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I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

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After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.

 


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THIS ARTICLE IS GRAPHICS-RICH AND MAY TAKE LONGER THAN USUAL TO DOWNLOAD

New evidence and observations on the Berg case


WARNING: THIS ARTICLE INCLUDES DISTURBING IMAGES

18 July 2004

Since the release of the Nick Berg beheading video there have been several more kidnappings and executions in Iraq, and one in Saudi Arabia. Some of these are clearly the work of Islamist terrorists or Iraqi resistance groups. Others are more problematic and their timing and style suggest they, like the Berg case, are black operations. Some of the killings by what are probably genuine resistance groups look like the perpetrators are copycatting aspects of the Berg killing.

In view of all this, the reader might wonder whether it is worth trying to sort out which events are perpetrated by those who are who they say they are, and which are black operations. I believe it is.

The Berg case is important because it was the first of what many suspect are black ops conducted by US agencies in Iraq. Because it was put together against a deadline by an inexperienced team it contains many slips that provide clues as to its origin. Certainly, US black operations would have since become more sophisticated and hence more difficult to expose.

In this analysis I have relied on the work of a number of Berg case analysts (some anonymous) whose work has been invaluable. Some are listed in the links at the end of this article. My thanks also to “somebody who knows Abu Ghraib” for information on colour schemes at the prison.

Berg’s “jumpsuit” isn’t

The garment Berg is wearing in the video has been popularly labelled a jumpsuit (“coveralls” to American readers or “overalls” in British or Australian parlance) but it is not actually a garment of this type. A closer examination of the video indicates that it is a two-piece inmate uniform of a type popular with various US prison authorities. (figure 1)

This writer, and, I suppose, much of the world, first became conscious of this style of garment when Timothy McVeigh was paraded by the FBI after being charged with the Oklahoma City bombing.

The point here is that orange overalls or coveralls (“jumpsuits”) are widely available throughout the world. They are commonly worn by workmen and emergency service personnel. But the US-style two-piece inmate’s uniform is an exotic beast indeed.

Several manufacturers produce inmate uniforms of the two-piece style, but their products differ in colour and detail. An important characteristic is that they are very simple and robust with no buttons or fastenings which might be used for nefarious purposes or require repair. Usually they have no pockets or only a single (usually breast) pocket.

The uniform in which Berg was dressed throughout the video is such a garment, but it is distinctive in the following ways:

1. Its surface texture is rather reflective and “silky” rather than the flat creaseable finish of pure cotton. It is, therefore, probably made from a fibre which is largely artificial.

2. It has wide two-third length sleeves that stretch past the elbow (this may have been because the example worn by Berg was far too big for him).

3. It is orange, but with a slight pinkish hue.

The top half of one of these suits appears in one of the few Abu Ghraib photos so far released to the public. (fig. 2) The photo shows Spc (specialist) Sabrina Harman sewing up what appears to be a dog-bite wound on the leg of an Iraqi prisoner. The naked man is lying on his back with arms tied behind him. The top half of an orange prisoners’ suit has been thrown over his genitals. The colour of this item almost exactly matches the suit worn by Berg.

Two-piece orange uniforms were not the only prison garment issued at Abu Ghraib. Another of the publicly-released photos shows a prisoner threatened by a dog. The man is wearing orange cotton overalls. I have also sighted an Associated Press photo taken at a mass prisoner release at Abu Ghraib. It shows a prisoner sitting on the orange jumpsuit he has just removed. A pile of orange garments can be seen in the middle distance. I have not reproduced it here for copyright reasons.

I have been unable to locate on the internet an image of exactly the model of two-piece prison uniform worn by Berg, either on manufacturers’ websites or among photos of inmates and I would be obliged if any reader could assist me with further information.

The video is a heavily edited production

My working hypothesis began by trying to reconcile the anomalies inherent in the first two shots (A and B) of the video. Those who have not yet read my original explanation of the hypothesis should perhaps do so before reading on.

However to restate the core of the hypothesis briefly: Shots A and B are the only ones in which Berg is unequivocally alive, and I contend this sequence is cobbled together from two fragments of records of interrogation of Berg while he was in US custody. They might have been shot while he was detained for 13 days after being arrested in Mosul, or it may have been after he disappeared on 10 April.

