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.
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
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.
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
inmates 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
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
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. Theyre establishing the subjects 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
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
The first shot, recorded from Bergs left front at 13:26 (1:26
pm) lasts just three seconds and all Berg manages to say is his name
and his fathers 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.
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.
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, Bergs 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.
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.
cast and crew
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. Lets give them names to make
it easier. From left to right, Ill 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 Bergs head and body.
continuity, complex editing
contend that all of the shots from C onwards were recorded after Bergs
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. Bergs 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
C is al-Zarqawis 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.
Shot D, recorded with Camera 1, Bergs 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.
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 Bergs throat is
2 minutes, 5 seconds.
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 Bergs
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.
can deduce from this that after the body had been beheaded, the director
decided to record some additional footage.
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.
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? Didnt 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?
the crew lacked a continuity girl.
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
do it this way?
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. Its simple, and requires no editing more
complex than deleting bits of the recording you dont need. The
Berg video, by contrast, is the result of some very complex editing
applied to raw amateur footage.
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
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.
camcorders arent 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.
should add, in support of my hypothesis, that Bergs calm demeanour
in Shots A and B, and the fact that his hands and feet arent
tied and he isnt 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.
brown blankets and the floor beneath
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
there other cameras present?
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.
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.
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 Bergs body
and hard against the wall of the room on their right.
is there no blood on Bergs Face?
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.
challenge to US lawmakers
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.
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.
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.
appeal to readers:
you know the answers to any of these questions?
Who found Bergs 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
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 Bergs murder were in custody. The source added We have
made good progress. What happened to that investigation?
Is the FBI investigation continuing?
22 September 2004
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.
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.)
INVESTIGATIONS OF THE BERG CASE
voice analysis results