Published January 14, 2015
The "enemies of freedom" who killed American Nick Berg (search) in Iraq will be brought to justice, the Bush administration has vowed.
President Bush told reporters on the White House lawn Wednesday that his condolences were with 26-year-old Berg's family, and reiterated that such terrorist attacks will not deter U.S. efforts in Iraq.
"I want to express my condolences to the family and friends of Nick Berg," said Bush. "Nick Berg was an innocent civilian who was in Iraq to help build a free Iraq. There is no justification for the brutal execution of Nick Berg. No justification whatsoever.
"The actions of the terrorists who executed this man remind us of the nature of the few people who want to stop the advance of freedom in Iraq."
Berg, of West Chester, Pa., was beheaded in a grisly video posted on an Al Qaeda-linked Web site. The masked men who butchered him said they were angry about coalition abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
Berg's body arrived at Dover Air Force Base (search ) in Delaware on Wednesday afternoon. His body was found near a highway overpass in Baghdad on Saturday, the same day he was beheaded, U.S. officials said.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Berg family and their community," Dan Senor, spokesman for L. Paul Bremer (search), the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, told reporters in Baghdad Wednesday. "Sometimes the finality of terrorist acts speaks for itself. I know there are images being broadcast … of Mr. Berg's grotesque and brutal murder, and this is clearly and tragically one of those terrorist acts."
Berg's killers pushed him to the floor, severed his head and held it up for the camera on the video posted Tuesday. The video was titled "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi shown slaughtering an American," referring to an associate of Usama bin Laden (search) who U.S. officials believe is behind a wave of homicide bombings in Iraq.
It was unclear whether al-Zarqawi was shown in the video or simply ordered the execution. Al-Zarqawi is also sought in the assassination of a U.S. diplomat in Jordan in 2002. The United States has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his capture or killing.
Berg had been warned to leave Iraq but refused, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
Michael Berg said he blamed the U.S. government for creating circumstances that led to his son's death. He said if his son had not been detained for so long, he might have been able to leave the country before the violence worsened.
"I think a lot of people are fed up with the lack of civil rights this thing has caused," he said. "I don't think this administration is committed to democracy."
Senor said Wednesday that Berg registered with the U.S. consular affairs office in Iraq but had no affiliation with the coalition.
Senor told reporters that Berg was detained by Iraqi police in the northern Iraqi city of 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 or why.
"He was here of his own accord, he did not work for the Coalition Provisional Authority and we do not believe he worked for any Coalition Provisional Authority contractors," Senor said, adding that Berg said he entered Iraq through Jordan and was there for business purposes.
U.S. officials fear the savage killing might prompt more foreigners working on international reconstruction projects to flee the country.
Since the security situation deteriorated last month, about three out of 10 Americans and other non-Iraqis involved in reconstruction projects financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development (search) have fled Iraq, the USAID director Andrew Natsios told The Associated Press.
A coalition official called Berg's death a "real anomaly" because the overwhelming majority of Westerners here are working for international companies.
Outrage and Sadness
"I join with all Americans in condemning this horrific murder by this group of cowardly thugs," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Tuesday. "Such terrorist acts will not undermine our efforts to bring democracy to the people of Iraq."
Added House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas: "The image of these murderers is a shocking reminder of the people we're up against. They are not soldiers. They're monsters, they're terrorists, and we will not rest until every last one of them is in a cell or a cemetery.
"Nick Berg's murderers are going to pay -- them, their partners, their allies, their cells, their suppliers and their sponsor states," DeLay continued.
Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, added his voice to the outrage.
"The terrorists who committed this atrocity will not prevail, and America stands together against them," Kerry said.
Sen. John McCain, a former Vietnam POW, linked the symbolism of Berg's execution with the deaths on March 31 of four U.S. contractors who were ambushed in Fallujah and whose charred bodies were hung from a bridge.
"This kind of treatment, including the death and mutilation of four other Americans, reinforces our commitment to making sure the people of Iraq are rid of these kinds of barbaric disgraceful human beings," said McCain, R-Ariz.
Some lawmakers and others wondered why the rest of the world has not expressed more outrage at Berg's killing.
"It's very troubling there's not outrage about the cold-blooded murder of this American," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Me., told Fox News on Wednesday, adding that the killing is "another example of how the terrorists will go to any lengths."
The horrific pictures of Berg's killing should be a rallying cry for efforts in Iraq, some Democrats said.
"Certainly there's a lot of outrage in the United States. I can't speak for people around the world," Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. While "there is some legitimate outrage about what happened in the prisons … this probably will galvanize public opinion in favor of the war effort."
Last Contact From Berg Came April 9
According to his family, Berg, a small telecommunications business owner, spoke to his parents on March 24 and told them he would return home on March 30. But he was detained by Iraqi police at a checkpoint in Mosul on March 24.
Berg was turned over to U.S. officials and detained for 13 days, his family said. His father, Michael, said his son wasn't allowed to make phone calls or contact a lawyer. On April 5, the Bergs filed suit in federal court in Philadelphia, contending that their son was being held illegally by the U.S. military. The next day Berg was released. He told his parents he hadn't been mistreated.
His family last heard from him April 9 but it was unclear when and where he was abducted.
Berg's family said they were informed by the State Department on Monday that he was found dead.
"I knew he was decapitated before," Michael Berg said. "That manner is preferable to a long and torturous death. But I didn't want it to become public."
The decapitation recalled the kidnapping and videotaped beheading of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002 in Pakistan. Four Islamic militants have been convicted of kidnapping Pearl, but seven suspects -- including those who allegedly slit his throat -- remain at large.
In the video of Berg, the executioners said they had tried to trade him for prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Seven U.S. soldiers face charges in the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in a scandal that has sparked worldwide outrage. One of those soldiers faces a court-martial in Baghdad next week, the first to go to trial.
Fox News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.