I believe these two shots were recorded by an unknown American security agency at different times but in the same place, and quite probably with the same camera, or the same model camera. They last for just 13 seconds and show a calm and unrestrained Berg sitting in a white plastic chair against a yellowish-tan wall. He is identifying himself for the benefit of an unseen and unheard interrogator. He names his father, mother, siblings and place of residence in the US.

If I am right, these shots are from the start of interrogation sessions. Self-identification by the subject is an important part of the process because it sets an easy baseline for what interrogators call “non-verbal indicators”. They’re establishing the subject’s characteristic body language while he or she is telling the truth. If they already know who the subject is and where they come from, getting the subject to recite these things shows how he or she acts when telling the truth, and diversion from that behaviour becomes a valuable indicator of lying.

Both shots feature an on-screen clock set to military-style time and have been shot using a tripod set about a metre high. For obvious reasons, the on-screen clock would always be displayed during the recording of interrogations and the clock would always be set to 24 hour mode.

The first shot, recorded from Berg’s left front at 13:26 (1:26 pm) lasts just three seconds and all Berg manages to say is his name and his father’s name. The second shot is from directly to his front at 2:18 (2:18 am) and lasts just 10 seconds. Berg names his mother, siblings and place of residence. A revealing feature of this shot is that the camera zooms in and out as though the operator had just set it up and was adjusting the framing of the scene.

The US administration and the pro-war spin-doctors have unquestioningly accepted the authenticity of the video, so I am entitled to call its superficial appearance, “the official story”.

The official story

The official story must therefore be that two cameras were used simultaneously to record Berg identifying himself at some indefinite time before he was killed and beheaded. One of those cameras (let us say Camera 2) had the on-screen clock inadvertently set to the wrong time.

On a superficial viewing it appears that the first two shots record the same scene, but from different angles and that Shot B begins at the instant that Shot A ends: a perfect cut from one camera to another. That could only be achieved if they were recording simultaneously and the results were expertly spliced together.

However, this cannot be so. Although there are few elements in the scene: a plain wall, a white plastic chair, the same man in the same orange prison uniform, similar lighting, there are distinct differences in the details. (fig. 3) In Shot A, Berg’s right sleeve falls over the armrest of the chair well short of the point where the armrest joins the leg. In Shot B it falls over the end of the armrest. Similarly, there is a distinct long fold in the fabric of his uniform top which run diagonally from his left armpit towards a point just to the left of the juncture of the neck and left shoulder. This is clearly missing in Shot B. Other details of fabric fold are also distinctly different. On this basis we can say conclusively that Shot B does not follow instantly from Shot A because Berg would have had to considerably repositioned his body in the chair in order to change the lay of the fabric. In fact he remains almost perfectly still. We can therefore conclude that the two cameras were not recording simultaneously, as the viewer is led to believe.

It is important to grasp this editorial sleight-of-hand, because the conspirators, assuming that these details would not be noticed, went on to construct the rest of the video around the fiction of two cameras, recording the same events, but with the mistaken time setting on one of the cameras remaining uncorrected.

The cast and crew

It will help at this point if the reader gets a handle on the people who we know, or can infer, were present from Shot C to the end of Shot E. (fig. 4) Apart from Nick Berg (hopefully dead), there are the five “terrorists”. Let’s give them names to make it easier. From left to right, I’ll call them Red Keffiyah, White Keffiyah (the tallest man in the group), Zarqawi, Tubby, and White Shoe Fat Boy, who is standing hard against a wall to his left. A sixth person dressed in dark khaki or olive drab, who will be seen in Shot E, is lurking somewhere out of shot, as is the owner of a hand that is also glimpsed in this shot. Then there is the camera operator. There may be others, but the video provides no evidence of them. So we know that at least eight “terrorists” were present from Shot C to the end of Shot F. Thereafter there are two shots featuring White Keffiyah, and one close-up of Berg’s head and body.

Poor continuity, complex editing

I contend that all of the shots from C onwards were recorded after Berg’s death, and that the video was probably recorded with a single camera. Bear in mind that an experienced operator can very quickly reset the clock on a video camera. I should also add that it is just possible that berg was actually killed by some means other than having his throat cut after Shot C and before Shot D, but I am not convinced of this. Berg’s slight body movements in Shot C look far more like they are the result of later image manipulation.

