Idealistic, trusting, brash, Nick Berg went to Iraq to help. It cost his life.

  1. a life lived fearlessly, but lost too soon

    idealistic, trusting, brash, nick berg went to iraq to help. it cost his life.

    by sandy bauers

    inquirer staff writer
    may 16, 2004

    this story really has affected me as his family lives in philly suburbs near my home. can see his type of idealism in my oldest son.

    susspect there is much more to this story to be revealed. karen
    Last edit by NRSKarenRN on May 16, '04
  2. 8 Comments

  3. by   pickledpepperRN

    A jolting awareness that I crossed paths with Nick Berg
    Jamie Francis has made two trips to Iraq, most recently in April when he and senior correspondent Susan Taylor Martin spent four weeks there looking at the war's effect on the country.
    By JAMIE FRANCIS, Times Staff Writer
    Published May 15, 2004

    On a warm evening in Baghdad's old Jewish quarter last month, I was taking photos in a crumbling building when I was literally pushed toward a Westerner with ivory skin and a red beard. He was lifting weights inside the Arnold Classic Gym. He wore black steel-toed boots as he grunted out exercises beneath dozens of portraits of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
    The Iraqis called him Mr. Nick.
    I was amazed to meet another English speaker inside the local gym, but I was there to photograph Iraqis and had little interest in being sidetracked with small talk. But soon, I found myself in a casual conversation with an engaging young man, whose intelligence and friendly nature allowed him to move easily in and out of a strange culture.
    Now, more than five weeks after the chance meeting, I have learned that Mr. Nick was actually Nicholas Berg, the 26-year-old Pennsylvania man who was beheaded by a group of hooded men in Iraq. The grisly murder was videotaped, and it's now thought that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate of Osama bin Laden, carried out the execution.
    Times colleague Susan Taylor Martin and I were first lured to the gym by a small sign along one of Baghdad's most traveled streets. The sign, which showed a bare-chested man with rippling muscles, seemed out of place in Arabic culture. The owner of the gym, Sabah Taleb Mehdi, hung the advertisement for his business, which is an homage to Arnold Schwarzenegger, his childhood idol.
    I suppose Mehdi felt compelled to push the two Anglos together. He said Mr. Nick was a regular who had been coming for weeks, and he seemed to enjoy shouting the American's name: "Mr. Nick, Mr. Nick, Mr. Nick," he would say as if singing an Arabic melody. "Mr. Nick good, Mr. Nick very good."
    And the young man would cast his brilliant smile and try to answer back with a few words of Arabic. At the end of his workout the two embraced and patted each other on the back. As always, Mehdi refused payment from Mr. Nick for the use of his gym.
    We were together for maybe 45 minutes or an hour and exchanged a few personal details. He made his way around the circuit of dinged weights, doing arm curls, squats, military presses, pull ups. He was curious about my digital cameras and the places I have traveled for the Times.
    Mr. Nick told me he was a contractor. I didn't push; I waited for him to say more. In today's Iraq a pleasant conversation can spoil quickly with aggressive questioning, since everyone is defensive about security.
    We both expressed a level of comfort about Iraq, even as conditions spiraled out of control all around us. Just a few days earlier four American contractors had been killed, dismembered and burned in Fallujah. Each hour seemed to bring new tension. Gunfire and explosions had become background noise.
    Berg didn't mention being held in custody from March 24 until April 6. According to news reports, he was jailed in Mosul because his activities aroused suspicion. And if the reports are correct, our meeting came only one day after his release and two days before his kidnapping.
    He said he was not working because conditions were too violent, but yet he had taken to traveling the country by local taxi - highly unusual for most foreigners. (Susan and I were doing the same thing as we filed stories and pictures to the Times.)
    Mr. Nick described trips to Mosul and Kirkuk, riding in the ubiquitous orange and white taxis with car loads full of Iraqis. But he said nothing of where he might go next.
    I was unsure about his nationality. He talked of family in America but also of being in Israel. He looked the part of a construction worker, but there was never a mention of who he worked for or more specifics about what he did. It's impossible to know much of a person in 45 minutes, but this much is sure: He had a wonderful smile, and he was likable, engaging and adventurous.
    His skin, hair and thin beard made him stand out in a gym filled with Iraqis. But his muscular build placed him in the brotherhood of those who pump iron, and although language was a problem they managed to hold a warm, if halting, conversation with his fellow bodybuilders. When a street vendor arrived selling apple juice, the Iraqis and the American drank from the same cup.
    I only learned late Thursday evening of Mr. Nick's identity. CNN was pursuing the story and had learned he was a regular at the gym. Mehdi gave them our names and a producer called.
    I immediately told the CNN producer that she had made a mistake. No, I had never known a Nicholas Berg. She would e-mail me pictures, she said. But as she strung together the words - Arnold Gym, Sabah Taleb Mehdi, Nicholas Berg - I didn't need the pictures. I went numb.
    Then the pictures arrived on my computer. In an endless five seconds of silence I gazed into his eyes. I imagined the video of his beheading and was disgusted. I recalled an NPR report that described the details so vividly that I turned the volume down so my 3-year-daughter could not hear.
    The TV pictures and still images of a captive Nicholas Berg were nothing like the man I met. His skin was pale, his youthful beard thick and sculpted, and he seemed smaller.
    I failed to connect the dots, I think, because Mr. Nick was so confident and comfortable surrounded by people unlike him. He displayed a faith in humanity common to all of us who travel in dangerous places and sometimes must entrust our lives to strangers.
    So when I heard the news of an American's beheading, I just assumed it was someone I never knew. Someone who made a huge error in judgment. Someone who had made a tragic blunder. Maybe someone who had trusted the wrong person.
    I don't know how much we had in common, but I recognized Nicholas Berg as a kindred spirit, someone who sometimes sees adventure where others see danger. I saw a piece of myself in him, and that's what frightens me. That's why on Thursday night, I lay sleepless in my bed listening to the wind, with Mr. Nick's smile etched in my mind.
    [Last modified May 15, 2004, 01:00:35]
  4. by   pickledpepperRN

