The unbearable violence of the Nicholas Berg’s murder documentary provoked immediate reactions as well as passionate and contradictory statements. However, a detailed analysis of this brutal video evidenced the complex and extremely manipulative nature of the murder stage and the intentional polysemy of these images. The video was aimed at strengthening the prejudices and antagonisms people in favored of the clash of civilization wanted to unleash. The documentary was not a reportage; it was a perfectly elaborated propaganda.
A sequence of Nicholas Berg murder was broadcast by the three big Anglo-Saxon television networks on May 12, 2004. Its authenticity was confirmed the next day by the CIA, which identified the murderer by name: Abu Moussab Zarkaui. However, the interpretation of the documentary needed a rigorous and exhaustive analysis.
Origin of the Video
The existence of this documentary was made public by Reuters’ correspondents in Dubai, May 12. But it was first published by web site http://www.al-ansar.biz/. An hour later, the documentary was broadcasted by American Fox News and CNN and British BBC. However, the Arabic television networks which wanted a copy of the video could not find in its original web site. All current available copies belong to the three Anglo-Saxon television networks. The said web site hosting server was a society located in Malaysia, but due to the avalanche of visitors and the enormous flow of connections it decided to take the video out of its web site. The domain was owned by the Arab Press House which is a respected press society headquartered in London with no links with the Islamists.
The Style of the Video
The documentary lasted 5 minutes and 37 seconds and its low definition quality undermined its comprehension. It had two different sequences (the introduction of the victim and his execution), but it was transformed to highlight the scene in which the victim was decapitated. Its picture and soundtrack records did not match. It seemed the soundtrack was added after the murder. Therefore, it has been impossible to find out if the voice reading the condemnatory statement was the murderer’s or if the screams were the victim’s. However, the lack of synchronization might have been the result of the video’s compression to spread it in the Internet. The camera used to film the beginning of the documentary was placed on a stand but the execution and the focus were shot manually. The purpose was to show an unbearable dramatic picture and increase the viewer’s stress.
The Public’s Double Interpretation on the Documentary:
For some, Nicholas Berg identified himself when he said the name of his parents, brother and sister, making it clear that he was Jew. Later, the masked Islamic fundamentalist denounced the United States and Pakistani President. Then, they decapitated Berg to avenge “the satanic abuses against Muslim men and women in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq”. The violence of the scene was unbearable and led the spectator to think that the murderers’ barbaric action could not be compared to the abuses perpetrated by American GI soldiers occupying Iraq. The Islamic seemed to represent Evil.
For others, Nicholas Berg, dressed with an orange pajama identical to the ones used by detainees in Guantánamo, wore a beard as Islamists do. Berg appeared seated in a chair identical to those used at Abu Grahib in Baghdad to torture prisoners, as has been shown in photos. The masked characters were presented as full-of-hatred Islamic. One of them had a gold ring in a finger -something that is strictly prohibited among the fundamentalist Islamic- and took a knife in his hand and slit Berg’s throat. This act reproduced Abraham sacrifice but in this case the lamb was replaced by a man. Thus, the whole action was a sacrilege itself. The violence of the scene led the spectator to think that the US was willing to make any barbarity against its own compatriots to condemn and discredit Muslims completely.
The Documentary Inconsistencies
The kidnappers’ ridicule clothes had nothing to do with Iraqi residents’ who are involved in a bloody war. Therefore, the terrorists’ uniform, identical in the documentary, corresponded to its media-related purpose. Two of the “Arab terrorists” covered their faces during the act with their left hands and such an action is not common in the Arab culture for the left hand is used for hygienic purposes only and should have no contact with people’s face.
The method used, which was the victim’s slaughter with a military knife bayonet, was aimed at reproducing Abraham’s ritual but it was completely maladjusted to the circumstances. Decapitations are usually made with a strong sharp blow using a sword or a heavy sharp saber, or even an axe. Virtually, the victim’s body did not move when he was decapitated. He suffered no convulsions which are usually seen when an animal is decapitated. The amount of blood shed by the victim in the video was not much. This might have been related to the video’s montage. Its time code suggested there was a cut of the 9 minutes video and maybe the real blood shedding was in the cut part.
