Sunday, May 23, 2004

led to the appointed place

Or something like that.It’s always tricky to judge the boundaries between reasonable conjecture and outright conspiratorialising. I use what I call Rosenbaum’s Rules, evolved after reading Ron Rosenbaum’s sympathetic but skeptical accounts of various conspiracy buffs (go here to buy his book on these and other matters).

These are:

does the theory maximise itself in terms of those supposedly responsible for it? (and George W Bush personally ordered…

does it merge with other conspiracies to form one grand Secret History of Everything?

does it conform to and expand on the political beliefs of the person making the theory?

Say yes to any of these and its time to go away and lie down for a bit, contemplating fluffy bunnies and sunlight. Having said that, further reports of the Nick Berg case are beginning to convince me that there is officially Something Funny Going On.

The authenticity of the Nick Berg beheading video is critiqued here and here. Main points:

If al-Zarqawi was responsible, he seems to have grown a leg. Either that, or the story of his medical treatment - including the amputation of his leg - in Baghdad is not true. This story indicates that the line on al-Zarqawi may be changing, however.

The video is in fact two videos spliced together and overdubbed.

Nick Berg was probably dead before his beheading.

Asia Times also publishes the following:

According to e-mails sent from a US consular officer in Baghdad, Beth Payne, to the Berg family, Nick Berg was being held in Iraq "by the US military in Mosul". A May 13 AP report notes that a US State Department spokesperson subsequently said this was untrue, an error, and that Berg was being held by Iraqi authorities. But another May 13 AP report quoted "police chief Major-General Mohammed Khair al-Barhawi" as claiming that reports of Iraqi police having held Berg were "baseless".

And Berg is seen on the beheading videotape in what appears to be US military prison-issue clothing, sitting in what appears to be a US military-type white chair, virtually identical to those photographed as used at Abu Ghraib prison.

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, meanwhile:

Berg teamed up in Baghdad with an ex-Philadelphia man who led a controversial group of Iraqi expatriates encouraged by the U.S. government - even as he faced deportation for his role in Russian-emigre crime ring selling millions of vials used for crack.

Aziz Kadoory Aziz, also known as Aziz al-Taee, hooked up earlier this year with the 26-year-old West Chester man to start a small company called Shirikat Abraj Babil, or Babylon Towers Co., that would install, inspect and repair telecommunications and utility towers.

In interviews with several news organizations in Baghdad, Aziz claimed he may have been the last friend to speak with Berg before his kidnapping and beheading by terrorists possibly linked to the al Qaeda network. The radio-tower contractor had come back to Baghdad after a 13-day detainment in Mosul, only to disappear again on April 10.

Aziz said that on April 10 Berg "surprised me by calling me at 9 or 10, to say that he found some friend to travel with to Jordan." Berg said he was en route, but Aziz doesn't know who he was with or what kind of vehicle they were driving. "He said they were nice people. I told him to have a nice trip."

I don’t know what to make of all this, but it paints a very odd picture of a willfully naïve Candide figure stumbling around Iraq intersecting with all sorts of interested parties. And there’s the odd encounter back home as well.

Before traveling to Iraq twice this year, Berg had been investigated by the FBI because in 1999 - while at the University of Oklahoma - an associate of jailed Sept. 11 suspect Zacarias Moussaoui had obtained Berg's e-mail password.