I guess this is just tasteless silliness, but I'm here to report that, for whatever it's worth, both Pravda and Al Jazeera have questioned the authenticity of the Nick Berg video (as has this guy). The thesis? Zarqawi has a prosthetic leg, but the tape's alleged Zarqawi seems limber. Zarqawi identifies himself by name on the tape but wears a mask, presumably to hide his identity. There's not enough blood. And more -- go to the links if you want the whole rundown. (And here's a site where you can see the beheading, if you can bear it.) (UPDATE: That link doesn't work. Try this if you must.)
And on a less conspiratorial note, there's Miles O'Brien's interview with Octavia Nasr, CNN's senior editor for Arab affairs, which I guess a lot of you have already seen. First, on the question of Zarqawi's accent:
O'BRIEN: Well, let me ask you this. You've had a chance to really listen to this tape and get a sense who might be responsible, just by deciphering, say, accents. And certainly, there in the Arab world, they're very attuned to that. And given the fact of who this may or may not be, does that have some effect on how it is being played?
NASR: Yes, and if you listen to these voices that we're hearing on Arab networks, Iraqis are condemning this execution. And they're saying these are foreigners. These are not Iraqis. They do not represent us and so forth.
Now, of course, the original claim was that Zarqawi is the actual man who performed this execution. Our experts listened to the accent, as you said, and they determined the accent is not Jordanian...
O'BRIEN: He is a Jordanian who is working supposedly, allegedly, at the behest of al Qaeda in Iraq. So go ahead.
NASR: Right, he is very close to bin Laden, and works, you're right, as an agent of al Qaeda in Iraq. Now, the accent is not Jordanian so that takes the Jordanian element out of the story immediately.
And on the question of the U.S. translation of the tape:
O'BRIEN: ... You did a very careful translation of your own, of the statement. And in it, you see no reference to al Qaeda. And yet the official U.S. government translation does. Explain how that happened.
NASR: Oh, I find it very interesting, because out of the blue, there is a mention of al Qaeda on the U.S. government translation. It says: "Does al Qaeda need any further excuses?" Any speaker of the Arabic language is going to notice a difference between the word al Qaeda, which means "the base," and al qaed, which means "the one sitting, doing nothing."
My translation says: "Is there any excuse for the one who sits down and does nothing?" Basically they're telling people, you have no excuse for not doing anything, for not acting and defending Islam and so forth. Whereas the U.S. government translation has this factual error, I'm sure it's an honest mistake, but basically it sort of adds al Qaeda to the statement, which is not on the statement.
Zarqawi has a presumably easily recognizedfacial scar as well as a prosthetic leg. That would explain the need for a mask, if the beheader wasn't Zarqawi. I think whoever produced this tape wants us to believe Zarqawi did the killing, but Zarqawi didn't. Does his organization want us to feel awe at his brazenness, to believe that he killed an American with his bare hands even as America has a price on his head? That's one explanation that doesn't require you to believe that the U.S. government taped a hoax execution as a sick way to try to drive Abu Ghraib from the front page.