Contrary to the videotaped boasts of his killers, the gruesome beheading of 26-year-old Nicholas Berg had nothing to do with the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and everything to do with the barbaric, pathologically anti-Western nature of militant Islam.
In fact, Berg would have met the same sad fate if Abu Ghraib had never been built. That much was assured as soon as he fell into the hands of his captors.
Berg was killed because he was an American, plain and simple, and because Islamic terrorists are hell-bent on doing everything they can to hasten the departure of Coalition forces from Iraq. If that means exploiting the Abu Ghraib fiasco as rationale for their atrocities, so be it.
Berg's murder was not carried out in a moment of righteous anger that sought to avenge U.S. abuses of Arabs and Muslims, as the terrorists would have us believe. Rather, it was the latest in a long line of unspeakable acts committed by al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups for intimidation purposes and, disturbingly enough, for their own sick pleasure.
Indeed, while Abu Ghraib was an aberration for American troops and roundly condemned by everyone from President Bush to U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq, Berg's grisly execution was par for the course for Islamic terrorists.
How else to explain the 2002 slaying of Daniel Pearl, which, like Berg's killing, was captured on videotape? The 38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter, who was beheaded by al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan for the dual crimes of being an American and a Jew, occurred well before the images of naked Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib were shown around the clock on al-Jazeera.
And what about the countless beheadings perpetrated by the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group on non-Muslims over the past several years in the Philippines? The murders of American citizens Guillermo Sobrero (who was beheaded) and Martin Burnham in 2001 and 2002, respectively, by Abu Sayyaf guerillas were committed well before the U.S. invasion of Iraq last March.
There are also the scores of maimings and dismemberments — many of which are readily accessible for Internet viewing — that have been administered by Chechen Islamists on Russian troops in the course of their ongoing battles during the past decade. A good number of these atrocities took place when Abu Ghraib was still supervised by Saddam Hussein's Baathists (who, judging by recent media accounts, must have run a sandy social club compared to the hellhole overseen by the ruthless Americans).
In a similar vein, Tuesday, just hours before footage of Nicholas Berg's murder surfaced on the web, Hamas terrorists were photographed triumphantly displaying the remains of six Israeli troops who were killed by a roadside bomb in Gaza City.
But I suppose the celebration in Gaza was understandable, given the Hamas tradition of torturing suspected Israeli informants and dragging their bodies through the streets.
As the examples mentioned above show, the humane treatment of prisoners and hostages has never been high on Islamic terrorists' to-do list. However, this won't stop them from publicly citing the disgraceful actions of a small handful of U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib as justification for the slew of suicide bombings and torture sessions sure to await Western troops and civilians in Iraq in the coming days and weeks.
As more lurid details and photographs emerge revealing the treatment of Iraqi prisoners, the words "Abu Ghraib" will no doubt become the latest bogus excuse for Islamic terrorists to carry out attacks against non-Muslims, following previous favorites like the Jenin "massacre," the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan, and Iraq and the always-reliable Spanish reconquista of Al-Andalus.
Unfortunately, such a strategy will play right into the hands of the Blame America First crowd in the United States and abroad, who never hesitate to label any misfortune that befalls the U.S. as just punishment for its own past transgressions. The initial instinct among such people, when confronted with a horrific incident like Nicholas Berg's death, is to cut and run, rather than stand and fight.
This is precisely why Berg's slaying can also be seen as yet another volley in the psychological war being waged by al Qaeda and its ilk against the U.S. Indeed, the deeply disturbing image of a thoughtful young man from the Philadelphia suburbs being sadistically murdered by Islamo-fascists is not helpful in convincing those who were already wavering in their commitment to fight the Islamic terrorist threat. And the situation promises to only grow more precarious in the coming weeks.
With "Abu Ghraib" as their rallying cry, radical Islamists, particularly those in Iraq, will no doubt look to carry out further executions like the one visited upon Nicholas Berg. Their history — and their ideology — demand it.
Erick Stakelbeck is senior writer at the Investigative Project, a Washington, D.C.-based counterterrorism research institute.