The killing of Nick Berg, the American telephone engineer beheaded by Islamic militants in Iraq, triggered a political storm last night as the murdered man's father blamed the Bush administration for the circumstances that led to his death.
Michael Berg, an avowed opponent of the war in Iraq, said his son might still be alive if the US military had not taken him into custody for 13 days in late March.
Mr Berg said he believed that if the 26-year-old had not been detained so long he might have been able to leave the country while conditions were more stable.
Nick Berg had traveled to Iraq as a freelance telecommunications entrepreneur intending to help rebuild communications antennae, but was detained by Iraqi police at a checkpoint in Mosul, amid confusion as to what he was doing in the area.
He was later passed to the US military, who finally freed him after his parents sued the federal government for his release on April 5. Mr Berg said his son had been held without a lawyer and was not allowed to make telephone calls.
The Berg family, from West Chester in Pennsylvania, were told of the gruesome video images of their son's killing by an Associated Press reporter yesterday afternoon.
Mr Berg's father, brother and sister collapsed in a tearful embrace in their front yard. The family already knew their son was dead. His mutilated body was found in Baghdad on Saturday.
"I knew he was decapitated before," Mr Berg said. "That manner is preferable to a long and torturous death. But I didn't want it to become public."
Mr Berg said his son had been a Bush supporter, and looked at the war "as bringing democracy to a country that didn't have it". The Bergs described their son as an idealist who had traveled before in the Third World, including Kenya and Ghana, where he had spent £500 on a brick press for an impoverished village.
Last night in a statement read by a neighbor the Bergs described their son as "a great kid" and said they were "devastated" by their loss.
Earlier they complained that federal officials had been unhelpful as they struggled to find out where their son was. They last heard from their son on April 9, when he said he was going to come home via Jordan.
Even before news broke of Mr Berg's murder Republican members of Congress and conservative media commentators, were expressing outrage at what they called the irresponsible and unpatriotic leaking of a secret military report into the abuses, and the publication of photographs of prisoner assaults.
It has already emerged that Gen Richard Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, had warned CBS television that broadcasting the Abu Ghraib images might endanger the lives of soldiers and hostages.
Gen Myers succeeded in convincing CBS to hold off on broadcasting the images for two weeks, after he urged them not to inflame world opinion during the tense siege of Fallujah. The next 24 hours will tell whether public anger at the killing will swamp American soul-searching at the behavior of military reservists in Abu Ghraib.
There was already a significant slice of Middle American opinion that was impatient with talk of suffering Iraqis, arguing that the detainee abuse paled next to the attacks on US forces and hostages.
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004