We shudder. The hairs on the backs of our necks rise as we confront the ghastly fate of Daniel Pearl, Kim Sun-il, Paul Johnson, Nicolas Berg, and other victims to come.
Decapitation harks back to barbarous times, as when Herodias severed the head of St. John the Baptist or Henry the V111th dispensed with his unfortunate wives.
Here is the cranium, the seat of human intelligence. Here is the astounding culmination of billions of years of evolution and it ignominiously sits on a platter for all to see. Here are the optic nerves, the delicate interface between external data and a myriad of synapses and neurons. Here is the noble forehead. Here is the mouth, the portal for language, song and love. All reduced to a bloodied hunk of meat.
In 2002, when the Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Pearl was beheaded we gasped in anguish and horror, not only at his and his family's suffering, but at a new 21st century manifestation of human depravity. Beheading as political statement. Beheading as threat and revenge. Beheading as public execution.
Enter the case of Nicolas Berg, the 26-year-old Jew decapitated in Iraq sometime in early May, 2004. Our hearts recoiled. There was an outpouring of public outrage. Bush denounced the savage act.
End of story. Not end of story.
Soon cyberspace was flooded with websites claiming that the Berg decapitation video was a fake, a "classic CIA-Black Op." (1) The theory is this: parties unknown killed and decapitated Berg, but the video was a fraud. It showed the staged decapitation of an already dead man. And the CIA/Special Forces are responsible?
These grisly theories spring, in part, from the near-perfect timing. The video hits the airwaves smack in the midst of the Abu Ghraib scandal. As photos of naked, hooded Iraqis parade across the media, as US support for the Iraq war plummets, the man in an orange suit is cut down by al-Zarqawi, an al-Qaeda operative.
Just when the Pentagon and the President is wrestling with the question of whether to release more Abu Ghraib torture photos the supposed perpetrators of Berg's decapitation say the torture in Iraqi prisons prompted their horrifying act. The Berg video provides a compelling reason to withhold additional photos.
Fast on the heels of the May 11 Berg video, the right wing goes ballistic: stop whining about Abu Ghraib and refocus on the war. Even the New York Times criticizes the rhetoric, "hard core supporters of the American war in Iraq…are cynically trying to use the images of Mr. Berg to wipe awaay the images of Abu Ghraib." (2)
Perfect timing doth not a false video make. It's a motive, not a proof.
The questions being raised on the internet, however, are serious ones. One has to overcome a visceral disgust and review the frames of the Berg decapitation video. Few want to enter this hideous terrain. Yet, if one assumes the act was a fake, it's less painful to probe the evidence. Then, one is analyzing an appalling PR stunt, not an in-real-time atrocity.
The video definitely has fishy aspects. (3)
One oddity: the CIA immediately, identifies a man who is reading a statement allegedly written by al-Zarqawi and wearing a complete facemask as the terrorist al-Zarqawi. How the agency makes this positive identification is a mystery.
Just as the convenient mid-Abu Ghraid timing doesn't prove anything, neither does the CIA's quick identification of al-Zarqawi.
Other oddities: All, not one or two but all, of the terrorists are heavy-set, even fat, when one would expect people operating underground and on-the-lam to be thin. They are all wearing white sneakers, footwear foreign to the usual sandal-wearing Arabs. On several occasions the "terrorists" touch their faces with their left hands, an absolute no-no among Arabs. Their pose - standing legs akimbo in a Marlon Brando stance - is atypical for Arabs. "Al-Zarqawi" doesn't have a Jordanian accent. Berg is sitting in a white chair, identical to those seen in Abu Ghraib torture photos. Berg is wearing a Guantanamo-issue orange jump suit. (4)
The list goes on and on. Many of the charges don't really add up. (5)
The evidence becomes more compelling with a technical analysis of the video. The video was carefully edited with six different segments spliced together. There are significant time lapses between the segments.
For example, the first segment shows Berg sitting slightly sideways to the camera. It's stamped 13:26:27. The second segment shows a full frontal shot and is stamped 2:18:43. Hmmm. That's 11 hours. Why would terrorists shoot a video over an 11-hour period? Wouldn't they fear being discovered, wouldn't they want to get the horrific deed done quickly? (6)
What is the point of these two segments? In one Berg names his father, in the second, he names his mother. Wouldn't the terrorists, if they wanted this information on the video (which, in itself is distinctly strange) just force Berg to give the information all at once?
Another oddity: During these two segments Berg sits calmly, looking distinctly at ease. (Yes, he could have been drugged, but his voice doesn't sound slurred.) There's not a trace of the terror we've seen in the faces of other victims, such as Daniel Pearl. Who can forget the Wall Street Journal reporter's visage of bleak despair in his last photo?
The CIA-Black Op conspiracy explanation: the FBI/CIA/US authorities filmed the segments during the three separate interviews they conducted while Berg was in US custody. The separate interviews explain the different times stamped on the video.
The information about Berg's parents is typical prison interrogation/intake information. It was spliced into the later video because someone thought Berg's talking about his family would tug at the heartstrings of Americans.
This theory offers an explanation for the bizarre US claim that Berg was never in US custody. This assertion was made despite e-mails from the US Consul in Baghdad to the Berg family stating Berg was held by US forces and interviewed by the FBI. (7) The Black Op proponents argue that the US didn't want anybody to know Berg had been in a US prison -- since that's where, conspiracists allege, the video was filmed.
More on the splicing. What terrorist has the time and sophisticated computer training to do complicated edits? What terrorist has access to the necessary fancy computer? And what's the motive?
Conspiracy theorists also state the audio track was added later; the screaming is not synchronized with the action. This audio addition could only have been done with the help of editing software and the skills of a semi-professional video editor. (8)
Then the doctors weigh in. Drs. John Simpson of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and Dr. Jon Norby, forensic expert and fellow of the Board of Medicolegal Death both think the decapitation was staged. Why? Because there would have been massive arterial bleeding with everybody in the vicinity covered by blood within seconds. This is not the case in the video. Therefore, the doctors say, Berg was already dead at the time of the decapitation. (9)
Finally, there's the matter of a similar M.O. with previous CIA/US force actions in and about Iraq. Isn't the whole affair just too reminiscent?
It's reminiscent of the exquisitely timed Private Lynch "rescue", launched just when the US war vs. Iraq was mired down, when, instead of the promised welcome by flower-bearing Iraqis, US soldiers were being bloodied by mortar attacks.
It harks back to Nayirah the young Kuwaiti "refugee" whose tearful testimony about seeing Iraqi's dumping-babies-out-of-incubators galvanized the US Congress and media to support Gulf War 1. (Months later it came out that the young woman was the Kuwaiti Ambassador's daughter and had not been out of the USA in months.) (10)
It's of the same cloth as the satellite photos that supposedly showed 250,000 Iraqi troops massing on the border of Saudi Arabia in Gulf War 1, photos that helped to persuade the Saudis to let infidel US troops on Muslim soil. Subsequently, the St. Petersburg Times demonstrated these photos were of nothing but empty desert. (11)
It strikes a chord with the forged letter from Nigeria regarding an alleged attempted uranium ore sale to Iraq, a letter key to Bush's claim that Saddam Hussein had an active nuclear weapons program? (12)
What about the lies regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
Was the Berg video a CIA-Black Ops? We'll probably never know, but certainly a formal investigation is in order. In the meantime, expect CIA dirty tricks in Iraq and around the world.
Mina Hamilton is a writer based in New York City. She can be
reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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