Wednesday, May 12, 2004

invitation to a beheading
Over at Maxspeak, the Sandwichman provides a preamble to the kidnapping and murder of Nick Berg.

On March 7, 2004 an "enemies list" composed of signatories to an anti-war petition was posted on the Free Republic website. The introductory and subsequent comments on that list suggest that the purpose of the posting was to encourage people to harrass the individuals on the list and to circulate their names to agencies and individuals that might take action against them.

Nick Berg's father, Michael Berg was on that list and he named Prometheus Methods Tower Service, Inc. as an affiliation. According to his family on March 24, 2004 -- approximately two weeks after publication of the enemies list on the Free Republic website -- Nick Berg was detained by Iraqi police who handed him over to US forces, he was then held until April 6 when he was released, the day after his family had filed a lawsuit in Philadelphia federal court. Nick Berg was not heard from again after April 9.

The original enemies list is here.

Today's Independent gives more background.

Mr Berg was unlucky in Iraq, even before the people who killed him got their hands on him. He went missing not once but twice. He arrived in Iraq for the first time in December 2003. On 1 February this year, he returned home on holiday, but he came back to Iraq on 14 March. That was when things started to go wrong.

His parents suddenly stopped hearing from him after 24 March. He had said he was coming home on 30 March, but he wasn't on the flight. That was his first disappearance. That time, the Americans found him. He had been arrested at a checkpoint in Mosul. He was released on 6 April, after his parents filed a lawsuit in the US.

He told them he had not been mistreated, but that at one stage he had been held in a room full of Iraqis, some of whom had begun shouting abuse at him. After that he was moved to a single cell.

Whether that first, strange episode had anything to do with his subsequent disappearance is not clear. Certainly, it is bizarre that Iraqi police would arrest an American and hold him for several days. If they had suspected him of wrongdoing, it would be more likely that they would hand him over to US forces directly. It is possible he met someone during that stint in an Iraqi prison who later took a more sinister interest in him.

After he was released, Mr Berg told his parents he was coming home. The US State Department offered to arrange him a ticket on a charter flight from Baghdad, but Mr Berg told his father Michael that he doubted they would be able to do so. Why is unclear - there were plenty of flights. Perhaps he was nervous that the plane would be attacked with a missile. The last time he spoke to his parents, on 9 April, he told them he planned to find a route out overland, either via Kuwait, Turkey or Jordan.

The Berg family found out about his detention following a visit from the FBI. (link via Atrios)

When FBI agents arrived at the Berg's West Chester home on March 31, they were relieved to know their son was alive, but in jail. The agents questioned them about various details that only they and their son would know about.

Jerri Williams, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia FBI office, said the agency was "asked to interview the parents regarding Mr. Berg's purpose in Iraq."
On April 5, the Bergs filed suit in federal court in Philadelphia, contending that their son was being held illegally by the U.S. military in Iraq.

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.

There's no proof of anything here, but there are a number of data points that stack up in a suggestive way. A list of "enemies" is circulated, in which Nick Berg's father and the company he works for is named. The son is arrested and detained for no clear reason, and jailed with people hostile to him. FBI agents question his parents about his son's reasons for being in Iraq. After release, he refuses offers of help from his own government. His final disappearance follows shortly afterwards. It will be interesting to see what the Berg family do next.

As to Al-zarqawi, he appears to have something of a charmed life. Atrios again:

The presence of al Zarqawi was used as one of the justifications for invading Iraq, despite the fact that he was being harbored in Kurdish controlled territory in the North. The Bush administration ignored 3 opportunities to get him, feeling that it would undercut their non-existent case for war in Iraq.

update: The Berg family wiegh in.