From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

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.

Dispossessed all over again
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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Nagging questions about Nicholas Berg's last days
An open letter to Beth A. Payne, US Consul, Baghdad, Iraq

c/o - asktheconsul@usconsulbaghdad.com

9 June 2004

Dear Beth,

I THOUGHT I’d drop you a line with a few questions about Nicholas Berg’s last days. I’m writing to you because it’s your special duty to protect US citizens in Iraq and also because you conveyed reliable information regarding Nick’s situation to his parents while he was in US custody from 24 April to 6 May 2004. So far, that’s the only honest information US officials in Iraq have given anybody in the outside world about his case.

I 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 Berg.

You’ll know the old saying that a diplomat is an honest person sent abroad to lie for their country, but I’m sure that’s way too cynical. There are times in history when the need for truth is so important it overrides the baser imperatives of national interest.

You must be a very busy person but you took a personal interest in Nick’s 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.

We know from your emails you were trying to “… obtain additional information regarding his detention and a contact person”, someone that Nick’s 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?

What 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?

Were 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 he’d 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.

What happened after he disappeared on 10 April? Did you speak personally to his frantic parents? Who did you contact on their behalf? I’m guessing you’d have rung the FBI first. I’m guessing they said they didn’t have him. I know those were frantic days. Contractors were disappearing everywhere, hundreds of worried people were ringing in, but Nick’s case was special because you’d already had to intervene in the highly unusual case of his earlier arrest and detention.

According to a US newspaper report:

The 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.

The Bergs hired a private investigator, who talked to an American hotel guest who said he remembered Nick Berg. (1)

You 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”?

Did you call your CIA contact? The CIA have their own “ghost prisoners” who aren’t logged into the normal detention records. (2) Was Nick one of those?

What did your contacts tell you when you asked about Nick Berg? Did they swear on a stack of Bibles they weren’t holding him? Or did they say, “Yep, Beth, we’ve got him, but it’s a national security issue – really serious this time. Butt-out and keep your mouth shut”?

You must have felt terrible.

Beth, 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?

After 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?

Maybe 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.

In any case, did Mr al-Taee contact you to tell you that three calls had been made from Nick’s mobile phone on 19 April? That’s 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?

 

WHAT DID YOU THINK when you saw the execution video on TV?

That must have been a moment of true horror, because this wasn’t 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.

When 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?

Did 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 that’s what that sequence shows doesn’t it? That’s the only explanation for the orange jumpsuit that makes any sense at all. (5)

Did you think, when the rational processes of the brain overrode the horror, “My God. Those bastards lied to me, and now they’ve killed him”?

How 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.

Apart from a diminishing handful of buffoons from the political backwoods, nobody is trying to defend the authenticity of the Berg execution video. It’s what it looks like, Beth: an inept piece of black propaganda, lashed together against a deadline, to give George W. Bush a media opportunity.

 

I'M SURE you’re a person of wide and liberal education, Beth. I’m sure you’ve 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 witchhunts.

The 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.

What’s 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. It’s a lie even the most naive American patriot won’t swallow.

The 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 backpacker’s guide to Iran and anti-Zionist literature.

That 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. It’s 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.

 

PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND I can view all this, with wry cynicism, as another of history’s 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 don’t 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.

The people lower down the chain of command, the ones who arrest and interrogate and extract intelligence don’t 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?

 

IN 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 are dying.

Does it really matter if Nick Berg’s 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.

Do 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?

 

NICK 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 him.

I 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 … walking to a fate he didn’t deserve, for reasons he was too young to anticipate.

In 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.

Whatever 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.

Yours,

Nick B. Possum

 

1. http://scrantontimes.com/site/news.cfm? newsid=11615534&BRD=2185&PAG=461&dept_id=533290

2. ABC TV (Australia), 4 Corners report, Monday 7 June 2004.

3. http://tvnz.co.nz/view/news_politics_story_skin/427392%3fformat=html

4. http://www.philly.com/mld/dailynews/news/local/8684646.htm?1c

5. http://www.brushtail.com.au/nick_berg_hypothesis.html