Introduction: My reaction to the horrific nature of the now infamous Nick Berg video overshadowed any consideration of performing any type of forensic bloodstain pattern analysis of the decapitation of this victim. Frankly, it appeared to be a rather open and shut case ? a cold-blooded murder, an al Qaeda made-to-order ?snuff film? where the victim was a 26 year-old American contractor working in Iraq. He was reportedly killed on Saturday, 8 May 2004 in a particularly gruesome manner ? his throat was cut and he was decapitated. His body was reportedly found near a highway overpass in Baghdad, where his head was fully separated from his body. As the week progressed, analysts at the Northeast Intelligence Network found the absolutely revolting video posted on an al Qaeda linked website. The video was downloaded on 11 May 2004 for analysis.
As Laura Mansfield began her analysis of the footage, specifically the audio statement being read by the primary assailant identified as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, I began to hear rumblings about oddities surrounding the footage. One of several ?oddities? involved the blood evidence shown on the video. As I am certified in Bloodstain Pattern Analysis by the Laboratory of Forensic Science (Corning, New York, 10 May 2002) and a member of the International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts-IABPA, I decided to take a closer look at the video. The following is my report that details my analysis of the bloodstain patterns only. It is important to note that this analysis is only a detailed summary of a more lengthy analysis; for the sake of brevity, some of the written commentary regarding each frame has been omitted.
Forensic Analysis of ?Berg Decapitation Video?
Date: 13 May 2004
Overview: This investigator was furnished with two versions of an Internet video playable in a .wmv format which was downloaded from the al Ansar jihad website by Northeast Intelligence Network Analyst Laura Mansfield on 11 May 2003. The video was 5 minutes 37 seconds in length and was approximately 5.3 megabytes in size. Using an industry accepted method of capturing this video to a computer hard-drive, this investigator captured the entire file that would enable frame-by-frame analysis.
This investigator isolated the decapitation scene from the time initial physical contact was made by the individual holding the knife (but not close to the victim) through the final frame of the video. In total, approximately 460 individual frames were viewed, although only 330 frames were analyzed due their relevance to this analysis.
The victim depicted in this video appears to be a Caucasian male in his mid to late 20?s, medium build, with dark hair and an untrimmed beard. No distinguishing or identifying marks on the victim were noted. He is shown in this video wearing an orange jumpsuit or similar style garment and was seated on the floor, legs out in front of him slightly bent at the knees and his hands were positioned or tied behind his back. His legs appeared to be bound at the ankles by rope or similar material.
Summary of Frame-by-frame Analysis
There is a time stamp noted in the bottom right corner of the video. The first frame displays the time in a military format beginning at 13:26:25 (1:26 PM). At that time, the victim was seated in a white or light colored chair as he was videotaped by an unknown individual. There is an apparent edit point or video stoppage where the time switches to 14:18:XX, at which time the victim continues to be seated in the same chair as previously described. The video then exhibits a stoppage or edit point, next showing the victim seated on the floor in front of a group of six masked and hooded individuals. Almost immediately upon this scene change, the time display in the lower right corner of the frame was switched from military to ?regular? format (i.e. from 14:18:XX to 2:18:XX). Following this serried of frames, there appears to be another stoppage or edit point where the victim is still seated on the floor in front of the line of individuals, however the time displays 2:40:13 in regular format. The male in the center, standing directly behind the victim, is observed reading from sheets of standard size white paper.
The next remarkable event takes place at 2:43:XX, when (what appears to be) the first significant movement of the victim, where he appears to raise his shoulders and slightly adjusts his position. Noted in the next series of frames is the change of time from ?regular format to military format, occurring at 14:44:14. Following this, the primary assailant, standing in the center background, removes a knife appearing to have an eight to ten inch blade from under his garments from his chest area with his right hand and swiftly places his left hand on top of the victims head, grabbing his hair. The victim was pushed onto his left side by the primary assailant and assisted by the unidentified individual wearing a white hood/mask combination (this male was originally standing on the right side of the primary assailant).
As the time displays 13:45:47 in the lower right corner, the victim is pushed onto his left side where his legs are bent at the knees and raised toward his chest and his arms still tied behind his back. At this point, the video becomes out of focus and essentially useless for the purposes of analysis from approximately 90 frames. As the video comes back into focus, the primary assailant is viewed using the knife to cut the throat of the victim, beginning at the area near his left carotid artery. Almost immediately, blood is seen ?pouring? onto the floor (target surface) from the wound caused by the incision.
The primary assailant is shown using the knife in a slicing fashion, cutting the front of the victims neck (throat) first, followed by a combination of circular and sawing motions with the knife around the victims neck while still holding the victim by the hair.
