Tuesday, July 20, 2004


We return, once more, to the enigmas surrounding the hostages taken in the Middle East, where orange prison suits are as plentiful as botox in Beverly Hills. Many have felt that the Nick Berg controversy would go away after the deaths of Paul Johnson and Kim Sun-Il, but the bizarre Hassoun affair has once more perfumed the air with paranoia.

The incredibly sad Paul Johnson affair, which even the die-hard conspiracists tend to take at face value, nevertheless contains bafflements. For example, where's the body? We were originally told that Saudi cops killed the perpetrators, who were observed dumping the body. Later reports held that the body was never found. Which is it?

Australian journalist Nick Possum -- whose real name may or may not be Gavin Gatenby -- has, as many of you will know, been looking into the Berg controversy. You will want to read his latest piece, which is quite persuasive. While I'm not sure I agree with Gavin, he makes an intelligent, hard-to-refute argument that the Berg video was shot in Abu Ghraib prison, and that the uniform he wore was indeed an American-style prison costume.

I should also point out that Michael Berg (Nick's father) now claims that the family is being "stonewalled" in their attempts to investigate what Nick was doing in Iraq before the abduction.

On an Alternet forum, I brought up my previous posting on the Berg and Hassoun matters. Gavin had this reply which (with his permission) I would like to share:

Joseph: I think it'd be wrong to look for a common thread in all of the
kidnappings and executions. I remain about 99 per cent sure that Berg was a
black op, and I will have something new up on it Real Soon Now (yeah I know
I've been saying that for a while, but it's coming).

Before Berg the only similar thing was Pearl. That was undoubtedly a genuine
Islamist job, but we have to say also that the al-Q-type Islamists undoubtedly
have agents in the Paki secret police as well as vice versa. Also the evidence
is that Pearl was shot in the heart before being beheaded. Pearl wasn't
dressed in orange prison garb (Berg wasn't wearing generic orange coveralls
or "jumpsuit", he was wearing a genuine two-piece prison uniform).

Okay then there was Berg, with his weird connections, time in clink, the weird
editing, two apparent cameras, etc, etc, etc. Everything screams "psyops". But
I still think it most likely he died of overinterrogation. We know more about the
Berg case than anything since because if was the team's first job and they
were inexperienced and stuffed up a lot of stuff which gave us a window.

Johnson: He was an aircraft weapons mechanic. The orange jumpsuit might
have been what he wore to work. They all wear those things, and these days
they're often orange. Also the way that video leaked out, it could well have
been manipulated by a psyops team before being passed on to the media.
Easily possible. The alleged perpetrators were all shot, so they couldn't talk.
And the body was never found. We never found out anything interesting about
Johnson. For all we know the Saudis might have decided he'd transgressed
their notoriously strict rules in some way and decided to behead him
unofficially rather than officially.

Where the Saudi spooks, police, MI, etc, end and the Wahabist al-Q types
begin is anybody's guess! The two sides would have penetrated each other
so thoroughly they probably don't know themselves, from one day to the next,
which side they're on.

Kim Sun Il: Young Kim was as weird as Berg and again we know little in
detail. Here's a young Korean Christian who's working for a company that
supplies the US Army so presumably he gets to come and go inside the
bases and he wanders around Fallujah talking theology with the locals. I
mean either side could have decided on that basis that he was a real
problem. Then we learn he disappeared three weeks before he was first
reported missing in the press and his boss met with the Korean consul four
times and never said "Oh, by the way, young Kim's gone missing". There's
said to be a videotape that looks like the first two shots in the Berg video, in
which Kim freely expresses his support for the resistance. Hmmm. We haven't
seen that. No doubt most of the discussion is in Korean. And the stills from the
video I've seen look like they were set up to rescue the authenticity of the Berg

Then there was the young American soldier the resistance had been holding
since about the time Berg went missing. Finally they just shot him. Nothing
flamboyant. Not "Zarqawi". Looks totally genuine.

Since then there have been a few ransomed (undoubtedly genuine) and a
few just let go. The three Turkish truck drivers could well have been a psyops
job aimed at boosting the US while Powell (or was it Bush himself) was in
Turkey. Interestingly they were released when they promised to be good.
Unlike the others there was absolutely nothing suspicious about them (unlike
Berg, Johnson and Sun Il. Just truck drivers. If it was a black ops job, I'm sure
the black ops boys would prefer not to kill people who are totally innocent (we
all have standards) so they let them go.

Hassoun: gee, that's anybody's guess. Here's a very young bloke who's an
Arab and a translator. Most locals would have loathed him and his Marine
comrades (none of whom knows what he's saying when he talks to the locals)
would certainly have been highly suspicious. For all we know he could have
been used as the bait in an ambush set for the resistance. He could have
been pulled by MI or the CIA because they thought they had evidence on him.
You could write any number of airport bookshop novels on this one. Dunno.

The Kill Zarqawi Vigilantes: The US media reported that these masked guys
(videotape to al Jazeerah) said they were incensed that Zarqawi was killing
innocent Iraqis and trying to kill Allawi. The rest of the world media didn't say they included Allawi. Fascinating. Lots of Iraqi tendencies ranging from the
Baathists to al-Sadr say Zarqawi is a US front. Fascinating. These guys look
like resistance to me.

Which brings us to the Bulgarians and the Phillipino. Too early to tell.

The irony is that the black ops boys might unwittingly have started the fashion
for beheading people wearing orange "jumpsuits".

Sefton Delmar, who ran a big chunk of Britain's black ops during WWII called
his account of his exploits Black Boomerang, "precisely because the
techniques of psychological warfare were inclined to turn back on the
propagandist" (that's Muriel Spark, who was his secretary).

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