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Over three thousand people militantly marched through London on Saturday, May 22, in an emergency demonstration to take a stand of outrage against the war crimes and torture in Iraq by the US-British occupying forces, and to demand that the occupation cease immediately. The demonstration, organised by the Stop the War Coalition, CND and the Muslim Association of Britain, and called with only eight days notice, represented the outrage and deep revulsion of the anti-war movement amongst the people at the crimes being perpetrated in the name of "liberation".
The protest assembled at Embankment before marching on to Trafalgar Square through Parliament Square and Whitehall. The packed and vibrant assembly represented both the unity of the peoples movement against the affront to human dignity and international lawlessness of Anglo-US imperialism, and the potential for everyone present to become such leaders that will give rise to an anti-war government and put an end to aggression and force as abhorred methods of conduct between states and peoples. Leading the protest was the Theatre of War group, graphically acting out the crimes of torture of the occupying armed forces in such prisons as Abu Ghraib. It was the Theatre of War who had constructed the tall statue of George W Bush that was pulled down in Trafalgar Square when the US imperialist chieftain visited Britain. The whole demonstration stopped opposite Downing Street to denounce the crimes of the British government.
Many speeches were given at the rally at Trafalgar Square, including CND vice-president Bruce Kent, Betty Hunter of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition convener Lindsey German, London Mayor Ken Livingstone, Respect MP George Galloway, and Tony Benn, who recalled standing in the same spot nearly 50 years ago at a protest against Britains aggression against Egypt over Suez. Of particular note was the moving message which was read out from the father of Nick Berg, executed in Ira.
After the rally, many protesters marched on to Downing Street to once again demand justice and freedom for the Palestinians and an end to Israels brutal US-backed occupation.
This message from Michael Berg of May 16, 2004, was be read out to the Emergency Demonstration on Saturday, May 22.
To: The Stop the War Coalition
When I read your generous offer to come speak at the Coalition Rally a heart that was overflowing with sorrow knew that it was being offered a receptacle to receive some of that overflow. People who know me, ask me how I can stand in front of a TV camera and know that I am speaking to the people of the world. Seven weeks ago I would not have been able to do so. But seven weeks ago there was no need to do so, and the world was not flooding me with mail, email and phone calls and pouring into me the strength I needed.
When I eulogised my son, Nick, I said that he was my teacher and my hero. He was the kindest, gentlest, man I know, no, the kindest, gentlest human being I know or have ever known. Did you know that he quit the Boy Scouts of America because they wanted to teach him to fire a hand gun ironically, at Dover Air Force Base the place that Nick was returned to? Nick too poured into me the strength I needed and still need to tell the world about him and to send out his message of peace and brotherhood with the family he shared made up of the people of the world.
People ask me why I focus on putting the blame for my sons tragic and atrocious end on the Bush Administration. They ask: "Dont you blame the five men who killed him?" I have answered that I blame them no more or less than the Bush Administration, but I am wrong: I am sure, knowing my son, that somewhere during their association with him these men became aware of what an extraordinary man my son was. I take comfort in the fact that when they did the awful thing they did, they werent quite as in to it as they might have been. I am sure that they came to admire him. I am sure that the one who wielded the knife felt Nicks breath upon his hand and knew that he had a real human being there. I am sure that the others looked into my sons eyes and got at least just 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.
But George Bush never looked into my sons eyes. George Bush doesnt know my son, Nick. And he is the worse for it. George Bush, though a father himself cannot feel my pain nor that of my family or the world who grieve for Nick because he is a policy maker, and he doesnt have to bare the consequences of his acts. George Bush can see neither the heart of Nicholas nor the American People yet alone the people his policies are killing daily. Donald Rumsfeld said that he took the responsibility for the sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners. How could he take that responsibility when there was no consequence. Nick took the consequences of the policies both stated and given with a wink and a nod by the Bush administration. And I cant stand even more than those murderers who took my sons life, those who sit and make policies to end lives and break the lives of the still living.
Nick was not in the military, but he was a soldier. He had the discipline and dedication of a soldier. But Nick Berg was a soldier of peace in Iraq to help the people without any expectation of personal gain. The trouble was he was only one man, but through his death he has become many. The spirit, the truly unselfish spirit of giving your all to do what you know in your own heart is right even when you know it may be dangerous, this spirit has spread among the people who knew Nick, and that group has spread and is spreading all over the world even as I write these words For all of the soldiers and family of soldiers in Iraq on either side who believe they were in Iraq working for peace, I say: Nick is your brother. Nick was there to help win the peace not only by helping to rebuild what was torn down, but by spreading his message of peace and love.