Notably, there appears to be an edit point or video stoppage where the video displays 13:46:XX. At this point, it is evident that the primary assailant is no longer holding the knife. The individual wearing the white hood and previously standing on the right side of the primary assailant is now using the knife in a saw-like manner, holding the knife in (his) right hand while holding the victims hair with (his) left hand. At 13:47:xx, the individual wearing the white hood ultimately detaches the victim head from his body and holds the head outward in (his) left hand, still holding the knife in (his) right. Following this series of frames, the video appears to ?jump frames? (possibly due to uploading the video to a computer) and displays the time as 13:48:43, at which time the victim?s head is shown completely detached and the primary object in the footage. Interestingly, the time display on the video changes to 2:46:20 (regular time format) and then switches back to 13:48:45 (military format) while the victim?s head is shown detached from his body in a similar series of frames.
This investigator notes the potential significance of the changes of the time formats, a feature usually performed from the ?menu? function of most video cameras. As the camera and media type on which the video was recorded is not known, no further assessment relative to the format change can be made.
Most interesting in addition to the time-format change is the change of the time itself. Without going into frame-by-frame detail, it is interesting to note that the actual act of decapitation as displayed in this video appeared to have been recorded when the time displayed was between 13:45:XX and 13:47:XX. This is significant as the victim appeared in the video, seated on the floor in front of the assailants, at 2:40:13, or nearly one hour after the decapitation (based on the time display ONLY). This investigator has no method of determining if the time displays are accurate and has no background in video analysis.
The video is poor in terms of quality, yet still appears to be useful for the purpose of bloodstain pattern analysis.
Due to the known anomalies associated with converting the footage to computer compatible formats, the audio portion of the video was not taken into consideration.
Bloodstain Pattern Analysis
Based on this investigator?s review of the video with specific focus on the series of frames that depict the actual act of cutting the victim and the consequential decapitation, there appear to be significant inconsistencies with the cutting and decapitation of the victim. Most significant is the lack of arterial spurting (or gushing), which normally occurs when the artery of a live human victim is breached or cut. This investigator has reviewed numerous crime scenes where an artery of a living person was breached, many by a sharp instrument. In every case, arterial spurting exhibited common characteristics and can best be described as follows:
?Unlike impact spatters and cast-offs, bloodstains resulting from damaged arteries are not dependent upon the criminal acts which precede them.
Those stains which are classed as arterial damage patterns, spurts and gushes, occur as a release of blood under pressure after the fact rather than from a direct assault? Once opened, arteries may continue spurting as long as the heart continues to pump and blood is available in the vessel. This means that arterial spurt patterns may be recorded on bystanders responding to the victim after an assailant is gone.?
?It must be noted that arterial damage can project blood great distances.?
Taking into account the definitions and characteristics of arterial rain, arterial fountain, arterial breach, arterial spurting and arterial gushing, and the obvious breaching or cutting of both carotid arteries of the victim while he was purportedly alive, one would expect to observe significantly more force behind the emission of blood from the victim?s wounds to his throat. Even as the victim was lying in a horizontal position to the ultimate target surface (the floor), there was little, if any, evidence of arterial spurting or gushing. A cut or breached artery has the ability to project a substantial amount of blood a significant distance away from the victim. In many cases, the distance can be five feet or more. Another characteristic of arterial spurting is the familiar ?W? pattern made by the blood under pressure.
Although this pattern was made from blood spurting from a victim?s artery onto a wall, the characteristics would normally be the same regardless of the target surface, only dependent upon the position of the victim. In the video reviewed by this investigator, the victim was nearly horizontal with the floor, although the upper portion of his body, especially his head and neck, were hyper-extended backward by the initial assailant. Based on the accepted forensics of bloodstain pattern analysis, this hyper-extension, combined with the cutting of both carotid arteries, should have produced a much more defined pattern than observed on this video. Although the video clearly illustrated evidence of significant pooling of blood directly below the victim?s neck, it appeared to lack the force commonly associated with arterial spurting, gushing, or raining.
CONCLUSION: Based on the investigative analysis conducted, it is the professional assessment of this investigator that the blood pattern shown in the video is NOT consistent with the cutting or breaching of the carotid artery or arteries of a person where the victim?s blood pressure would be considered to be within the normal range. Based on this observation alone, this investigator questions the authenticity of the video as it was been presented for bloodstain pattern analysis.
Arterial Spurting / Arterial Gushing: Characteristic bloodstain pattern on a target surface resulting from blood exiting under pressure from a breached artery. (these pattern are characterized by their size and shape).
Bloodstain Patterns-Revised Edition MacDonell, Herbert Leon Laboratory of Forensic Science ? 1997
Blood Dynamics A.Y. Wonder Academic Press Copyright ? 2001
Crime Scene Handbook Lee, Henry Academic Press Copyright ? 1998
Analyst?s Remarks: The above analysis does not lessen or otherwise mitigate the events surrounding the murder of Nick Berg. It raises a number of questions, however, especially when combined with other reported anomalies associated with this matter.
Notice: This report is the proprietary work of the Northeast Intelligence Network and the HQ INTEL-ALERT newsletter. This analysis may be reproduced in its entirety with credit to HQ INTEL-ALERT. Copyright ? 2004 Northeast Intelligence Network.