With a double standard for a tower climber and reporter…
Journalist’s beheading kindles sad memories of a tower tech’s horrific death
By Craig Lekutis
August 28, 2014 – Terrorist organization ISIS released a video last week of the beheading of U.S. freelance journalist James Foley. For many, it was an unnerving reminder of the horrific decapitation of Promethius Methods Tower Service’s owner, 26-year-old Nicholas “Nick” Berg, by Islamic militants in Iraq ten years earlier. It also presented an uncomfortable media double standard.
Berg, of West Chester, Pa., attended four universities and while at the University of Oklahoma he invented a modular concrete block for use in tower construction, and set up Promethius Tower Services, Inc. in Kenya where steel structures were cost prohibitive.
The industrious contractor saw an opportunity to secure work for his company in Iraq and traveled to Mosul on March 14, 2004. But Berg discovered, as many tower companies have found over the years, some promised overseas projects, even secured by a legal agreement, are steeped in corrupt payment and graft terms, shady owners, and they never materialize.
While seeking other reconstruction work in Iraq, Berg, according to U.S. officials, was held for almost two weeks by Iraqi forces, but an email received by the Berg family from a U.S. consular official said, “I have confirmed that your son, Nick, is being detained by the U.S. military in Mosul.”
Released, captured and decapitated
Press accounts identify that Berg was released from custody on April 6, 2004 and was advised by U.S. officials to take a flight out of Iraq, with their assistance, but he stayed at the Al-Fanar Hotel in Baghdad while reportedly seeking tower installation and maintenance work and planning how he would leave the country.
Berg’s family has never been able to find out why he was held in custody.
On May 8, 2004, Berg’s body was found decapitated on a Baghdad overpass by a U.S. military patrol.
On May 11, 2004, people were appalled when they learned the truth about his shocking death when the website of the militant group Muntada al-Ansar posted a video with the opening title of "Abu Musa'b al-Zarqawi slaughters an American" which shows in graphic detail five men jumping on the trussed Berg, carving at his neck as he screams, and displaying his severed head in the air while shouting: “God is great! God is great!”
Nick’s father, Michael, was notified about Nick’s death by the U.S. State Department and he grappled with whether or not to share the details of Nick’s execution with his family.
“When my friend heard the news about Nick I told him what I hadn’t told anyone yet about how Nick was killed and that I hadn’t told my wife and kids,” Michael told StoryCorps. His friend encouraged him to tell his family and an hour after he told them the video of Nick’s execution was broadcast on the Internet.
“To know Nick was to know a unique individual, a real one-of-a-kind person who was a creative genius and wanted to harness that creative genius to help whoever was in need,” said Michael.
Amongst many inventions, in high school Berg created a device for his grandmother to wear around her neck to alert his grandfather in case she fell. It used a motion sensing and position sensing switch together to sense a "fall" which would involve acceleration and quick arrest combined with a position change. This then broadcasted a signal to make the home's doorbell sound.
Similarities seen in both beheadings
There are similarities in Foley’s and Berg’s deaths. Both men were wearing an orange jumpsuit, a standard military clothing issue for men in custody, similar to what is worn by prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.
News reports state that Foley’s killing was prompted by the U.S.’s bombing runs over Iraq that killed many ISIS fighters. Berg’s execution was reportedly in response to the torture and death of Islamic prisoners in Abu Ghraib.
According to The New York Times, Berg often "worked at night on a tower in the neighborhood of Abu Ghraib."
In the decapitation videos the threatening messages to the west are the same: Be prepared for more of the same.
And conspiracy theorists are already littering the internet and airwaves with their knee-jerk analysis of Foley’s execution as they have done for years with the Berg video.
Some stark differences as well
At variance with both executions, the media will keep Foley’s life and death alive for years to come since it was the passing of a fellow journalist. Unfortunately, Berg is seldom, if ever, remembered by the press.
Sanitizing it by showing one frame of Foley on his knees before his death, the media treated the video of Foley’s beheading as a visceral piece of extremely disgusting terrorist propaganda and decided not to publish it
Social media also registered their concern. The video was originally posted on YouTube, which soon removed it, and disseminated on Twitter, which announced that it was suspending accounts “related to this graphic imagery.”
However, Berg’s execution video didn’t receive the same respect and major daily newspapers’ front pages showed pictures of al-Zarqawi’s knife at Berg’s throat and their online editions linked to a grainy matchbook-size, low-resolution video.
After its founding in 2005, YouTube allowed it to be uploaded thousands of times and it’s still available for viewing today.
Also, the Pentagon has revealed that dozens of U.S. Special Forces attempted to free Foley earlier this summer in a failed operation in Syria where he was being held.
In Berg’s case, although a U.S. State Department investigator looked into the tower tech’s disappearance, official government inquiries produced no leads and Berg's family had to hire a private investigator to see if he could be found.
Abu Rashid, a leader of the mujahedeen council in Fallujah, claimed in an interview in Le Nouvel Observateur, that he killed Berg only after the U.S. didn’t meet his demands.
“Moreover, I tried to negotiate an exchange of prisoners for Nick Berg, but the Americans rejected me. They're the ones who are really responsible for his death," Rashid said.
U.S. officials said that al-Zarqawi was identified as the man reading the manifesto in the Berg video and who participated in beheading him.
The Bush administration said those who beheaded Berg would be hunted down and brought to justice, and they put a $25 million price tag on al-Zarqawi’s head.
In June of 2006, American intelligence operations found that al-Zarqawi was hiding in an Iraqi safe house and an airstrike dropped two 500-pound bombs and killed him.
Berg’s father had described his son as a staunch supporter of President George Bush. Friends said Nick believed he could help rebuild Iraq "one radio tower at a time".
But Bush’s administration, presuming that Michael Berg would be an advocate for using whatever resources were necessary to end the Iraqi conflict, were troubled when he became an outspoken critic whose compassion to his son’s killers seemed incongruous with a father’s expected grief.
Michael Berg said he believes that his son’s captors fully understood what an extraordinary man Nick was and he blamed them “no more or less than the Bush administration.”
“I am sure that the one who wielded the knife felt Nick's breath on his hand and knew that he had a real human being there. I am sure that the others looked into my son's eyes and got at least a glimmer of what the rest of the world sees. And I am sure that these murderers, for just a brief moment, did not like what they were doing,” said Berg in an interview.
Berg questions the timing of the execution coinciding with senators grilling Pentagon officials and Donald Rumsfeld about the horrific prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib.
Nick Berg was attracted to the Hebrew concept of tikkun olam - repairing the world through social action.
In part, the process includes a general humanitarian feeling that if we help others, others will be there to help us, as was, sadly, not the case with Nick Berg.