UPDATE: Berg family disputes official claims
Father: Government 'playing word games' about son's detention
By SEAN O'SULLIVAN
The West Chester businessman who was decapitated by Islamic extremists in Iraq declined a State Department offer to fly him out of the country the same day he disappeared, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
However, family and friends of Nick Berg, 26, questioned the role of U.S. forces in Berg's 13-day detention, which caused him to miss a scheduled flight home on March 30.
On Wednesday, coalition spokesman Dan Senor said Berg was held by Iraqi police and was "never under the jurisdiction ... of coalition forces."
U.S. State Department officials said a counselor officer met with Berg on April 10, several days after his release, and offered him a flight to Jordan. State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said Berg declined the offer "and informed the counselor officer that he planned to travel over land to Kuwait."
Berg's father, Michael, told the Associated Press his son refused the offer to board an outbound charter jet because he believed travel to the airport was too dangerous. American soldiers refer to the airport highway as "RPG Alley" because of frequent attacks by insurgents firing rocket-propelled grenades.
He also disputed claims that his son was never in U.S. custody. Michael Berg said officials were "playing word games."
"The Iraqi police do not tell the FBI what to do. The FBI tells the Iraqi police what to do. Who do they think they are kidding?" Berg said.
Military officials acknowledge the coalition is the ultimate authority in Iraq, including over the Iraqi police.
Berg apparently was captured by extremists around or after April 10. Staff at a Baghdad hotel said Berg stayed there for several days until April 10.
His body was found on a Baghdad overpass on May 8.
On Tuesday, a terrorist group believed to be associated with al Qaida and Osama bin Laden posted a video on the Internet showing Berg being decapitated by five masked men.
U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa., whose office had been working with the family to get Berg released, said he had trouble getting information from U.S. officials shortly after Berg was arrested in Iraq on March 24.
The State Department told his office that Berg needed to sign a release waiving his privacy rights before they could provide him with information, Gerlach said.
"That privacy release was not signed, so we could not find out a lot," he said.
"It was our understanding that he was being held by Iraqi police, but the Bergs have a strong feeling and belief that the FBI was involved in his custody and the FBI had some control or authority," Gerlach said.
The family stayed in seclusion Wednesday in their West Whiteland Township home where they continued to receive an outpouring of sympathy. A sign on a restaurant on U.S. 202 read, "God Bless Nick Berg" and there were several flower deliveries to the Berg house.
President Bush and coalition officials in Iraq expressed condolences Wednesday. Bush also condemned the execution.
"Nicholas Berg was an innocent civilian who was in Iraq to help build a free Iraq. There is no justification for the brutal execution of Nicholas Berg. No justification whatsoever," Bush said at the White House. "The actions of the terrorists who executed this man reminds us of the nature of the few people who want to stop the advance of freedom in Iraq."
Berg's body was sent Wednesday to Dover Air Force Base and later was transported to the Philadelphia funeral home Goldsteins' Rosenberg's Raphael-Sacks Inc.
Funeral home co-owner Carl Goldstein said following Jewish tradition, the burial would take place as soon as possible. The time and place of the burial was not released at the family's request.
A memorial service will be held Friday in West Chester.
Berg had traveled to Iraq on his own on March 14, expecting to work with an Iraqi firm, but the deal fell through. It was his second trip to Iraq.
According to coalition officials, Berg was arrested by Iraqi police in the Mosul area on March 24. "My understanding is that they suspected that he was involved in, engaged in, suspicious activities," Senor said.
U.S. officials were notified and the FBI visited with Berg in Iraqi custody on three occasions, ultimately determining that Berg was not involved in terrorist or criminal activities, Senor said.
Berg was released on April 6, the day violent uprisings erupted across Iraq that took the lives of 12 Marines, including 18-year-old Anthony Roberts of Glasgow. It also was one day after Berg's family filed a federal lawsuit against U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seeking his release.
Berg stopped e-mailing his parents three days later, on April 9.
"At this point I need to know more facts," Gerlach said. "If the U.S. had any control or authority, Nick should have been accorded all civil rights that any American citizen should have," he said.
"Why was he not given permission to make phone calls? To have counsel? Why was he detained for 13 days?" Gerlach asked.
A phone call and e-mails to Senor's Baghdad office were not returned Wednesday.
Gerlach said he is seeking information from several federal agencies.
In Baghdad, Senor condemned Berg's "grotesque and brutal murder" and told reporters that coalition officials are committed to "a thorough and robust investigation to get to the bottom of this."
==========================================E-Mails From U.S. Consulate to Bergs
Copyright © 2004, The Associated Press
May 13, 2004, 6:19 PM EDT
Text of e-mails from Beth A. Payne, a U.S. consular officer in Baghdad, to
members of the family of Nicholas Berg. Copies of the e-mails were provided to
The Associated Press by the Berg family.
March 31, 2004, 3:16 p.m.
I've been trying to return your wife's call, but the line is busy. I attempted
to locate your son without success. If I can locate him, I will ask him to call
so you know his situation.
April 1, 1:26 a.m. (To Michael Berg, Berg's father)
I have confirmed that your son, Nick, is being detained by the U.S. military in
Mosul. He is safe. He was picked up approximately one week ago. We will try to
obtain additional information regarding his detention and a contact person you
can communicate with directly.
April 1, 5:23 a.m. (To Suzanne Berg, Berg's mother)
I have been able to confirm that your son is being detained by the U.S.
military. I am attempting to identify a person with the U.S. military or FBI
here in Iraq who you can contact directly with your questions.
April 2, 1:25 p.m.
I have been trying to identify a local contact here, but given the security
situation in Iraq it is not easy. I will continue to try.
UPDATE: 12:45PM Central: Wed May 12, 2004 20:25
U.S. spokesman says decapitated American was never held by U.S. forces
posted by: Susan Wells (Web Producer)
Created: 5/12/2004 8:46 AM MDT - Updated: 5/12/2004 8:46 AM MDT
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - The young American who was shown being decapitated on a videotape posted by an al-Qaida-linked Web site was never under U.S. custody despite claims from his family, coalition spokesman Dan Senor said Wednesday.
Senor told reporters that Berg, 26, from West Chester, Pa., was detained by Iraqi police in Mosul. The Iraqis informed the Americans and the FBI met with Berg three times to determine what he was doing in Iraq.
Senor said that to his knowledge, "he (Berg) was at no time under the jurisdiction or detention of coalition forces."
However, calls by The Associated Press to police in Mosul failed to find anyone who could confirm Berg was held there.
Asked for details about Berg's last weeks in Iraq, Senor replied: "We are obviously trying to piece all this together, and there's a thorough investigation." But he said he was reluctant at this time to release details.
"The U.S. government is committed to a very thorough and robust investigation to get to the bottom of this," Senor said. "As I said, everybody is shocked by the horrific images of this terrorist act."
He said "multiple" U.S. agencies would be involved in the Berg case and that the FBI would probably have overall direction.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
BEHEADING OF NICK BERG
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