    Nicholas Berg's Death
    Published: May 14, 2004

    t's easy to say he should not have been in Iraq, but Nicholas Berg was a type familiar to all danger zones: an adventurous and nave young man who was perhaps keen to do a bit of business, but keener yet to test himself; old enough to understand the danger, but young enough to defy it. It is impossible not to feel grief, and horror, at his terrible end.
    The claim of this young American's murderers that they were retaliating for the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners is a cruel ruse. They killed him out of the same madness that drove their comrades in Al Qaeda to slaughter thousands on Sept. 11, 2001. But this manipulative attempt to establish a moral equivalence between the gruesome execution of Mr. Berg and the torture of Iraqi prisoners is now being mimicked by some hard-core supporters of the American war in Iraq. They are cynically trying to use the images of Mr. Berg to wipe away the images of Abu Ghraib, turning the abhorrence for the murderers into an excuse for demonizing Arabs and Muslims, or for sanctioning their torture.
    Mr. Berg's parents have legitimate questions for the United States government about how he came to be in Iraqi police custody immediately before his kidnapping, what happened to him there and what knowledge American officials had about his situation. The occupation authority needs to stop passing off those questions to the Iraqi police force, which does not exist other than as an agent of American power. The Berg family deserves answers so they can grieve for their son's death in peace.
  5. by   pickledpepperRN
    May 15, 2004 The Unanswered Questions of Nick Berg's Murder
    by Anthony Gregory
    Updated 5/15/04 9:50 pm EDT
    The mysteries surrounding the murder of Nicholas Berg multiply. There are a few mysteries that need to be cleared up.
    Who Had Custody of Nick Berg, and When?
    Michael Berg, Nicholas's father, insists that for eleven days Nicholas was detained by U.S. forces in Iraq, and the reason Berg lost his life "was the fact that the U.S. government saw fit to keep him in custody for 13 days without any of his due process or civil rights."
    According to Berg's friend, Chilean journalist Hugo Infante, Berg told Infante that "Iraqi police caught [him] one night, they saw [his] passport and [his] Jewish last name and [his] Israeli stamp. This guy thought [he] was a spy so they put [him] with American soldiers and American soldiers put [him] in a jail for two weeks."
    U.S. officials deny that Berg was ever held in custody by U.S. forces. However, a U.S. general says that FBI agents were the ones who instructed the Iraq police to detain Berg for two weeks, since he was traveling In Iraq without proper documentation. According to the official story, local police in Mosul arrested Berg on March 24 and released him on April 6, during which period the FBI visited the detainee three times.
    Mosul police chief Maj. Gen. Mohammed Khair al-Barhawi denies that Berg was ever in Iraqi custody, saying that "The Iraqi police never arrested the slain American.... Take it from me... that such reports are baseless."
    Even if the Iraqi police chief is inaccurate in denying Nick was ever in Iraqi custody, Nick's family remains unconvinced that U.S. officials were not ultimately responsible. Nick's father said to the Associated Press: "The Iraqi police do not tell the FBI what to do, the FBI tells the Iraqi police what to do. Who do they think they're kidding?" Nick's brother, David, points out, "The jail had U.S. MP's in it. Technically it was an Iraqi prison, but there is no Iraqi government, so what does that mean?" Given the recent claim from a U.S. general that the FBI instructed the Iraqi police to hold Nick Berg, his family's attitude on this makes a lot of sense.
    As evidence that Nick was in fact in U.S. custody, his family has provided an e-mail sent on April 1 from U.S. consular officer in Iraq, Beth A. Payne, which says plainly:
    "I have confirmed that your son, Nick, is being detained by the U.S. military in Mosul. He is safe. He was picked up approximately one week ago. We will try to obtain additional information regarding his detention and a contact person you can communicate with directly."
    Spokeswoman Kelly Shannon has responded that Payne was wrong about this, saying that "as Mr. Berg had been released, the consular officer did not convey this information to the family because he was released, thankfully.... And we thought he was on his way."
