SALINAS,Ca: I heard the news on the radio with a sinking feeling bordering on nausea.
It was the news about Nick Berg being beheaded in Iraq by the latest incarnation of fascists that brave World War II veterans such as my father, Richard, thought they had exterminated a half century ago.
The horror I felt was akin to when I was a kid and first saw King Kong — the scene where Kong’s face appears in the New York hotel window, lustily looking at Fray Wray. But, besides that horror, I felt a bile-spewing sense of utter anger and rage.
On the tail end of a 400 mile drive, as I went north on 101, I still had an unceasing sense of sickness and pain…and for a while I couldn’t figure out why.
Then, suddenly, it dawned on me. I knew.
I realized I truly grieved for an idealistic 26-year-old who had to experience such indescribable horror in the last minutes of his all-too-short life; grief for all the young kids for whom I perform (I’m a ventriloquist this week performing at the Salinas County Fair) who must constantly live under a growing physical threat in a mega-violent world where they’ll have to make stark choices for decades in a life-death battle to wipe out murderers wrapping themselves in religion; plus grief as I heard shameless, self-serving posturing from both sides of the U.S. the political spectrum, not missing a solitary beat in their unrelenting attempt to score points to elect “their” man to the White House..
911 was devastating. Daniel Pearl’s death was sickening and haunting. Yet, Berg’s seems somehow sadder, more shocking and more sickening than Pearl’s death because the last few weeks of his life were filled with such frustration, anxiety, horror and pain.
There are lots of news stories about Nick Berg, a supporter of the war who had gone to Iraq to try and do some work for the Iraqis and for his company. In a nutshell: first he was arrested by the Iraqi police. FBI agents told his parents he was in jail. By April 5 his parents filed suit in federal court in Philadelphia, claiming that their son was being held illegally by the U.S. military in Iraq. Clearly, the parents were frantic in trying to get their son out of there and, by all accounts, he wanted to leave by then, too.
And then this strange story gets stranger, according to the Centre Daily News. In a report published before Berg’s death it reported:
- The next day, April 6, Nick Berg was released. He told his parents he had been riding in a taxi on March 24 when he was arrested by Iraqi officials at a checkpoint in Mosul.He told his parents he had not been mistreated Nick Berg said he would come home through Jordan, Turkey or Kuwait. But by then, hostilities in Iraq had escalated, and Michael Berg said they have not heard from their son since.
- 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.
- Sometimes, they tell themselves their son “is a resourceful fellow who can take care of himself,” Michael Berg said.”Other times we think perhaps he was dead on April 10,” he said. “My worst fear is that I’ll never hear anything.”
So this 26-year-old with personal ideals and modest business aspirations was released. And just think of the sense of relief he must have felt that he’d soon be going home….
Then he was captured by terrorists.
Those final days and moments must have been hell. Just think about it as you read this:
- The video showed five men wearing headscarves and black ski masks, standing over a bound man in an orange jumpsuit similar to a prisoner’s uniform who identified himself as Nick Berg, a U.S. contractor whose body was found on a highway overpass in Baghdad on Saturday.
- Sitting in a chair, Berg made the following statement: “My name is Nick Berg, my father’s name is Michael, my mothef’s name is Susan,”” the man said on the video. “I have a brother and sister, David and Sarah. I live in …Philadelphia.”
- The video then changes to a scene of masked men, with Berg sitting in front of them.After reading a statement, the masked men were seen pulling the man to his side and putting a large knife to his neck. A scream sounded as the men cut his head off, shouting “Allahu Akbar” “God is great.” They then held the head out before the camera.
Just another death? Not quite:
(1)This 26-year-old man was slaughtered like an animal by people wanting to make a political statement. If they could make one by killing you, me, your infant daughter, your son, and your grandmother they most certainly would. The death of Pearl, an Italian contractor, now Berg, is clearly part of a pattern. Expect more of them. Possibly LOTS more. It gets them publicity and spreads fear.
(2)Some politicos and commentators on the left immediately suggested it was cause and effect. Their “WE TOLD YOU SO!” attitude stemmed from their contention that Berg was murdered in retaliation for the way Iraqi prisoners were abused by American prison guards. And that is indeed what Berg’s killers said, except it doesn’t make sense:
If there had been no guards’ scandal they wouldn’t have taken him out for a nice dinner and camel ride and released him.
Berg was doomed to be butchered on some pretext the second he was caught.
(3)Some politicos and talk show hosts on the right began inching towards the position that this somehow negates the scandal over how Iraqi prisoners were abused — and that it shows Iraqi prisoners deserve it. Or suggesting that since American guards didn’t cut anyone’s head off then what happened to Iraqis prisoners was not that bad and the inquiry should be dropped or buried.
So let’s be blunt:
The fascists masking themselves in religious rhetoric gleefully holding up a head sliced off a terrified, screaming young American moments before contrast starkly with the smug jailers in the photos humiliating Iraqi prisoners in one important way.
The terrorists will be cheered by many on the Arab Middle East street and won’t face consequences unless governments rub them out. The American guard jailers will be tried, punished — and likely shunned. And that’ll happen because Americans value law and life.
But even with all the political implications I return to one all-encompassing thought: those stressful last weeks of Nick Berg in a foreign land, under arrest, kidnapped, then having his young life ended in such a horrorific way.
We can’t forget our values in the Iraqi prisoner scandal; we can’t forget our goals in the war against terrorism. And we can’t forget Nick Berg.