So what were we to do when we in America were attacked on September 11, that infamous day? I say we should have done then what we never did before: Stop speaking to the people we labelled our enemies and start listening to them. Stop giving preconditions to our peaceful coexistence on this small planet, and start honouring and respecting every humans need to live free and autonomously, to truly respect the sovereignty of every state whether it be Israel, or Palestine, or Iraq. To stop making up rules by which others must live and then separate rules for ourselves.
We all know now that the controls for the weapons of mass destruction are in the White House. And George Bush has used a few of those weapons on the world. His ineffective leadership is a weapon of mass destruction and it has allowed a chain reaction of events that lead to the unlawful detention of my son. Yes it was the US government under whose authority my son was held. No one believes the Iraqi Police control the American FBI and Military, Mr Bush. That detention immersed my son in a world of escalated violence which were it not for his detention would have had him in my arms again. That detention held him in Iraq not only until the atrocities that lead to the siege of Fallujah, but to the revelation of the atrocities committed in the jails in Iraq in retaliation for which my sons wonderful life was put to an end.
My sons life was put to an end, but his work still goes on. Where there was one peacemaker before I now see and have heard from thousands of peacemakers. And for every one of them there are thousands more who cant find the words but feel the same way. Nick Berg was a man who acted on his beliefs. We the people of this world now need to act on our beliefs. We need to let the evildoers on both sides of the Atlantic know that we are fed up with war. We are fed up with the killing and bombing and maiming of innocent people. We are fed up with the lies from our government about Nicks detention and we are fed up with the lies from our government about the reasons for this war. Yes, we are fed up with the suicide bombers, and with the failure of the Israelis and Palestinians to find a way to stop killing each other. We are fed up with negotiations and peace conferences that are entered into on both sides with preset conditions that preclude the outcome of peace. We want world peace now!!!
What is it, I have to ask, that our leaders and the leaders of the world are afraid they will lose that is any more valuable than PEACE? Many people have offered to pray for Nick and my family. I appreciate their thoughts, but I ask them to include in their prayers a prayer for peace. I ask them to do more than pray. I ask them to demand PEACE NOW! from the politicians and leaders in the white house and in the state houses across the world and in the mountain camps where they may hide. Let the politicians know that you want PEACE NOW! And let them know that if you dont get it, they arent going to work for you as their leaders any more. DEMAND PEACE NOW! DEMAND PEACE NOW! PEACE NOW! PEACE NOW! PEACE NOW!
by Ritt Goldstein, Asia Times Online, May 22, 2004
American businessman Nicholas Berg's body was found on May 8 near a Baghdad overpass; a video of his supposed decapitation death by knife appeared on an alleged al-Qaida-linked website (www.al-ansar.biz) on May 11. But according to what both a leading surgical authority and a noted forensic death expert separately told Asia Times Online, the video depicting the decapitation appears to have been staged.
"I certainly would need to be convinced it [the decapitation video] was authentic," Dr John Simpson, executive director for surgical affairs at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, said from New Zealand. Echoing Dr Simpson's criticism, when this journalist asked forensic death expert Jon Nordby, PhD and fellow of the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators, whether he believed the Berg decapitation video had been "staged", Nordby replied: "Yes, I think that's the best explanation of it."
Questions of when the video's footage was taken, and the time elapsed between the shooting of the video's segments, were raised by both experts, reflecting a portion of the broader and ongoing video controversy. Nordby, speaking to Asia Times Online from Washington state, noted: "We don't know how much time wasn't filmed," adding that "there's no way of knowing whether ... footage is contemporaneous with the footage that follows".
While the circumstances surrounding both the video and Nick Berg's last days have been the source of substantive speculation, both Simpson and Nordby perceived it as highly probable that Berg had died some time prior to his decapitation. A factor in this was an apparent lack of the "massive" arterial bleeding such an act initiates.
"I would have thought that all the people in the vicinity would have been covered in blood, in a matter of seconds ... if it was genuine," said Simpson. Notably, the act's perpetrators appeared far from so. And separately Nordby observed: "I think that by the time they're ... on his head, he's already dead."
Providing another basis for their findings, in the course of such an assault, an individual's autonomic nervous system would react, typically doing so strongly, with the body shaking and jerking accordingly. And while Nordby noted that "they rotated and moved the head", shifting vertebrae that should have initiated such actions, Simpson said he "certainly didn't perceive any movements at all" in response to such efforts.
