Berg was in U.S. custody

By Nobel Johns

WASHINGTON (BNW) – The beheading of Nicholas Berg gives an indication about who we are dealing with in our fight against terror, and how our government is partly responsible for his death and the humiliation and pain he must have gone through.

A coalition spokesman said last week that U.S. military police may have been at the Iraqi facility where Nicholas Berg was held before he was killed, but he insisted that Berg was never in U.S. custody, despite reports to the contrary.

"To our knowledge, he was detained by the Iraqi police in Mosul," coalition spokesman Dan Senor told reporters. "He was in Iraqi police custody. He was met by U.S. officials, he was visited three times by the FBI, but at all times, he was in Iraqi custody."

"I think some of the confusion emanates from the fact that [in] a number of the detention facilities throughout the country, there are American MPs who play a support role there," Senor added. "But it doesn't detract from the fact it's still an Iraqi facility, and I think once we do a little more investigating, we can hope to provide more clarity."

Iraqi authorities said they held the American civilian only briefly before handing him over to U.S. troops, police sources in Mosul said Thursday.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said Friday that Berg was in the custody of Iraqi police when he was questioned by the FBI.

Ashcroft also said FBI agents and officials with the Coalition Provisional Authority "emphasized to him the dangerous environment that existed at the time in Iraq. And they encouraged him to accept the CPA's offer to arrange his safe passage out of Iraq."

Berg also turned down offers to advise his family of his status, Ashcroft said.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher has said that State Department consular officers spoke with Berg in Baghdad on April 10 and offered to help him leave Iraq by plane to go to Jordan. However, Boucher said, Berg told the consular officers that he had made arrangements to leave by land through Kuwait.

While the pictures are too much for the average person to take, you can’t but help ask the chilling question, did Berg experience much pain?

On many levels, it's one of life's great unanswerables. Does beheading hurt? Who would know?

On a spiritual level, many would agree, beheading hurts us all. It's designed to. The mere sight of a severed head seals itself into every witness; always we wonder as we tug at our throats: But does it hurt? Is there pain? Does the brain remain aware?

Yes to all. Yes, it hurts very much to have your head cut off, and the longer it takes, the worse it hurts. Once your spinal cord is cut and your head is severed you will continue to experience the full spectrum of pain, without the heavenly numb of shock-absorbing chemicals, which are back there with your body. You can't talk, of course, but you can move your lips and appear to scream, and you can focus and blink your eyes, as proved by dozens of deathhouse deals.

A severed head is conscious, and in some ways hyperconscious. The head knows it's been picked up by the hair and shown to the crowd. The head sees the crowd, hears the crowd, smells the breath of the executioner, thinks happy thoughts, cannot believe how long 40 seconds is, because 40 seconds is how long the average head remains fully aware, if not alive. Forty seconds of indescribable pain and horror.

Berg's decapitation was videotaped, and the video was posted on a Web site linked to al Qaeda last week.

Berg's father, Michael Berg, said last week that State Department officials told him his son was being held by the U.S. military.

State Department officials said that they were later told the information they passed to Berg's family in e-mails -- information they attributed to the Coalition Provisional Authority -- was incorrect.

At least one friend, as well as Berg's relatives, said Berg told them he was in U.S. custody for about two weeks.

"Nic told me, 'Iraqi police caught me one night, they saw my passport and my Jewish last name and my Israeli stamp. This guy thought I was a spy, so they put me with American soldiers and American soldiers put me in a jail for two weeks,' " said Hugo Infante, a Chilean freelance journalist who stayed at the same Baghdad hotel.

Berg's brother David told reporters that the family received e-mails from Berg after his release in April that made clear he had been held by U.S. forces. And Infante said Berg described being held in a coalition facility where Syrians, Egyptians, Jordanians and Iranians suspected of entering Iraq illegally were also detained.

Berg had been scheduled to return to his home in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 30, but missed that flight while in custody. Michael Berg said the delay contributed to his son's death, since intense fighting between Iraqi insurgents and American troops broke out five days later.

Also Friday, Berg's friends and family held a private memorial service at a synagogue in his hometown of West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Encounter with Moussaoui acquaintance

Berg had been investigated by the FBI once before when he was a student at a branch campus of the University of Oklahoma. At the time, Berg's e-mail account was being used by Zacarias Moussaoui -- the only person publicly charged in the United States in connection with the terror attacks of September 11, 2001

Berg's father said his son gave a man on a bus the password to his account because "Whoever was next to my son was treated with great respect and friendship."

Ashcroft said Berg was cleared of suspicion during the initial investigation more than a year ago.

"The suggestion that Mr. Berg was in some way involved in terrorist activity, or may have been linked in some way, is a suggestion that we do not have any ability to support and we do not believe is a valid one," Ashcroft said.

'High probability' al-Zarqawi killed Berg

A CIA official said Thursday that it was likely that al Qaeda associate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was the man who killed Berg.

An assessment of the video showing Berg's death concludes it is a "high probability" al-Zarqawi is the hooded speaker who is shown decapitating Berg, the CIA official said.

On Capitol Hill, Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said a Defense Department official told him he believed al-Zarqawi was the man on the video.

Al-Zarqawi, a 37-year-old Jordanian, has a $10 million reward on his head.

The U.S. government contends he has a longstanding connection to al Qaeda and is a close associate of Osama bin Laden.

He is accused of organizing terrorists to fight U.S. troops in Iraq on behalf of al Qaeda. He is also believed to have plotted the killing of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley, who was gunned down in 2002 outside his home in Jordan.

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