I've been both horrified and fascinated by the conspiracy theories surrounding the Berg beheading video. Kuro5hin has a reasonably level-headed roundup of discrepancies, found via jwz. See also this MetaFilter thread. I'm gonna go all meta, but what I find interesting is what the speculation says about ourselves.

The foremost reaction I think most people had when seeing this video was complete disgust, horror, and sadness. It's an awful thing. I find it both fascinating and hideous that people seeing the video immediately went below the surface view to look for discrepancies, evidence that there was something more here than what was presented. And making detailed comments, like the style of the plastic chair or the presence of a ring on someone's hand. As if to ignore the primary image, a man's head being sawed off by a large knife.

I'm also interested in how quickly some Americans are willing to believe that this video is not real, that it was staged by some pro-US faction. I don't fully trust my government either. I'm still surprised that someone didn't just plant WMD evidence in Iraq. But somehow this video seems to go too far. Can I really believe my country would stage this?

The detailed examination of evidence is interesting. As soon as you look at something like this closely, all sorts of weirdnesses pop out. The jumping timecodes and the out-of-sync audio are technical discrepancies. The lack of blood and movement makes the beheading look strange (although what would a normal beheading look like?!) And the story is odd too, Berg's being held by Iraq and/or the US, the coincidence of Berg and Moussaoui.

The final thing that intrigues me is that if you believe that all these discrepancies point to deception, then you have to believe the deceivers had the power to set this up and yet were so incompetent as to not even get basic things like video timestamps and people's accents right. How can that be?

I am awed at the power of the brutality of this video and ashamed at my own fascination with the speculation surrounding this poor man's death. This conspiracy analysis is a way to intellectualize a tragic event, to replace basic sadness and horror at a man being brutally killed with some clever made-for-TV conspiracy plot.

But then again, this event is a crucial happening in a crucial time. Governments have done worse things to protect their positions. Perhaps all these discrepancies do add up to something. How will we ever know?

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

  2004-05-17 15:21 Z