During the period when Berg's captors filmed the decapitation sequence, circumstances indicate that he had already been dead "a quite uncertain length of time, but more than ... however long the beheading took", Simpson stated. Both Simpson and Nordby also noted the difficulty in providing analysis based on the video, the inherent limitations presented by this. But both also felt that Berg had seemed drugged.
A particularly significant point in the video sequence occurred as Berg's captors attacked him, bringing the supposedly fatal knife to bear. "The way that they pulled him over, they could have used a dummy at that point," reflected Simpson regarding what the video portrayed. Separately, Nordby said Berg does not "appear to register any sort of surprise or any change in his facial expression when he's grabbed and twisted over, and they start to bring this weapon into use".
Subsequently, Nordby said it was likely that the filming sequence was manipulated at the point immediately preceding this, allowing Berg's corpse to be used for the decapitation sequence. Nordby also emphasised that the video "raises more questions than it answers", with the most fundamental questions of "who are you, and how did you die", being impossible to answer from it. But broad speculation exists regarding a number of factors surrounding both Berg's death and the video, and its timing in regard to revelations of US prison atrocities.
In a May 13 article, the Arabic newsgroup Aljazeera reported that a Dubai-based Reuters journalist first broke the story, "but while Fox News, CNN and the BBC" were able to secure the video from the "Arabic-only website" that hosted it, Aljazeera was unable to locate it. And also on May 13, the Associated Press (AP) reported that the US Central Intelligence Agency had determined that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was the individual who beheaded Berg.
Since Secretary of State Colin Powell's United Nations presentation of
February 5, 2003, al-Zarqawi has been portrayed as the single most dangerous
element facing the Bush administration's "war on terror". Powell's UN
presentation has since been widely accepted as empty; nevertheless, al-Zarqawi
appears to have surpassed even Osama bin Laden as the administration's No 1
terror target. And on May 15, Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, the Coalition
Provisional Authority's chief Iraq military spokesman, declared that al-Zarqawi
will be eventually caught, though that may prove particularly difficult.
On March 4, Brigadier-General David Rodriguez of the Joint Chiefs of staff revealed that the Pentagon didn't have "direct evidence of whether he's [al-Zarqawi] alive or dead", providing commentary on the nature of prior "evidence" linking al-Zarqawi to attacks and bombings. But that same day, AP reported that an Iraqi resistance group claimed al-Zarqawi had been killed the April prior in the US bombing of northern Iraq.
Speaking off the record, intelligence community sources have previously said they believe it "very likely" that al-Zarqawi is indeed long dead. Such a fact makes al-Zarqawi's alleged killing of Berg difficult to reconcile, and there has been broad speculation that blaming al-Zarqawi is an administration ploy. Further anomalies surrounding Berg's death have fuelled added speculation.
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. However, the taking of hostages has occurred in the region, and beheadings are not unheard of.
According to a February 2003 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), on September 23, 2001, radical Islamists captured a group of 25 Kurdish fighters in the Iraqi village of Kheli Hama. "Some prisoners' throats had been slit, while others had been beheaded," HRW reported, noting that the television station KurdSat had broadcast pictures of the dead that September 26. The report also noted that a videotape "apparently filmed" by those committing the atrocities had been found.
The strict Islamist community in Iraq denied that the acts were committed by their people, stating that the incident was fabricated.
Additional reports of beheadings also exist, with the victims usually noted as killed with a bullet before the beheading occurs. But HRW's report also raised an issue that the Berg video's makers, and Berg's father, both raised: prisoner exchange.
HRW noted that Iraq's radical Islamists did pursue exchanges of captives, and the Berg video specifically noted that his captors claimed they were killing him as their attempts to exchange Berg had been rebuffed by US authorities. Berg's father, Michael, has pressed the administration of US President George W Bush as regards what the facts of this allegation are, with the administration denying any knowledge that such a trade was offered. And added questions still exist.
Because Iraq's radical Islamists speak in a particular manner, and live by a closely proscribed code, apparent contradictions between these ways and the way Berg's captors appeared has generated speculation. Some observers have speculated on the possibility that the individuals weren't native Arabic speakers. Conversely, it is reported that in Saudi Arabia, where Sharia law allows for beheadings in cases of severe crimes, the condemned is heavily drugged with tranquillisers prior to the execution, reportedly leaving them in a state similar to that which Berg appeared in during parts of the video.
Again, Nordby emphasised that the video "raises more questions than it answers".
Ritt Goldstein is an American investigative political journalist based in Stockholm. His work has appeared in broadsheets such as Australia's Sydney Morning Herald, Spain's El Mundo and Denmark's Politiken, as well as with the Inter Press Service (IPS), a global news agency.
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