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2006-10-25

Green Politics: Anti-War House Candidate Michael Berg on His Debate Lock-Out in Delaware and How His Son’s Death in Iraq Led to His Candidacy

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We turn to Delaware and the race for the state’s one House seat. Green Party nominee Michael Berg is the father of Nicholas Berg, the 26-year-old American who was captured and beheaded in Iraq in May 2004. Michael Berg joins us to talk about his exclusion from the debates, and how his son’s murder influenced his decision to run for office. [includes rush transcript]

We turn to Delaware and the race for the state’s one House seat. Three challengers are vying to upset seven-term incumbent Republican Congressman, Mike Castle. Democratic candidate Dennis Spivack is up against Karen Hartley-Nagle, who is running as an Independent and Michael Berg, who is on the Green Party ticket. Michael Berg is the father of Nicholas Berg, the 26-year-old American who was captured and beheaded in Iraq in May 2004.

Last week a forum for the candidates was held at Brandywine High School in Wilmington Delaware. The forum was sponsored by the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred. Third party candidates were not invited. Well Michael Berg decided to attend the forum anyway. He climbed onto stage and took a seat. Forum moderator Harvey Rubenstein asked him to leave.

  • Footage of Delaware candidates’ forum.

Michael Berg was then escorted from the forum by a police officer. According to the Delaware News Journal, Rubenstien told the audience afterwards that the third party and independent candidates were not invited because "voters have traditionally stuck with the Republican and Democratic parties." He also said that including all candidates would have meant stretching the forum out for three or four hours. Michael Berg joins me now from a studio in Delaware.

  • Michael Berg. Green Party candidate for Congress in Delaware. He is the father of Nicholas Berg who was captured and beheaded in Iraq in May 2004.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Delaware and the race for the state’s one House seat. Three challengers are vying to upset seven-term incumbent Republican Congressmember Mike Castle. Democratic candidate Dennis Spivack is up against Karen Hartley-Nagle, who is running as an Independent, and Michael Berg, who is on the Green Party ticket. Michael Berg is the father of Nicholas Berg, the 26-year-old American who was captured and beheaded in Iraq in May 2004.

Last week, a forum for the candidates was held at Brandywine High School in Wilmington Delaware. The forum was sponsored by the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred. Third party candidates were not invited. Well, Michael Berg decided to attend the forum anyway. He climbed onto the stage and took a seat. Forum moderator Harvey Rubenstein asked him to leave.

HARVEY RUBENSTEIN: I’m asking you, Mr. Berg, to please leave the stage. If you want to make a spectacle of yourself, I understand that, but we’re ready to start.

MICHAEL BERG: I think you’re making a spectacle of democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Berg was then escorted from the forum by a police officer. According to the Delaware News Journal, Rubenstien told the audience afterwards the third party and independent candidates were not invited, because, quote, "voters have traditionally stuck with the Republican and Democratic parties." He also said that including all candidates would have meant stretching the forum out for three or four hours. Michael Berg joins us now from a studio in Delaware. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Michael Berg.

MICHAEL BERG: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, why don’t you further describe the scene? And for our radio listeners, you can go to our website and see the video of Michael Berg sitting on the stage and then being escorted out. Describe what happened.

MICHAEL BERG: Well, they did let Karen Hartley-Nagle and I come in and set up a display of campaign materials. All the other candidates got a whole table. They made us share a table. It kind of deminimizes [sic] us and makes us look small. Then people finally started filing into the auditorium, and I just decided that I was going to go up on the stage and sit down with them. So, I did. Mr. Rubenstein asked me to leave, and I just tried to bring it to the attention of the people in the audience that they were being deprived of hearing all four candidates.

Mr. Rubenstein’s comment in the paper that having all the candidates participate would have stretched it out to three or four hours was very misleading. There were only three candidates who were being deprived of being heard when their opponents were being heard. There were a whole list of other candidates, where no one in the office was being allowed to talk. That’s a different story. If the Democrat can’t talk, the Republican can’t talk, the Green and Independent can’t talk, that puts everyone on an even level. But when you say the Democrat can talk and the Republican can talk, but the Green and the Independent can’t, that, to me, is vote steering.

AMY GOODMAN: So what did you — as I look at the video, you put tape over your mouth?

