questions about Nicholas Berg's last days
An open letter to Beth
A. Payne, US Consul, Baghdad, Iraq
c/o - firstname.lastname@example.org
THOUGHT Id drop you a line with a few questions about Nicholas
Bergs last days. Im writing to you because its your
special duty to protect US citizens in Iraq and also because you conveyed
reliable information regarding Nicks situation to his parents
while he was in US custody from 24 April to 6 May 2004. So far, thats
the only honest information US officials in Iraq have given anybody
in the outside world about his case.
feel I have a right to ask these questions on behalf of the millions
around the world who are seeking the truth about the beheading of Nick
know the old saying that a diplomat is an honest person sent abroad
to lie for their country, but Im sure thats way too cynical.
There are times in history when the need for truth is so important it
overrides the baser imperatives of national interest.
must be a very busy person but you took a personal interest in Nicks
case. Thanks to your emails to the Berg family, we know that Nick was
arrested by the Iraqi police in Mosul on 24 April and that he was held
by US forces and interviewed by the FBI.
know from your emails you were trying to
information regarding his detention and a contact person, someone
that Nicks parents could communicate with directly. Did you ever
find that additional information? Did you find that contact person?
Who was it? What else did you discover?
happened at the consulate, when, on 5 April, word came through that
Michael Berg had commenced legal proceedings in the US Federal Court
to have his son released? You would have been at the centre of the discussions.
Were the military happy to release him? Where was Nick then, in Mosul
or Baghdad? Was he being held at Abu Ghraib? If not, where?
you the consular official who spoke to Nick on 9 April, the day before
he disappeared? Was it on your initiative that he was offered a flight
to Jordan? His business partner Aziz al-Taee, said Nick rang him at
9 or 10 a.m. on 10 April, and told him hed met some nice people
to travel with to Jordan. Newspaper reports suggest he told the consulate
he was scared of ambushes on the road to the airport, yet he was apparently
willing to risk the equally dangerous road to Jordan.
happened after he disappeared on 10 April? Did you speak personally
to his frantic parents? Who did you contact on their behalf? Im
guessing youd have rung the FBI first. Im guessing they
said they didnt have him. I know those were frantic days. Contractors
were disappearing everywhere, hundreds of worried people were ringing
in, but Nicks case was special because youd already had
to intervene in the highly unusual case of his earlier arrest and detention.
to a US newspaper report:
Bergs have hounded the State Department, the FBI and the International
Committee of the Red Cross, seeking information. Michael Berg said
the State Department sent an official to Nick Berg's hotel, where
an employee told the official they had not heard of him.
Bergs hired a private investigator, who talked to an American hotel
guest who said he remembered Nick Berg. (1)
must have suspected that, in the minds of US security agencies, a big
question mark hung over Nick. Did you lift the phone and call Military
Intelligence at Abu Ghraib? Did you speak to the hapless Brigadier-General
Janis Karpinski, soon to be suspended and scapegoated for the prisoner
abuse scandal? Or did you reach her replacement, the odious Major-General
Geoffrey Working Dog Miller he of Guantanamo Bay
infamy the man brought in to get results?
you call your CIA contact? The CIA have their own ghost prisoners
who arent logged into the normal detention records. (2) Was Nick
one of those?
did your contacts tell you when you asked about Nick Berg? Did they
swear on a stack of Bibles they werent holding him? Or did they
say, Yep, Beth, weve got him, but its a national security
issue really serious this time. Butt-out and keep your mouth
must have felt terrible.
you knew that a 26 year-old New Zealander, Andreas Schafer, had also
been missing in Iraq, and since early March. The New Zealand foreign
affairs minister had urgently sought information from you. For weeks
his enquiries were met with denials. Did you know Andreas Schafer was
being held by the military? On his release he told TV New Zealand he
had been repeatedly interrogated. (3)
Did you know that was going on? If you did, on whose instructions did
you deny any knowledge of his detention?
Nick disappeared on 10 April, did you contact Aziz al-Taee, his Iraqi
business partner? You might, perhaps, have met Aziz over drinks at some
impromptu consulate reception in the early, heady days of the occupation;
in the days when the Iraqis expatriates were flooding back to make their
fortunes and the neoconservatives were riding high in the saddle?
not, but you must have known Aziz, at least by reputation, as a key
supporter of Ahmad Chalabi and the organiser of pro-war rallies in the
US, before the invasion. Maybe you also knew he had a serious criminal
record in the US. (4)
Perhaps you kept your distance from him because the State Department
regarded Chalabi and his supporters as untrustworthy opportunists.
any case, did Mr al-Taee contact you to tell you that three calls had
been made from Nicks mobile phone on 19 April? Thats nine
days after Nick disappeared. If Aziz did inform you of this vital fact,
what did you do about it? Did any US officials investigate it?