The second shot in the opening 13 second sequence (Camera 2), ends at 02:18:43. The next shot (Shot C) is also by Camera 2. It begins at 02:40:33. We have no way of knowing if this was just 22 minutes after Shot B, or on some subsequent day. I am convinced that we are meant to think that shot C begins 22 minutes after Berg identifies himself.

Shot C is “al-Zarqawi’s” speech, in which an unnaturally motionless Berg sits on the ground, his hands tied behind him, with the five black-clad “terrorists”, including Zarqawi, ranged behind him. I will not rehearse here the various anomalies associated with this shot, which lasts for 4 minutes, 3 seconds and ends with Berg being pushed over and Zarqawi putting the knife to his throat (but not cutting it). Camera 2 will only be used again once, and then for just 4 seconds.

In Shot D, recorded with Camera 1, Berg’s throat is cut, but the shot lasts for only 5 seconds and is jerky and out of focus. Shot E (Camera 1) begins some 7 seconds after the end of Shot D. It lasts for 33 seconds and shows the apparently laborious and grizzly process of decapitating the body with a large Bowie knife. Zarqawi is wielding the knife and White Keffiyah is apparently restraining the victim.

Shot F (Camera 1) begins a full 1 minute 13 seconds after the end of Shot E. It lasts for just six seconds. In one way this is a very deft cut. On first viewing it follows cleanly and naturally from Shot E, but when the camera pans up it is not Zarqawi but White Keffiyah who is holding the Bowie knife and triumphantly lifts the severed head for the camera. He is no longer wearing the green ammunition vest he was wearing in Shot D, just 38 seconds earlier. The total on-screen clock time elapsed since Zarqawi puts the knife to Berg’s throat is 2 minutes, 5 seconds.

The next shot, Shot G, is the last time Camera 2, with its “wrongly-set” clock, appears. It shows White Keffiyah standing displaying the head. It looks like it logically follows Shot F, but it opens at 02:46:18, just 1 minute and 41 seconds after Zarqawi puts the knife to Berg’s throat.

Of course, in real time, this sequence is impossible. If the two camera scenario is to be believed -- and we know from the internal evidence of Shots A and B, that it cannot -- then Shot G must have been recorded before shot F.

We can deduce from this that after the body had been beheaded, the “director” decided to record some additional footage.

Perhaps, upon replaying the footage on the camcorder, it occurred to him that, without one of the perpetrators triumphantly holding up the head, the whole sequence lacked punch. It can easily be imagined that several versions of the lifting of the head -- purportedly immediately after it was severed from the body -- were recorded, along with more than one version of White Keffiyah holding it up.

Obviously, the Zarqawi character should have been repositioned to lift the head he has just hacked off. But where is he? Why does White Keffiyah appear in his place at the decisive moment? Didn’t Zarqawi have the stomach to hold up his trophy? Had he clocked-off and gone back to his air-conditioned trailer for a stiff drink? Or was the bloodthirsty international terrorist throwing up, somewhere down the corridor? Was White Keffiyah the only one of the cast willing to do this bit? And why has he removed his ammunition vest? Or is it that Zarqawi decided to swap his black headdress (balaclava?) for a white keffiyah?

Obviously the crew lacked a continuity girl.

The shooting of the video (from Shot C onwards) was clearly an amateur effort. This was no bad thing (apart from the continuity errors) because it was supposed to look like it was the work of amateurs, but it required an inspired and clear-thinking mind to conceive of using the interrogation footage to show Berg alive, and to recognise that the two camera scenario had to be continued in order to disguise the origins of that material. Lastly, some competent editing work on a computer with video editing and image manipulation software was needed to rearrange the sequence of shots, remove excess frames from within shots, and lash the whole package together.

Why do it this way?

The task, for real terrorists, would have been very simple and required only one camcorder, or even a cheap digital still camera with a video option. You show the victim and ask him to identify himself. You read your political statement, then you kill the victim, behead him and display the result. It’s simple, and requires no editing more complex than deleting bits of the recording you don’t need. The Berg video, by contrast, is the result of some very complex editing applied to raw amateur footage.

