxxxxxxx for information on our sales and syndication policies.)

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