Friday, March 31, 2006

Father of man beheaded in Iraq runs for Congress

Father of man beheaded in Iraq runs for Congress
By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Almost two years after the videotaped beheading of U.S. contractor Nick Berg in Iraq, his father is running a third-party race for the U.S. Congress on a platform seeking a complete withdrawal of American troops.

Michael Berg, a veteran anti-war activist and retired schoolteacher who campaigns in jeans and a T-shirt, is the Green Party candidate for the Delaware seat of seven-term Republican Rep. Michael Castle.

Berg, 61, acknowledges that his late entry into politics is a result of his son's grisly death at the hands of hooded captors in May 2004. The event brought the elder Berg worldwide media attention, especially after he publicly blamed U.S. President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

"Other than stopping this war, I have no political ambitions," Berg said. "Let's face it, I would not be running if my son had not died in Iraq. People would not have known my name, and the Green Party would not have asked me to run."

His low-budget campaign comes as Democrats have enlisted Iraq war veterans in the battle for Congress this year in a challenge to Bush on Iraq. At least nine veterans of the Iraq war are running for Congress, all but one as Democrats.

Berg said he was more than a protest candidate with no serious prospect of unseating Castle, who won about 70 percent of the vote in 2004.

"I'm in this to win," Berg told Reuters in an interview.

If elected, Berg would be the Green Party's first representative in Congress. In the 2004 general election, the party won 0.3 percent of the national vote.

Berg chose to run against Castle because of the Republican's support for the war and said Castle's loyalty to Bush will harm the incumbent in the November election. Democratic lawyer Dennis Spivack is seeking that party's nomination for the race.

Berg cultivates his status as a political outsider, railing against corporate interests, riding his bicycle to campaign speeches, and habitually wearing an anti-war T-shirt.

He owns a 13-year-old car. "If I took the anti-war stickers off, it would probably fall apart," Berg said in a telephone interview.

Berg pledged that he will keep wearing his trademark attire if elected. "If I get sworn in wearing a suit and tie, I have lied to people," he said.


Voter opposition to the Iraq war and Bush's growing unpopularity mean that any candidate who has supported both will be vulnerable, even to a maverick with no previous political experience, Berg said.

"This is the year that Castle can be beaten," Berg said. "He has allied himself so closely with President Bush that he will go down with the president."

He said the war not only kills U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians, but increases the risk of terrorist attacks on American soil.

Elizabeth Wenk, a spokeswoman for Castle, said the congressman differs with the White House on several major issues and that "Mr. Castle is arguably the most independent member of the House of Representatives."

Berg did not consider running as a Democrat, even though that would have meant more funding than his meager campaign resources, currently about $5,000.

"I would rather run on my shoestring budget than on the silver slipper of the Democrats," he said.

Prominent Democrats such as Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John Kerry want to "escalate" the war in Iraq by sending in more troops, Berg argues.