    Shannon has also said that on April 10 - four days after he was supposedly released from Iraqi custody - the United States offered Berg a flight out of Iraq and into Jordan, but he declined the offer because he thought it wasn't safe. For the next couple days Berg reportedly stayed at a hotel, but had no contact with his family. Journalist Jamie Francis has said that he met Berg at a gym in Baghdad in the short window of time between Berg's release from custody and his execution, during which time Berg made no mention about having been detained and gave very few details about why he was in Iraq. It's very unclear what happened in those crucial days.
    Perhaps strangest of all is Michael Berg's mention of a possible arrangement he says he heard about, in which his son might have been released by al-Qaeda in exchange for an Iraqi prisoner:
    "I would like to ask him if it is true that al-Qaida offered to trade my son's life for the life of another person.... And if that is true, well, I need that information. ... and I think the people of the United States of America need to know what the fate of their sons and daughters might be in the hands of the Bush administration."
    Email Address Plot Twist
    The most recent, and possibly most bizarre, development in this mystery is the enigmatic pre-9/ll connection between Berg and al Qaeda. News has just broken that the FBI had investigated Berg in 2002, because his e-mail password had been found in the possession of Zacarias Moussaoui, who had been arrested shortly before September 11. According the Berg's father, U.S. authorities determined during the investigation that Moussaoui got the password when Berg carelessly let Moussaoui use his computer after they met on a bus.
    Some have theorized that perhaps this completely coincidental incident is what inspired FBI agents to question Berg while he was in Iraqi custody, but now that Berg is thought to have been detained at the FBI's request, we have a more likely explanation for the visits.
    So far, the U.S. government has shed very little light on the surreal Moussaoui coincidence.
    Further Questions
    Some have focused on questioning the credibility of the execution video itself, pointing out that one of Berg's executioners wore a gold ring, forbidden by Islam. There has been little progress on these types of questions, but one does not have to be a conspiracy nut to find this whole story perplexing.
    Many questions must be asked. Why was Nick Berg's company, Prometheus Methods Tower Services Inc., not registered with the Pennsylvania State Department? What was Nick Berg doing in Iraq in the first place, if, as his father says, he "was not over there to make money"? What happened in the crucial days during which Berg supposedly stayed at the Iraqi hotel?
    Most importantly: Who had custody of Nick Berg, and when? If he was in Iraqi custody, why did the FBI visit him three times, and in what ways did the U.S. authorities have operational control over his custody? Why do the Iraqi police, working with the U.S. government, insist they never held him?
  6. by   pickledpepperRN
    FBI told police to hold Berg
    13/05/2004 17:16 - (SA)
    Mosul, Iraq - Nick Berg, the US hostage shown being beheaded by Islamic radicals, was held for two weeks in Iraq at the FBI's request for travelling without documents while his identity was checked, a US general said on Thursday.
    "Berg was in Mosul. He was travelling alone. The Iraqi police found him without any documentation. Iraqi police was suspicious and took him into custody" Brigadier General Carter Ham, who heads the Olympia Task Force, said in this northern Iraqi city.
    "FBI asked (police) to keep him until they knew who he was" Ham told journalists.
    Coalition officials said on Wednesday the US Federal Bureau of Investigation had eventually established Berg was not involved in any "criminal or terrorist" activities.
    Berg, a 26-year-old businessman from Pennsylvania, was held in Mosul from March 25 to April 8, Ham said. On Wednesday, coalition spokesperson Dan Senor said he was arrested on March 24 and freed April 6, after being seen three times by FBI agents.
    Edited by Anthea Jonathan
  7. by   Mkue
    No one should die that way.

    I have a son not too much younger than Nick Berg, this story breaks my heart.
  8. by   SmilingBluEyes
    I have to agree Marie. NO ONE should die that way. No one should be dying over in Iraq at all.
  9. by   fergus51
    The whole thing is horrific. I hope his family will be left alone to deal with this in peace.
  10. by   Mkue
    When I first learned that Berg's death was video taped my first thought was that poor family has to have the world see his death, but then again, the video shows just how ruthless, heartless cowards Al qaeda are.