MICHAEL BERG: That wasn’t tape. That was actually a bumper sticker that said, "Berg for Congress." I had done that before at the Jewish Community Center, and I just wanted people to realize that not only was I being gagged, but they were being prevented from hearing all of the candidates.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, your response to Mr. Rubenstein telling the audience that third party and independent candidates were not invited, because voters have traditionally stuck with the Republican and Democratic parties?

MICHAEL BERG: You know, it’s kind of a Catch-22. What they say is that there isn’t enough voter interest in us, but they won’t let the voters see us so that they can become interested in us. The whole thing is set up and run by Democrats and Republicans, and it keeps us out. Mike Castle had earlier indicated — he’s the Republican incumbent — he had earlier indicated that he thought that all candidates should be allowed to speak, and there was some possibility that he wasn’t going to go to any forum where they wouldn’t allow us to speak, but tonight he will debate Dennis Spivack, the Democrat, and Karen Hartley-Nagle and I will be barred from it.

AMY GOODMAN: Why are you running for Congress, Michael Berg?

MICHAEL BERG: I’m running for Congress to stop the war that stopped my son Nick. None of the other candidates, not even the Independent, Karen Hartley-Nagle, is willing to say, "If elected, I will support, vote for, and sponsor bills to end the war immediately." People want to let the war go on for three months or six months, but every three minutes, someone is dying. That’s according to the latest Johns Hopkins study. That’s too many for me.

My son Nick was killed the 91st day that he was in Iraq. And people want to let the war go on 90 more days? Nick was abducted the 58th day — and his fate was sealed — that he was in Iraq. People want to let the war to go on for another 30 — another three months, another six months, or indefinitely, as the Republican says. I don’t see how people feel that they have the authority to allow people to die at the rate of one every three minutes. I don’t.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Berg, I remember when we talked to you about your son, when he was beheaded. Before that, he was held in U.S. captivity, and you were investigating what happened. For people who don’t remember, if you could explain — and are you continuing that investigation, as you run for Congress from Delaware?

MICHAEL BERG: Well, what happened to my son was, he was picked up by the Iraqi police, who immediately turned him over to the American military police, who immediately turned him over to the FBI. He was held in an American military prison illegally for 13 days. And finally, I filed a writ of habeas corpus, which I guess I can’t do anymore, and got him out of that American prison.

But it was too late. The events that took place at the Abu Ghraib prison, the rapes, murders, and tortures, became public, and the resistance to the American invasion of Iraq became a grassroots affair in Iraq. Everyone became against the Americans, and so Nick was abducted shortly thereafter. I blame the United States military and the FBI for detaining Nick illegally for 13 days and preventing him from going home, when he had planned to go home, which was before those atrocities were made public. And he would have been home safely.

As far as the investigation is concerned, I got to ask questions of the Defense Department, the State Department, the military, the FBI, but as far as I’m concerned, I got the same lies that they told the public. So now, I haven’t furthered the investigation. Beyond that, I don’t think I will ever get the honest truth, certainly not with the current administration in power.

AMY GOODMAN: He was head of a telecommunications company? He wanted to help set up telecommunications in Iraq?

MICHAEL BERG: That’s right. It was originally — about a year before he went over, it was just a one-man company, but by the time he went over to Iraq, he had about a half a dozen people working for him. To say that he was the head of a telecommunications company sounds like more than what it was. He originally used a corner of my garage and our spare bedroom as his warehouse and office.

AMY GOODMAN: And the U.S. held him, why? He was a contractor.

MICHAEL BERG: Well, they held him, they said, because they were suspicious of an American who wasn’t with Bechtel or Halliburton or the U.S. military. Nick was there legally. He had all the proper visas and papers. He was actually recruited to go there at a forum in Crystal City, Virginia, on December the 4th of 2003, which was part of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 movie. But they were suspicious of him.

They didn’t think that Americans should be walking around alone. And there is no policy about that. That was just one person’s opinion. So, they arrested him. They took him to the American military police. And there, a lawyer, Lt. Col. William Kern, decided all on his own that that was true, that it was suspicious for an American to be alone.