But ironically, if two camcorders were used (and I think the evidence strongly suggests one camcorder), that scenario would more reasonably suggest the work of a government agency than an underground terrorist group.

Based on the position of the on-screen clock, we can reasonably surmise that if there were two camcorders involved, they were the same model or closely related models from the same manufacturer.

Mini camcorders aren’t cheap. How likely is it that a terrorist group would have access to two identical ones? Well, given the variety of these items on the market, and the rate at which the major manufacturers release new models, it is very unlikely. On the other hand, government operatives, with no cash problems and access to bulk purchasing, would be much more likely to have more than one camcorder of the same model.

Berg unrestrained

I should add, in support of my hypothesis, that Berg’s calm demeanour in Shots A and B, and the fact that his hands and feet aren’t tied and he isn’t blindfolded, is evidence of great significance (fig.3). Nick Berg was a bodybuilder and a very fit young man and his captors would have treated that with great respect. Any small group holding a hostage has to be careful to prevent the hostage breaking away and seizing a weapon. Even if overwhelmingly superior force is available to subdue him, the chance of injury to a captor or discovery of the safe house because of the discharge of firearms makes it imperative that a hostage is restrained. In almost every other hostage video I have seen since the current hostage crisis erupted, the hostage has had his hands restrained, and he has often been blindfolded.

The brown blankets and the floor beneath

Many others have pointed out that the walls in the Berg video are of a nearly identical colour to the walls in most parts of Abu Ghraib prison. A close analysis of the video reveals an almost exact match between floors in Abu Ghraib and the floor of the room in which the Berg video was recorded (fig 5).

In the video, the floor of the execution room has been covered with what appear to be three blankets of an identical brown colour (fig. 4). Although this is not evident in Shot C, it becomes clear by the end of the video.

The blankets overlapped and were laid up to the edges of the wall so that the floor could not be seen. They were arranged lengthwise towards the camera and the overlap between the centre and the right-hand blankets (approximately 200 mm) was approximately beneath Berg. The left-hand blanket appears to be folded at least in half and Red Keffiyah (on the left end of the line-up) has his foot on the fold.

During the course of the beheading, the blankets were displaced from their original positions. The result can be seen in a few of the final frames in the video (for example at 13:48:29). At this point the soft flat finish of the fabric and the fold characteristics make it almost certain that these are, in fact, blankets. The floor colour revealed at the wall edge appears to be identical to the painted concrete floor seen in some of the Abu Ghraib photos.

What could possibly have been the purpose of the blankets? If it was simply to absorb the blood from the beheading, a blanket would have been insufficient. A huge quantity of blood would have immediately seeped through and spread over the floor beneath, leaving excellent forensic material. If the purpose was to remove the body, a single blanket would have been sufficient, with perhaps a second to wrap the head. It would not have been necessary to arrange them to cover all of the floor in the shot, and three blankets would not have been required.

It therefore remains most likely that the intention of the blankets was wholly or mainly to disguise the floor, which is not seen in Shots A and B. I would contend that one of the conspirators had the presence of mind to realise that if the floor and wall colour had both matched Abu Ghraib, the evidentiary link would have been magnified. In the result, a fragment of evidence slipped by their notice.

An additional piece of suggestive evidence: In parts of the Abu Ghraib prison, the ceilings were painted in a shade of green slightly darker than the floor. In Shot G, the ceiling of the Berg execution room comes very briefly into frame. Compared with the floor as seen in Shot H, it appears to be a similar colour, but slightly darker (fig. 6). Both shots were recorded under low light conditions, which have affected colour balance, but they show a similar colour relationship between floor and ceiling to that found in sections of Abu Ghraib.

Were there other cameras present?

While I think it unlikely there was a second camcorder involved in the production of Shots C to G, there is evidence of a second and perhaps a third person recording the scene, perhaps with still cameras.

