The Dangerous Notions of Michael Berg

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Part I:
A Serviceable Villain and an Idealist Son

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
, the American businessman whose
horrific beheading
was publicized in a video fortuitously released
less than two weeks after the first revelations of U.S. torture
at Abu Ghraib.

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 American people to foment the lie that the
insurgency was largely an al Qaeda terrorist operation, not a native
rebellion against the occupation. As one Pentagon general told a
group of deception commandos: "The Zarqawi Psy-Op program is
the most successful information campaign to date."

Zarqawi –
a Jordanian thug who, like so many others, had been radicalized
by the American-backed anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan – was
a White House tool from the beginning. Before the war, his two-bit
terrorist wannabe organization in the Kurdish-held Iraqi north had
been targeted for destruction by U.S. Special Forces. But
as the Atlantic Monthly reports
, George W. Bush prevented
at least three separate operations that would have eliminated the
Zarqawi group – because such a strike would have interfered
with that earlier psy-ops attack on the American people: the selling
of the Iraq invasion on false pretenses. Although Zarqawi’s gang
was in U.S.-controlled territory where Saddam had no power, the
Regime’s war-peddlers used it to "prove" the non-existent
link between Iraq and al Qaeda.

Spared by Bush,
Zarqawi proved a serviceable villain after the invasion, always
there to be blamed for a new terrorist spectacular whenever a spate
of bad war news hit the Homeland press – despite, once again,
being in the crosshairs of American forces on several occasions.
On at least three occasions in the past year, Jordanian intelligence
had pinpointed Zarqawi’s location in Iraq and passed the intelligence
to their close compadres in the American security organs; but every
time, the Americans somehow "arrived too late," as the
Atlantic reports.

However by
this spring, with no amount of psy-ops able to halt Bush’s plunge
in the polls – and with the horrific sectarian civil war unleashed
by Bush’s aggression eclipsing all other violence – the "Zarqawi
program" was obviously faltering: not enough PR bang for the
buck. And so they did his quietus make – not with a bare bodkin
but a thousand pounds of bombs: a little bit of "shock and
awe" to goose the news cycle. Bush could have stopped him long
ago; he could have spared the Iraqi people the ravages of his favored
freebooter; but he chose not to.

Who can say
if the beheading of Nicholas Berg – which made Zarqawi a "star"
and adroitly demonized the whole Iraqi resistance at such a critical
moment – was part of that "most successful information
campaign to date"? One can only hope not; one can only hope
that in this, as in so many other instances, the Bush Regime was
just lucky. After all, who can forget that incredible stroke of
good fortune on September 11, 2001 – just one year after a
group led by Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and Jeb Bush declared
that only a "new Pearl Harbor"
could "catalyze"
the American people into accepting their radical militarist program
of conquering Iraq, establishing bases in Central Asia, waging "pre-emptive"
wars, weaponizing space, gutting nuclear treaties, and larding the
war-related industries with pork beyond the dreams of avarice. As
Bush himself said
while the Twin Towers were still smoldering:
"Through my tears, I see opportunity."

Nicholas Berg,
on the other hand, was remarkably unlucky. More of an idealist than
a chest-thumping corporate predator like ex-CEOs Bush, Cheney and
Rumsfeld, Berg, 26, had developed a method for helping underdeveloped
areas build safe, affordable structures where steel is hard to come
by, as Wikipedia reports. Progress, not profit, was his motivating
force. He was also an idealist in another way: he believed in his
government. The president said Iraq had been liberated – "mission
accomplished" – and that American companies needed to
help the Iraqi people rebuild their land. Berg didn’t realize that
the president was a liar. Iraq had not been liberated but delivered
into a new hell. Mass deaths, house raids, airstrikes, societal
collapse and torture had spawned a fierce armed resistance. Bush’s
invasion had also loosed the most brutal, ignorant religious extremists
– like Zarqawi – to prey upon the land. Meanwhile, "reconstruction"
was a sick joke: it was just a pipeline for Bush cronies to drain
Iraq, and the U.S. Treasury, bone-dry.

Berg came alone:
no bodyguard of bristling mercenaries, no Halliburton subcontracts,
no Beltway cronies. Work was promised, but without that insider
grease, fell through. He decided to go home. Six days before his
scheduled departure, he was suddenly seized by Iraqi police and
over to U.S. forces
. For reasons still unclear, he was held
for 13 days – during which time the Abu Ghraib revelations
ignited the land, and the tinderbox of Fallujah exploded when four
mercenaries were killed in retaliation for the American shooting
of Iraqi protestors a few days before.

Berg was released
into this heightened turmoil one day after his family filed a lawsuit
against his illegal detention; he disappeared four days later. His
remains were found one month later near a Baghdad highway; the gruesome
video appeared three days after that. Abu Ghraib disappeared from
the front pages; it was not an issue in the presidential election
that year.

Zarqawi –
or "Zarqawi" – was the fake emblem of a fake war,
the "war on terror" that the Bush Regime is pretending
to fight while it goes about its long-planned business of exploiting
"opportunities" like 9/11. Nicholas Berg was no emblem;
he was just another human being literally ripped to shreds in that
dark maw where high politics and low murder feast on the same lies,
the same flesh.

Part II:
A Dangerous Man

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, down through the ages, 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

It’s no wonder,
then, that his media appearances last week were so brief and circumscribed.
For there he was, 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, peace and restoration. 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 the guardian of civilization, George W. Bush, for finally
ending the career of the terrorist he had used so cynically to justify
aggressive war. Instead, Berg blamed
for unleashing mass death on the people of Iraq, and instigating
the cycle of violence
that had consumed his son. But even for
the authors of war, for the state terrorists who kill on an industrial
scale, by remote control, ensconced in safety, comfort, privilege
and wealth, 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 rightwing 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, non-violence – 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?

16, 2006

Floyd, Global Eye columnist for the Moscow Times, is the
author of Empire
Burlesque: The Secret History of the Bush Regime

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