The Memorial Day weekend is upon us. It’s time to take a break. We leave for ours with a
couple of reminders.
One is entertaining: Jon Stewart’s commencement
address a couple of weeks ago at his alma mater, The College of
William & Mary, where “roughly 13,000 people
packed into William and Mary Hall” to hear him. His advice to newly minted graduates was, as he
might say on “The Daily Show,” not unenlightening. “Thank you Mr. President,” he began,
after receiving an honorary doctorate. “I had forgotten how crushingly dull
these ceremonies are.”
The other reminder is frightening: See fellow ArtsJournal blogger Kyle Gann’s item from
yesterday, “Have We Been
Hoaxed?,” about the Nick Berg decapitation video.
There IS something fishy going on, no question in my mind. But what? The main conspiracy
theory going around is that the CIA (and other intelligence operatives?) made the video as
disinformation propaganda either to blame terrorists for Nick Berg’s death, which the CIA (and/or
the U.S. military) was itself responsible for — thus pulling off a horrific cover-up — or to take
attention away from the Abu Ghraib torture photos that were coming out at the time by showing
that the enemy was committing even more unspeakable acts against an American.
I don’t think “changing the subject” by itself would be a strong enough motive. But to the
extent that changing the subject and covering up a crime are not mutually exclusive (indeed would
reinforce each other), I wouldn’t put it past the CIA and/or other intelligence operatives to
activate such a diabolical scenario. (The CIA has come up with crazier, more nefarious schemes
Like millions of others, I let myself in for the misfortune of downloading the video. It was so
barbaric I failed to notice many of the discrepancies the conspiracy theorists, and some
professional observers with real expertise, have been pointing out. Two, however, struck
me at the time: 1) The beheading itself, so shameful to watch, looked somehow unreal (no rivers
of blood, etc.). 2) The time sequence, as noted on the video recording, was discontinuous. Later,
after reading various profiles of Nick Berg, I was also struck that the gaunt hostage with the
Lincolnesque beard in the video looked not at all like the round-faced, beardless Nick Berg I saw
in earlier photos of him.
But now that they’ve been pointed out to me, I don’t put much credence in the conpiracy
claims for these discrepancies: the terrorists looked too well-fed to be rough-and-ready
terrorists on the run; their hands looked too lily white; one of them is wearing American running
shoes (supposedly a no-no) and another is wearing a gold ring (devout Moslems wouldn’t do
that); you can’t see the prosthetic leg which the chief terrorist, Musab Al-Zarqawi, reportedly
wears; Zarqawi was reported dead in 2003; Berg’s blood-curdling scream was “probably” a
woman’s voice dubbed onto the video’s out-of-sync soundtrack; the entire soundtrack was dubbed
(so what?); the orange prison outfit Nick Berg was wearing and the white plastic patio chair he
was sitting in for part of the video match up with the outfit and chairs seen in the Abu Ghraib
torture photos (this does give pause).
The notion being touted by some that Berg was actually dead before he was beheaded
is not inconceivable. (Thus the lack of blood.) But that doesn’t mean the CIA killed him and faked
the video. The terrorists could have done that themselves. The notion that the hostage in the
video was not Berg seems hard to believe. You would think his family or his friends would have
noticed and said so. The notion that Berg might still be alive somewhere in captivity is also not
credible. Trouble is, I don’t know what to believe.
Postscript: How does this fit into the conspiracy theories? A Johnny-on-the-Spot
associate of Michael Moore interviewed Nick
Berg for “Fahrenheit 9/11,” but the footage never made it into