DID YOU THINK when you saw the execution video on TV?
must have been a moment of true horror, because this wasnt just
any hostage apparently having his throat cut, this was a man whose case
you had dealt with personally, whose desperate parents you had spoken
with, perhaps one you had met personally and shaken by the hand.
the shock had worn off, did it strike you as odd that Nick was wearing
a standard-issue orange US prison jumpsuit? Were you surprised that
he was unrestrained and appeared to be relaxed in those first 13 seconds
of the video, as he tells us who he is and identifies his parents and
place of residence in the US?
it occur to you that those 13 seconds were cut out of standard video
record-of-interview of the type used by the FBI and the CIA? Because
thats what that sequence shows doesnt it? Thats the
only explanation for the orange jumpsuit that makes any sense at all.
you think, when the rational processes of the brain overrode the horror,
My God. Those bastards lied to me, and now theyve killed
did you feel when coalition spokesman Dan Senor then denied that Nick
was ever in US custody? You knew and had reported the truth and the
man was calling you a liar.
from a diminishing handful of buffoons from the political backwoods,
nobody is trying to defend the authenticity of the Berg execution video.
Its what it looks like, Beth: an inept piece of black propaganda,
lashed together against a deadline, to give George W. Bush a media opportunity.
SURE youre a person of wide and liberal education, Beth. Im
sure youve studied history and that you recognise the hunt for
scapegoats for the Iraq disaster the vicious tribal warfare racking
the US government as a wave of madness comparable to the McCarthy
CIA Director, George Tenet, has cleaned out his desk drawers. Over at
the Pentagon, anyone who was ever associated with Ahmad Chalabi is being
escorted by hard-eyed men down the long corridors to the room with the
lie detector. The president is in touch with his lawyer and the vice
president has been interviewed by the FBI.
going on is a bizarre exercise in instant historical revisionism
a pathetic attempt to claim, before the court of world public opinion,
that a glib merchant banker, Ahmad Chalabi, tricked the most powerful
nation on earth into invading Iraq on behalf of the Iranian government.
The new line goes that Chalabi was, all along, a double agent of the
Mullahs of Tehran. Its a lie even the most naive American patriot
Bush administration is turning on its own, Beth, and all this has been
festering since a few weeks before young Nick Berg was arrested on 24
April in Mosul. It was past curfew time and he was carrying a Farsi
phrase book, a backpackers guide to Iran and anti-Zionist literature.
was a few days after the CIA supposedly discovered that Ahmad Chalabi
told the Iranian spy chief in Baghdad that the US had cracked their
code. The story goes that the dumb Iranian immediately passed this on
to Tehran using the same code. Its a cute little yarn, but a station
chief would never be that dumb, unless, of course, Tehran wanted to
double-cross Chalabi, which is possible, but somehow I don't think so.
LIKE YOU AND I can view all this, with wry cynicism, as another
of historys little jokes, and in any case the CIA and your mob,
the State Department, are going to come out on top in the tribal war
against the Pentagon neoconservatives, which is a comforting position
for you to be in.
You know how it goes, Beth. People like you and I dont run the
interrogation chambers at Abu Ghraib and Camp Cropper. One only needs
moderately-well educated sociopaths for that. A liberal arts degree
just gets in the way.
people lower down the chain of command, the ones who arrest and interrogate
and extract intelligence dont have the luxury of detached cynicism.
The gunfire on the outskirts of Baghdad was edging closer when it filtered
down to them that Ahmad Chalabi had betrayed the US occupation forces
to the Axis of Evil. And there in front of them was a weird
Jewish contractor who knew a man who knew Chalabi. You can imagine what
might have happened. Sometimes people get carried away, and things go
too far. Is that what happened, Beth?
THE GREATER SCHEME OF THINGS, does it really matter if the life
of one young, reckless, misguided American civilian died at the hands
of US interrogators? A lot of Iraqis are dying, a lot of American soldiers
it really matter if Nick Bergs body was used to provide a fleeting
media opportunity for the President of the United States?
I think the truth and the details do matter, Beth, because forgery,
false witness and lies have done great mischief in history.
I need to recount the classic cases for you? The forged document used
to convict Alfred Drefus of treason? The Zinoviev letter, the infamous
Protocols of the Elders of Zion? The Moscow Trials confessions?
the German lie that French patrols and aviation had crossed their borders
in August 1914? the Reichstag fire? the cooked-up Gulf of Tonkin Incident?
the weapons of mass destruction?
BERG was a very attractive character, Beth. He was the sort of guy
anybody would like to work with: clever, optimistic, inventive, resilient,
funny, culturally sensitive, trusting. His politics were very far from
mine, but over the last month I feel I have come to know him and like
have this vision of him walking out the door of the al-Fanar hotel and
down that tree-lined street
past the edgy US soldiers and the
hunkered-down tanks and the bored Iraqi hirelings lounging in white
plastic chairs (like the one in the video), cradling AK47s
to a fate he didnt deserve, for reasons he was too young to anticipate.
a way Nick stands for all those other kids who have died and will go
on dying in this war. If I am not mistaken, he died in US custody. There
is slight chance he died at the hands of the Iraqi resistance, but whatever
happened, we deserve to know what you know of his last days.
truth you can tell us will matter, Beth, because this war, perhaps
more than any other in history has been a war of lies and illusions.
In times like these, honourable men and women speak up, whatever the
effect on their career.
Nick B. Possum
TV (Australia), 4 Corners report, Monday 7 June 2004.