By Chris Floyd
Published: June 16, 2006
After last week's killing of terrorist chieftain Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (or someone just like him) in Iraq, remembrances of his most celebrated alleged victim surfaced briefly in the press: Nicholas Berg, the young American businessman whose horrific beheading was publicized in a video fortuitously released a few days after the first revelations of torture by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib.
**seems that Al Z guy is always around right when the US needs him to get something ghastly off the front page. First Abu Ghraib and now Haditha. How convenient.**
It was this video -- which featured five surprisingly chubby terrorists, masked, one wearing a gold ring forbidden by extremist Islam, another reading in halting Arabic -- that made Zarqawi the Pentagon poster boy for the insurgency. Pentagon documents unearthed by The Washington Post this April revealed that the elevation of Zarqawi's profile was a deliberate, multimillion-dollar propaganda campaign aimed at the U.S. people to foment the lie that the insurgency was largely an al-Qaida terrorist operation, not a native rebellion against the occupation. As one Pentagon general put it: "The Zarqawi Psy-Op program is the most successful information campaign to date." One can only hope that the timely beheading of Nicholas Berg was not part of this "information campaign."
Of course, Zarqawi was a Bush tool from the beginning. Before the war, his two-bit terrorist group -- operating in the Kurdish-held Iraqi north, where Saddam had no power -- was targeted for destruction by U.S. forces. But the White House canceled the strike three times, the Atlantic reports, because it would have interfered with that earlier psy-ops attack on the U.S. people: selling the Iraq invasion. The war-peddlers needed Zarqawi to "prove" the nonexistent link between Saddam and al-Qaida.
But despite the central role that Berg unwillingly played in the concoction of the Zarqawi legend, he was largely airbrushed from the lurid coverage of its grand finale. That's because any new story on Berg would naturally center around his most outspoken survivor, his father Michael. And Michael Berg is a man with a dangerous message, a radical subversion of every value that the Bush administration is fighting to preserve.
In many ways, of course, it's an ancient danger, a destabilizing notion that has threatened the guardians of civilization for thousands of years. Its advocates have always been relegated to the lunatic fringe, ignored and forgotten, except in rare cases when their subversion has taken hold, usually among the lower orders. In each such case, however, the civilized world has, like a healthy body, acted swiftly to remove the carriers of disorder. Still, in every generation the bacillus emerges once again, and Michael Berg, no doubt weakened by his grief, has become seriously infected.
It's no wonder, then, that his media appearances last week were so brief and circumscribed. For there he was, the father of a victim murdered in the most gruesome fashion imaginable by the terrorist Zarqawi (or someone just like him), a survivor fully entitled to exult in the revenging fury and violent self-righteousness that are among the chief values of the Bush imperium -- and all Berg could talk about was mercy and forgiveness. He would not even take pleasure in the death of Zarqawi, whom he called a "fellow human being." Instead, he grieved for Zarqawi's family and wished that the brutal killer could have been subjected to "restorative justice" -- made to work in a hospital with children maimed by war, for example -- setting him on a path where his human decency might have been restored.
Nor would Berg praise that guardian of civilization, President Bush, for finally ending the career of the terrorist he had used so cynically to justify aggressive war. Instead, Berg blamed Bush for unleashing mass death on the people of Iraq, and instigating the cycle of violence that had consumed his son -- in murky circumstances. Just before his death, Nicholas Berg had been held by U.S. forces for 13 days without any charges or stated reason, missing his scheduled flight home; he was released only after his family filed a lawsuit charging illegal detention. Four days later, he disappeared again, into that dark maw where high politics and low murder feast on the same lies, the same flesh.
But even for the authors of war, for the state terrorists who kill on an industrial scale, Berg called for restoration, not revenge: They should be removed from power and compelled to some compassionate labor that might redeem their corrupted humanity.
It goes without saying that Berg's comments were instantly condemned throughout the vast engine of bile-driven groupthink known as the right-wing media. He was reviled as a traitor, a fool, a terrorist-lover, "less than human," a monster whose son will slap his face in the afterlife. He was derided for his quixotic congressional campaign as the Green Party candidate for Delaware: What place do such weapons of the weak -- mercy, forgiveness, nonviolence -- have in the halls of power? For the mainstream, he was just a blip, a quirky diversion in the flood of triumphant stories on Zarqawi's demise.
And to be sure, it is foolish to oppose the cherished values of our 21st-century civilization: violence, bluster, ignorance and fear. It's foolish to take upon oneself the responsibility to break the cycle of violence at last, to say, "Let it end with me, if nowhere else; let it end now, no matter what the provocation; let something new, something more human, some restoration take root in this bloodstained ground."
But what if such folly is the only way for humankind to begin climbing out of the festering pit we have made of the world?