Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Still more Nick Berg weirdness


U.S. Denies Holding Beheading Victim


An American civilian who was beheaded in a grisly video posted on an al-Qaeda-linked Web site was never in U.S. custody despite claims from his family, a coalition spokesman said Wednesday.

Senor said that to his knowledge Berg "was at no time under the jurisdiction or detention of coalition forces."

Michael Berg told The Associated Press, however, that U.S. officials were "playing word games."

"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?" the elder Berg said.

Calls by the AP to police in Mosul failed to find anyone who could confirm Berg was held there. The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority runs Iraq, controlling not only the police, but the military and all government ministries.

FBI agents visited Berg's parents March 31 and told the family they were trying to confirm their son's identity.

On April 5, the Bergs filed suit in federal court in Philadelphia, contending their son was being held illegally by the U.S. military. The next day, Berg was released. He told his parents he had not been mistreated.

Berg's father blamed the U.S. government for creating circumstances that led to his son's death, saying if his son had not been detained for so long, he might have been able to leave Iraq before the violence worsened.

"I think a lot of people are fed up with the lack of civil rights this thing has caused," Michael Berg said. "I don't think this administration is committed to democracy."

Asked for details about Berg's last weeks in Iraq, Senor replied: "We are obviously trying to piece all this together, and there's a thorough investigation." He said he was reluctant to release details but did not say why.

"The U.S. government is committed to a very thorough and robust investigation to get to the bottom of this," Senor said, adding that "multiple" U.S. agencies would be involved and that the FBI would probably have overall direction.

Senor said that in Iraq, Berg had no affiliation with the U.S. government, the coalition or "to my knowledge" any coalition-affiliated contractor. But Senor would not specify why Iraqi police, who generally take direction from coalition authorities, had arrested him and held him.

Police in Mosul "suspected that he was engaged in suspicious activities," Senor said, refusing to elaborate. Berg was released April 6 and advised to leave the country, Senor added.

Michael Berg said that in early April, his son refused a U.S. offer to board an outbound charter flight because he thought the travel to the airport - through an area where attacks had occurred - was too risky.

State Department spokeswoman Kelly Shannon said that on April 10, Berg told a U.S. consular officer in Baghdad that he wanted instead to travel to Kuwait on his own.

Berg apparently had an Iraqi in-law in the Mosul area, according to emails to his family.

Brig. Gen Mark Kimmitt said the only role the U.S. military played in Berg's confinement was to liaise with the Iraqi police to make sure he was being fed and properly treated because "he was still an American citizen."


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