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Thursday, May 13, 2004  

News: Berg's journey described and disputed

I am not going to claim to know The Truth about how Nick Berg came to be where he was when he fell into the hands of Al Qaeda. Though I've read all I could about the Berg situation, what I see emerging is not The Truth, but several truths, and probably some untruths, too. They will be sorted out in the press, and, likely, in a court of law.

Berg's elderly father, Michael, has courageously spoken out before and after his son's decapitation by zealots. He believes the government of the United States could have done more to help a stranger in a strange land.

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The father of Nick Berg, the American beheaded in Iraq, directly blamed President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday for his son's death.

"My son died for the sins of George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. This administration did this," Berg said in an interview with radio station KYW-AM.

The grief-stricken father seems to be at least partly right about the logistics. Nick Berg was picked up by the Iraqi police, jailed and questioned -- just like Iraqis are, in March. The military and the FBI thought him 'suspicious.' His family believes he would have left Iraq before the tragic event if he had not been delayed by the incarceration. Meanwhile, U.S. officials say they did not jail Berg. That may be technically true. The facility Berg was held in is under Iraqi administration. But, the superiors of the Iraqis there, and at other penal facilities in Iraq, are the mainly American occupation forces.

Michael Berg rejected U.S. government claims that his son had never been held by American authorities in Iraq. The Iraqi police chief in the city of Mosul has also contradicted statements by the U.S.-led coalition concerning the younger Berg's detention.

"I have a written statement from the State Department in Baghdad ... saying that my son was being held by the military," Berg said. "I can also assure you that the FBI came to my house on March 31 and told me that the FBI had him in Mosul in an Iraqi prison."

Dan Senor, spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, said this week that Nick Berg was arrested in Mosul by Iraqi police on March 24 and released on April 6.

The parties seem to agree on Berg's movements after his release.

Berg returned to Baghdad from Mosul in April and went missing on April 9, during a chaotic period when dozens of foreigners were snatched by guerrillas west of the capital.

His body was discovered by a road near Baghdad on Saturday. The video of his decapitation was posted on the Internet on Tuesday.

Berg was on his second trip to Iraq. He had visited Baghdad from late December to Feb. 1. He returned in March, hoping to further a business venture. He would have left at the end of that month if fate had not intervened.

Berg's communications to his parents stopped on March 24 and he told them later he was jailed by Iraqi officials after being picked up at a checkpoint in Mosul.

On April 5, the Bergs filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, naming Rumsfeld and alleging their son was being held illegally by the U.S. military in Iraq. The next day, he was released.

It is apparently true that the government and Berg were involved with each other, at the very least. I expect that point to be ceded eventually.

Some of the material reported here is from a heartrending story the New York Times published about Berg yesterday. I encourage everyone to read it. (If you aren't a member, the article has been reprinted by the Wilmington Star.) One thing you will take away from the piece is an understanding that -- as is true in most messes -- there's quite a chain of causality. The terrorists are the proximate cause of his death, but all kinds of mistakes appear to have been made. A second advantage of reading this story is that you will come to know Nick Berg, to the extent strangers can know a man they never met. The redhead from Philadelphia comes across as impetuous, adventuresome, nonjudgmental and stubborn. I believe the best memorial to a deceased person is recognizing his or her individuality. Berg will be more than a name or a gruesome image after you read this article.

11:45 PM