These are the figures that appears in the right-hand edge of the frame in Shot E. Unlike the on-camera “terrorists” the first of these figures is dressed in a long-sleeved garment of dark khaki and what appears to be a matching khaki vest (fig. 2). It might be one of those “tactical” vests with multiple pockets for ammunition magazines, grenades and other military paraphernalia that are favoured by the “security contractors” infesting Iraq. Indeed at 13:46:12 what appears to be an expanding pocket and its flap can be seen. Judging from the position of the left arm, this person is holding their hands in front of their face in a position consistent with using a camera.

Towards the end of shot E what appears to be a finger and part of a hand of another person intrudes into the frame between the camera and the figure in khaki. At this point the figure in khaki evidently moves backwards out of frame and at 13:46:26 a very clear image of the little finger and part of the left hand of the eighth person very briefly enters the frame (fig. 7). The posture of the hand is consistent with it holding a camera or adjusting the focus of a lens. At this point the operator of Camera 1, and these two mysterious figures, are all crowded together about three or four metres from Berg’s body and hard against the wall of the room on their right.

Why is there no blood on Berg’s Face?

Eminent surgeons have attested that Berg must already have been dead at the time he was beheaded because a live beheading would have resulted in a copious expulsion of blood which would have produced a spray pattern on the walls and persons standing nearby. Blood can be seen on the blanket beneath Berg and during the beheading process his face at various times comes into contact with the blanket. Yet no blood appears on the head when it is displayed in shots F, G and H.

A challenge to US lawmakers

I have advanced my evidence in the spirit of scientific investigation. My hypothesis can, in principle, be disproved, because it is based on evidence that can be discredited or shown to be wrongly interpreted.

For example the hypothesis would be somewhat prejudiced if the US government were to release, for impartial scrutiny, the videos of the three interrogations of Nick Berg following his arrest in Mosul, and there were no points of comparison. But what if the fragments that are Shots A and B came from interrogation sessions conducted by the CIA or “Other Agencies” (OAs) after Berg disappeared on 10 April? Prudent conspirators would by now have destroyed this material.

Of course US lawmakers could demand to see a wide selection of video records of interview conducted at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. That would certainly show whether Shots A and B were likely to have been from such records. But would they have the political courage to do it, and would the material be handed over to them? Somehow I doubt it. It is in the nature of the existence of psyops units, black ops teams, “counter-terrorist” and counter-espionage specialists that governments do not want to know what they do.

An appeal to readers:

Do you know the answers to any of these questions?

• Who found Berg’s body?
• Exactly where and when was it found?
• Who did they inform?
• Was the crime scene recorded? By whom? Who holds the records?
• Was the body dressed in the orange prison uniform?
• If it was, who manufactured the uniform?
• Had the body been beheaded?
• Was it wrapped in a brown blanket?
• What colour blankets are issued at US detention facilities in Iraq?
• Who collected the body? Was an autopsy conducted?
• What brands and models of camcorder do FBI, CIA, MI and “Other Agencies” use to record interrogations?
• On Tuesday May 18 an AFP report from Baghdad, quoting a “senior Iraqi source” said that four people suspected of involvement in Berg’s murder were in custody. The source added “We have made good progress”. What happened to that investigation?
• Is the FBI investigation continuing?

POSTSCRIPT:
22 September 2004

This photo, obtained by the blogger "Soj", shows an interrogation of an Afghan suspect by US bounty hunter, Jonathan Keith Idema, formerly a US special forces soldier. Note that it shows the subject being videotaped with a camera set up at approximately his eye level and that he is seated against a wall. Unlike Berg, he has been blindfolded and his hands are tied. A guard (7), a translator (4), and Idema (3), are sitting out of shot. Idema probably learned this method of recording an interrogation while serving with US special forces.

(The notation "NOT FOR RELEASE TF7" refers to Idema's Task Force Sabre 7 group and was probably written by Idema. The peace symbol was added by Soj whose wonderful investigation of the Idema case can be found here.)

 

MORE INVESTIGATIONS OF THE BERG CASE

Zarqawi voice analysis results

This investigation shows that several different "Zarqawis" exist. His Islamic theology owes more to to Pat Robertson than to any authentic Islamic extremist trend; his politics are dominated by an obsessive hatred of Shia Islam rather than opposition to the US.
So far the definitive analysis of the wall colours in the Berg video compared with those at Abu Ghraib.
My original investigation.