Land: Beheading underscores contrast between ‘civilized, uncivilized’ world

by Art Toalston & Tom Strode, posted Wednesday, May 12, 2004 (14 years ago)

WASHINGTON (BP)--Resolve to continue the battle for freedom in Iraq was voiced by numerous leaders after gruesome images were broadcast worldwide of a U.S. citizen’s beheading by five Islamic extremists.

Nick Berg, a telecommunications entrepreneur from suburban Philadelphia, was beheaded apparently on May 8 according to a videotape of his killing initially posted May 11 on an Al Qaeda-linked website. Berg, who was Jewish, was 26.

Berg formerly had done humanitarian work in Africa and was the son of a Philadelphia-area peace activist and retired teacher, Michael Berg. Whereas his father recently had signed a petition against the war, the son was described by friends and family as supporting President Bush’s effort to secure freedom in Iraq, local newspapers reported.

“This horrific, video-taped torture-murder is as graphic an example as we’re likely to find of the difference between the civilized world and the uncivilized world,” Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement to Baptist Press.

“This slaying was barbaric, and that it was perpetrated in the name of religion, any religion, is blasphemous,” Land said.

Said White House spokesman Scott McClellan: “Our thoughts and prayers are with [Berg’s] family.”

The videotape “shows the true nature of the enemies of freedom. They have no regard for the lives of innocent men, women and children," McClellan said.

“We will pursue those who are responsible and bring them to justice.”

Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., told reporters, “These people have no regard for humanity or any common decency, and that's why we've got to win in Iraq.”

Jim Gerlach, the congressman from Berg’s home district in Pennsylvania, visited the family for about an hour May 11 and subsequently held a news conference.

"This was a cruel and barbaric act, and there is no justification on God’s green earth as to why anybody would do this to another human being," Gerlach, a Republican, said.

Gerlach rejected statements by Berg’s killers that their action was in response to the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison.

"This is an attack upon civilization that cannot be condoned or understood or allowed in the future if human beings are to interact with one another," Gerlach said.

In a separate news release, Gerlach said, “This barbaric act has been perpetrated by cowards and thugs and our government must use every resource to hunt them down and bring them to justice."

Land noted, “The abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison was terrible, and like a civilized country, we are investigating and holding accountable all of those responsible.”

He added, “Our enemies glorify the torture-murder of a fellow human being and claim that it magnifies their God. This is a struggle between good and evil, between civilization and barbarism.”

In the videotape, Berg initially is shown sitting and bound on the floor in front of five masked, darkly clothed men. “My name is Nick Berg,” he said. “My father's name is Michael. My mother's name is Suzanne. I have a brother and sister, David and Sara. I live in ... Philadelphia."

One of the executioners, reading a statement, said, "For the mothers and wives of American soldiers, we tell you that we offered the U.S. administration to exchange this hostage for some of the detainees in Abu Ghraib and they refused.”

The executioner asked, "How can free Muslims sleep soundly as they see Islam being slaughtered, honor bleeding, photographs of shame and reports of Satanic degradation of the people of Islam, men and women, in Abu Ghraib prison?"

He stated, "So we tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls. You will not receive anything from us but coffins after coffins ... slaughtered in this way."

The executioner, in his statement, also addressed President Bush, declaring, "As for you Bush ... expect severe days. You and your troops will regret the day you stepped into the land of Iraq."

The videotape then shows Berg being pushed to his side, cringing and then screaming, as one of the assailants uses a large knife to sever his head. The executioners are seen repeating the phrase, "Allah Akbar!" ("God is Great”). The videotape also shows one of the men holding up Berg’s head for the video camera.

The executioners titled their tape, “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shown slaughtering an American.” Al-Zarqawi, an alleged associate of Osama bin Laden, is being sought by U.S. forces in connection with the onset of suicide bombings in Iraq and the 2002 assassination of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan.

Berg was a highly regarded 1996 graduate of Henderson High School in West Chester, Pa., who had a keen interest in science and had attended several universities.

Beheading also was the mode of videotaped execution of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who also was Jewish, at the hand of Islamic extremists in Pakistan in 2002.

Land, commenting further on the Abu Ghraib prison abuse, told Baptist Press, “The reason that the abuses at the prison in Baghdad have been such worldwide news is because these were American soldiers in an American prison facility. Would it have been news that this kind of abuse and much worse was going on in a Chinese prison or a North Korean prison? Hardly. Far worse goes on all the time, and we all know it.

“The United States has asked to be judged by a different standard, and we’re calling the rest of the world to that standard,” Land said. “What happened in the Baghdad prison was horrific, and the perpetrators should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law as far up the chain of command as it needs to go to get to those who were responsible or whose dereliction of duty led to these abuses.

“But let’s understand -– this is news, because we do behave differently. And we’re calling the world to the standard that we espouse and the standard that we normally practice, of which this is an aberration,” Land said.

He added, “The terrible abuses inflicted upon prisoners under American military control at the Abu Ghraib prison have unfairly besmirched the image of the vast majority of our military personnel who have served, and continue to serve, bravely and honorably both in the Middle East and around the world. The Baghdad prison scandal has also done enormous damage to our laudable and noble goal of trying to champion the cause of freedom and humanity as the right of every person in the world.”


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