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"Indeed, the rage of theorists to make constitutions a vehicle for the conveyance of their own crude, and visionary aphorisms of government, requires to be guarded against with the most unceasing vigilance."
     -- Joseph Story
     Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States
     Book III, § 1857.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Nick Berg, it appears, has been insufficiently dissected.

When I watched the video, my general sense was, "Something is wrong, here." And I don't mean the obvious. It was a really clumsy patch job. We see shots of Berg alone against a wall, and of Berg with the five terrorists behind him; in the shots with the terrorists, he is in different postures, but we never see him moving. The sound, though it has no synchrony at all with the video, runs pretty much continuously over these discontinuous stills, right up until just before "God is great!" and the scream, but is patched together from fragments, together with the odd silence, from that point on. I say odd, because, before the murder, there is a constant background hum from the videocamera's motors, but during and after the murder it, shall we say, cuts in and out. Also, I would not suspect the director of this fetid production of any delicacy or restraint, and yet there are too many gory bits edited out of the murder itself, details said director would have been desperate to salvage from the, errr, cutting room floor, if he had any choice in the matter. The body finally shown getting its cervical vertebrae sawn has been dead for a while; the death itself is nowhere. Why?

Thus much for what the terrorists put on the tape. What about Berg himself? He did not look at all frightened, or even concerned, to me. He did not react at all to what was going on around him; he had no reaction, either considered or reflexive, even when he was shoved to the floor; he sat unmoving -- though in several postures -- through the whole inept prelude, with a single expression stuck to his face throughout. And that expression did not ring true. My first impression was, he was trying desperately not to burst into tears, which is perfectly understandable. Five minutes of same ol' same ol', though, distributed over all the takes that obviously went into this production, along with the complete absence of any nervousness, tension, or fear, all took their toll on that impression, and it began to look more and more like some sappy amateur-theatrical attempt at a "penitent" appearance.

Then we have the wholly disgraceful curtain-chewing performance of his family since his murder, which speaks volumes about the Berg moral atmosphere. We also have the remarkable coincidence of his prior linkage with Zacarias Moussaoui, and some strange behavior in Iraq when he was running around free.

I don't want to read much into Berg's behavior on the video. It's too far removed from my experience -- and, we may continue to hope, from everyone else's -- for the general "phoniness" feel of it to be anything more than a first impression, and I have no confidence in it. We have all these other things, though, and, while they do nothing to confirm that impression, they dish up a lot of collateral support, and there is nothing, really, to urge against it, other than the general disposition to put the best possible face upon the acts of one who cannot defend himself. Along those lines, though, we can also explain Berg's behavior -- well, lack thereof -- on that video, with more credit to himself, by the not-at-all-outlandish supposition that his captors had drugged him to just this side of insensibility. It doesn't explain his other strange behavior while roaming around Iraq, but it sure as hell answers what his eyes looked like on that video. And we can note the unbelievable assholes he had by way of family without that fact impeaching him.

So here are the possibilities. Either Nick Berg was an innocent who got shoved onstage, intoxicated and against his will, for a bit part in a script he didn't understand, or he was a willing participant in all but the final Hitchcock twist. I regret to say, all the circumstances incline me toward the latter view: that Berg was, as Rachel Corrie was, a useful idiot, and he said or did something during his murder that revealed the betrayals -- his captors' of him, and his of us -- which is why most of it didn't make the cut.

But I would be happy to be wrong.

-- posted by Clayton 5/26/2004 07:22:00 PM

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