Nick hadn’t done anything. Nick is, to this day, not suspected at this time of ever having done anything wrong. And every agency that I pose that question to told me that that was true, that he’s not suspected of having done anything wrong. He was at the time — they were worried that he was a terrorist, so they took their time investigating and finally concluded that he wasn’t a terrorist, and they let him go, but it was too late for him when they did it.

AMY GOODMAN: So why are you running for Congress?

MICHAEL BERG: Well, I can’t do anything about my son’s death at this point. Nothing will ever bring him back. But I am running for Congress in the same way that a parent who loses a child in a bicycle accident when they didn’t have a helmet on, you know, and then they go out on a crusade to try to get everyone to put helmets on their children when they ride their bicycles. It’s the same thing with me.

This war, this stupid war that was based on lies to begin with, that is going on just for George Bush to save face — which is backfiring anyhow — is killing people at the rate of one every three minutes. Someone is having the experience that I had every three minutes. Someone is losing a son, someone is losing a father, someone is losing a loved one every three minutes in Iraq, and I’m running for Congress to stop it.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined, Michael Berg, by Howie Hawkins, who is the New York Green senatorial candidate. Howie, You come from Rochester?

HOWIE HAWKINS: Syracuse.

AMY GOODMAN: Syracuse. Explain how you got involved in politics. What is your background?

HOWIE HAWKINS: I came up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and by the time I was about 12 years old, in 1964, Reagan was campaigning against fair housing. I decided I’m not a Republican. And then I watched the Democrats exclude the Mississippi Freedom Democrats. And at that point, I said, "I’m looking for my own party," which became the Peace and Freedom campaign in 1967-68. I’m 14 years old then, urging adults to register in this party. I was afraid of getting drafted. I eventually was drafted.

And since that time, I’ve been involved in trying to set up a people’s party that wasn’t corporate-funded, that tried to represent the working people in this country, fights for peace, fights for the environment. And so, I, you know, just sort of got involved at that time, and I’ve stuck with it.

AMY GOODMAN: And why did you choose this race, the senatorial race?

HOWIE HAWKINS: It kind of chose me. The state committee asked me to run. And we knew we were going to run somebody, because Clinton has been pro-war, and the war issue is — you know, Michael has just been very articulate about that. It’s not only a personal tragedy for all the people being affected, military families — a lot of people are tied to the military through their family. But, it’s draining our Treasury. It’s bankrupting our country. Over a trillion dollars, according to former Clinton administration officials, who —- you know, Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes, who studied the cost of what -—

The troops coming back home are going to be sick, disabled. The depleted uranium is causing what we called Gulf War Syndrome, from the first Gulf War. And now, we’re finding out the proportions are the same. Hundreds of thousands of people coming back are going to have to be taken care of over the long run. So, that’s going to drain our Treasury. So, you know, this is a central issue. And so we knew we wanted to run against Clinton, and whoever the Republicans put up, because we needed an antiwar alternative.

And then, there’s lots of other issues. I mentioned healthcare, the energy crisis, the problem of global warming. You know, my position is take about half the military budget, 300 billion dollars a year, and over ten years build a new energy infrastructure for the world around renewable energy. I believe that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in New York alone. It will do more for world peace and national security than all the arms in the world. And it will deal with this problem of global warming.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how do you get word out? You’re not included in the televised debates. How are you conducting your campaign?

HOWIE HAWKINS: It’s going by word-of-mouth through organized groups, like the peace movement, community groups. Zogby did a poll, showed I’m getting 21% support among independent voters. And you look at party enrollment in New York state, that’s at least 5% of the total vote. If I got that vote, it would be the most a Green ever got in the state, more than Nader got in 2000. It’d be more than an independent progressive for Senate got in New York state since W.E.B. Dubois in 1950. He got 210,000 votes. The kind of numbers I’m getting translate into 300,000 to 400,000 votes.

If we hold that, it will send a strong message on our issues and, I think, give hope to the movements, who I think have been demoralized. You look at the antiwar sentiment using the Gallup poll question, "Was the war a mistake?" and in three years we’ve got to just about where we were in the anti-Vietnam War. We’re at 54% on that question. It was 56% at the peak in the antiwar Vietnam War. But you don’t see the manifestation and the resistance in the movement. So I think a strong vote for us will give hope to the movements and encourage all kinds of activity on the issues we’re talking about.

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