Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday questioned the silence of Arab leaders over the beheading of U.S. civilian Nicholas Berg by al Qaeda terrorists.
“I wish I could explain that,” Mr. Powell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “There ought to be outrage. There is anger in the Arab world about some of our actions, but that is no excuse for any silence on the part of any Arab leader for this kind of murder.
“I would have liked to have seen a much higher level of outrage throughout the world, and especially the Arab world, for this kind of action,” he said, calling the videotaped killing “unacceptable in anyone’s religion, in anybody’s political system that is a political system based on any kind of understanding and respect of human rights.”
On the videotape of the killing, al Qaeda terrorists say the execution was in revenge for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the photos of which have dominated world press coverage and prompted international outrage, especially in the Middle East.
Mr. Powell said that the soldiers who engaged in mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib will be punished, “but what we saw with this horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible murder of Mr. Berg should be deplored throughout the world.”
Mr. Powell’s interview was marked by an abrupt false ending as the camera panned away from the secretary as interviewer Tim Russert began asking his last question.
The camera moved from Mr. Powell, seated at a seaside resort in Jordan, to a shot of the Dead Sea and some palm trees, as Mr. Russert launched into the question from his studio in Washington.
Mr. Russert said, “Finally, Mr. Secretary, in February of 2003, you placed your enormous personal credibility before the United Nations and laid out a case against Saddam Hussein, citing…” and stopped as the camera veered away from his subject.
An off-camera Mr. Powell said to an aide, “He’s still asking a question.”
The secretary then told Mr. Russert, “Tim, I’m sorry I lost you.”
Mr. Russert came back, “I don’t know who did that. I think that was one of your staff, Mr. Secretary,” adding: “I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
With the camera still showing the water, Mr. Powell said brusquely: “Emily, get out of the way.”
He then told the crew to “bring the camera back,” and invited Mr. Russert to proceed.
Mr. Russert said later on CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer” that Mr. Powell had called and apologized. The longtime NBC interviewer explained that he left the incident in when the taped interview aired, rather than editing it out, because he thought it was “unacceptable.”
“Now, this is someone paid by the U.S. taxpayers, trying to cut off an interview with an American journalist and the American secretary of state,” Mr. Russert said. “I’ve been in countries where staffers pull the plug on people. This is the United States of America. It really is unacceptable.”
NBC identified the aide as Emily Miller, a deputy press secretary.
The secretary of state was on several talk shows yesterday, and told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace that the Arab world should express the same level of outrage over the videotaped beheading as it has over Abu Ghraib.
In talking to Arab leaders, Mr. Powell said: “I’ve made it clear that this kind of behavior is unacceptable in any society, and when you are outraged at what happened at the prison, you should be equally, doubly outraged at what happened to Mr. Berg.
“Torture is torture is torture,” Mr. Powell said. “It is unacceptable. It is not the way you deal with human beings who are entrusted to your care by right of conquest or the fact that you have captured them.”
The secretary of state pointed out that the 26-year-old Mr. Berg was not a combatant, but rather a man “who was doing nothing but trying to find work in Iraq.”
Mr. Berg was buried near Philadelphia on Friday. His father, Michael Berg, blamed President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld for his son’s death.
Although press coverage and popular outage in the Arab world has been slight, several Arab states have denounced the beheading. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, said last week the terrorists “commit acts that violate the teachings of Islam, a noble religion that deplores such acts.”
Mr. Powell spent the weekend meeting with Arab leaders in Jordan at the World Economic Forum, addressing the situation in Iraq and the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.
Also yesterday, Mr. Powell reiterated the U.S. apology for the reports of mistreatment of the Iraqi prisoners at a press conference.
“The president has expressed an apology on behalf of the nation. I will reinforce that apology. We are devastated by what happened at Abu Ghraib. We apologize to those who were abused in such an awful manner,” Mr. Powell told reporters.
In his interviews yesterday, Mr. Powell acknowledged that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners has harmed U.S. standing in the Middle East.
“It has been damaging, there is no doubt about it,” he said. “People are disappointed in the United States. This is not consistent with our value system, and what I’ve been telling all of my audiences … is that this will be dealt with. Justice will be done.”
But he repeated on Fox News yesterday, by that same standard, the outrage against the killing of Mr. Berg should be equal or greater.
“We have international standards that have to be maintained, and those standards don’t just apply to the United States of America. They apply to all civilized countries — or countries claiming to be civilized.”