The Murderer Identification
- Abou Moussab Zarkaoui
- Berg’s murder according to the CIA
The CIA has not explained how or what elements it took into account to identify the murderer, but it affirmed it was Abu Mussab Zarkaui. Since months ago, the espionage agency presented this man as Osama Bin Laden’s successor. And this is what has made the understanding of the whole thing difficult. If the murderer was Abu Mussab Zarkaui, why did he cover his face, which can be seen everywhere and in the thousands of posters demanding his capture offering a 10 million dollars reward?
In some previous CIA reports, it was said that Abu Moussab Zarkaoui had lost a leg when the American forces bombed Afghanistan. It was also confirmed he had some tattoos in his left hand. But the evidence showed that the murderer was not handicapped or tattooed. Abu Moussab Zarkaoui has been also known for his Jordan accent and this was not the case of the video. But if the video sound track was added later, then the voice heard could be somebody else’s and not the murderer’s.
The Identification of Al Qaida
The translation of the soundtrack spread by the American media made references to Al Qaida, but it was a mistake later rectified by the National Virtual Translation Center.
The Identification of the Victim
The Coalition forces which have occupied Iraq had discovered, before the spread of the video, a decapitated body which they identified as Nicholas Berg. The body was repatriated to the US where it was buried. The deceased’s family identified him in the video.
The Profile of the Victim
Berg’s family commercial company (father and son) was included in “the enemies-of-the-State” list published in the pro-Bush web site freerepublic. The father had joined the anti-war movement A.N.S.W.E.R presided by Ramsey Clark. During a study stay in Oklahoma, “Nick” Berg lend his email and password to somebody he did not know and this person lend it to a third person whom was said was a close collaborator of Zacarias Moussaoui, the French accused of taking part in the organization of September 11 attacks. Berg was later questioned by the FBI which concluded he was innocent. However, Carol Devine-Molin (from enterstageright.com) affirmed that Nicholas Berg was questioned again after September 11 when he was arrested by the American forces before his disappearance in Baghdad. This hypothesis confirmed the FBI had serious doubts about him.
Nick had traveled to Israel before and he was never worried about the stamp migratory authorities stamp on people’s passports when they arrive at Israel. This was not a common attitude among Americans that travel to the Middle East for they always complain about the stamp. According to the Seattle Post Intelligencer, «Berg worked in Iraq during December and January and returned again in March. He inspected his company communication facilities for many of them had been destroyed by the war or plunder by plunderers. During his stays in Iraq, Berg worked in the tower of Abu Ghraib prison, which has become regrettably famous for the tortures perpetrated by the American soldiers». Berg worked with Aziz Kadoory Aziz, known as Aziz al Taee. But Aziz Kadoory Aziz has also been the founder of the Iraqi-American Council and has favored the invasion of his country. He has been invited to American Fox News and has organized several demonstrations to support the military troops. All this was done before the beginning of the war. He has a reputation as a CIA agent.
According to British journal the Guardian, Berg’s society had just got a contract with the Iraqi Media Network (a NED/CIA program). Only trustworthy companies could be contracted to work in the telecommunication market in Abu Ghraib or the Iraqi Media Network. Nicholas Berg was arrested without his ID documents by the Commander of the Coalition Forces which occupied Iraq on March 24. Therefore, he was imprisoned until being identified. Berg’s family in the US called in vain the American consulate to have him freed and on April 5, they presented a formal complaint against the American authorities for Berg’s illegal detention, mentioning the fact that American diplomats had no power to intervene in his case. Berg was approximately released on April 8 and during his days in prison he was questioned by the FBI thrice. The authorities have said they tried to persuade him to leave the country for his own safety though they did not do anything to repatriate him.
The victim’s story showed that Berg had been closed to an Islamic and pacifist group opposed to the war in Iraq. But, lately, the story was changed completely. Now, Berg was working with a CIA agent and the American secret services did not trust him. This duality led to several interpretations. Berg’s documentary could not be considered a testimony if we take into account its itinerary, montage, stage, and inconsistencies. On the contrary, its violence and polysemy showed it was aimed at confusing the spectator. It was actually a useful propaganda of those who favored the clash of civilizations. Nicholas Berg’s murder documentary led people to interpret it differently, according to their cultural groups, thus reinforcing antagonisms.