Thursday, 14 March 2013

Medical knowledge used to depend on grave robbing

Last week’s chilling discovery that bodies within Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois were routinely being dug up and moved so that the burial plots could be sold again offers an opportunity to remind Americans that it was only two hundred years ago that “resurrectionists” would routinely raid cemeteries in order to provide cadavers for dissection classes in medical schools.

Those who made their living procuring bodies usually started at the poorhouse. Sometimes they would send young women as mourners who would arrive at the almshouse and claim the body of their newly deceased “relatives.” Bribes to staff members–no fake mourner involved–were also successful at gaining access to unclaimed bodies not yet been put in the ground. If these methods did not provide enough cadavers to fill local needs, then resurrectionists paid off public officials or burial ground employees so that they could gain access to potters’ fields and other cemeteries

In any of the burial grounds, stealth was necessary in order to avoid getting caught by family members and cemetery employees who had not been bribed. The men dug quickly and used wooden spades to prevent the clanging sound of a metal one. The grave robbers mastered the art of unearthing just one end of the coffin and then they used a crowbar to pry open the top half of the lid (the weight of the earth on the other end of the coffin lid helped them snap the lid off). A rope was then put around the body so it could be dragged out. Resurrectionists prided themselves on leaving clothing and jewelry behind. Body snatching was only a misdemeanor; thievery of the belongings upgraded the crime to a felony.

Body snatching presented a terrible problem for the families of the deceased. They commonly set up watch over the body until burial, and later, relatives would take turns watching over the grave for a few days to be certain it was not dug up afterward. However, watching the grave was not foolproof. Some of the body snatchers were quite artful, and they devised a way to tunnel in to a recent grave after digging a hole a distance 15-20 feet away. The end of the coffin was then removed and the corpse was pulled out through the tunnel.

Medical students were often responsible for procuring their own bodies, and documents left by the students indicate that the procurement of bodies was actually quite stressful. One fellow wrote: “No occurrences in the course of my life have given me more trouble and anxiety than the procuring of subjects for dissection.” With his friends at Harvard, this fellow, John Collins Warren Jr., created a secret anatomic society in 1771 called Spunkers, whose purpose was to conduct anatomic dissections.

In England the first law that was somewhat helpful in delivering bodies for use by medical students was the Murder Act of 1751, and it stipulated that the corpses of executed murderers could be used for dissection. By the 1820s the United States was beginning to legislate that unclaimed bodies and those donated by relatives could be used for study of anatomy. These changes began to reduce the practice of body-snatching.

The situation in Illinois today is totally regrettable, and while family members will likely have the satisfaction of knowing the criminals were caught, they will never know what happened to their loved ones. And this time, it didn’t aid medical progress.

Thursday 14 March 2013

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Korean War Remembered

In the heart of South Korea's capital, nestled on the side of a hill lay the remains of some of country's fallen heroes.

Grave after grave, row after row are victims of the brutal and devastating Korean War.

It began in the summer of 1950 when North Korean founder Kim IL Sung sent troops to invade his southern neighbor.

The Korean peninsula had been divided after World War II following 35 years the Japanese occupation.

Russia took control of the north; the United States - the south -- with the border marked along the 38th parallel, also known as the DMZ.

"it was the first hot war of the cold war, the first UN war, the first time free world troops invaded a Communist country and the results of that were absolutely horrific."

The North Korean regime invaded and pushed all the way to the southern tip of the peninsular before US and UN reinforcements pushed them back.

And then the Chinese arrived with a tactic that still haunts surviving allied soldiers to this day.

"The Chinese used a tactic called the human wave, a very large mass of men attack at very short range. Most of the fighting took place on hills, rugged terrain at night at very close range. It was traumatic and some guys I know 6 decades later still can't sleep without the lights on."

One man who still has nightmares is In-Joon Chang.

He joined the South Korean military at the age of 20 desperately wanting to defend his country.

The most brutal thing was watching my friends die and I wasn't able to save them. My scars remind me of this every single day.

Shot in the leg, the 82 year old tells me a story about how he managed to escape after coming under attack one night.

"I couldn't see anything in front of me and suddenly there were bodies everywhere. There was no way to avoid stepping on them. I tried not to step on their faces but rather their arms and legs because there stomachs were soft as tofu. I kept falling but we had to keep going otherwise we would have been killed."

"While the Korean War lasted for only 3 years, the loss of life here on the Korean Peninsular was extraordinary. Conservative estimates put the number of dead at around 2 million but with no official records out of North Korea, experts believe the total figure could be as high as 5 million."

In the end, North Korea was devastated and at midnight on the 27th July 1953 the armistice agreement was signed - effectively ending the Korean War.

And as Pyongyang now threatens to nullify the cease fire, this grandfather of 8 says the stories of the Korean War are now more important than ever.

"We must teach the younger generations because they know nothing about the suffering we endured. God forbid they need to prepare in case there in another war."

Thursday 14 March 2013

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First DNA matches from Libyan mass graves

The Libyan government has received the first of a number of DNA matches from bodies that were found in a mass grave, one of which could be that of photographer Anton Hammerl.

The seven samples, according to Libyan government officials, arrived in Libya on Thursday from the International Commission for Missing Persons, (ICMP) in Bosnia. But none of the samples are linked to the missing photographer, who was killed on April 5, 2011.

These are the first of a 100 samples that are been analysed by the ICMP. It is expected that all the samples will arrive back in Libya in the next 10 days.

Hammerl, who previously worked for the Saturday Star, died while covering the Libyan civil war.

His body was believed to be among 169 other bodies exhumed from a mass grave near the town of Bin Jawwad.

Hospital records showed the body was that of a white male of Hammerl’s height, with black hair, and that he had died around the same date. A lens was also recovered nearby.

However, those who have seen the lens believe it did not come from a camera, but might be from a pair of binoculars.

“We will be receiving results as they go along,” said Mervat Mhani of the Libyan Ministry of Martyrs and Missing People. These individuals were identified from DNA extracted after a mass exhumation. The DNA was then compared to that of relatives.

She added that once the government received the samples, the remains of the person would be exhumed and subjected to a physical examination.

“Only then would the family be informed, and they would then decide if they wanted to move the remains,” Mhani added.

The mass grave in Bin Jawwad was exhumed early last year by relatives of the dead. The exhumation was supervised by the ministry.

There was a delay in sending the samples to the ICMP, as a decision had to be made if they would be analysed in Libya.

Thursday 14 March 2013

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Report on investigation of Sri Lanka's mass grave to be presented to court

Sri Lanka's Marxist party Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) says the report on the investigation conducted into the skeletal remains unearthed from the Matale mass grave will be submitted to court on the 20th of this month.

JVP politburo member and parliamentarian Anura Kumara Dissanayake said the party was also awaiting the submission of the report to court on the findings of the mass grave in Matale where skeletal remains of over 150 people were unearthed.

According to the Consultant Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) of Matale Dr. Ajith Jayasena, skeletal remains of 154 people were found during excavations carried out from the 26th of November until the 12th of this month at the grave site in the premises of the Matale Hospital. Dissanayake has noted that preliminary investigations on the skeletal remains had found that the persons had been subjected to torture and belonging to the period of 1988-1989.

"The skeletons and skeletal remains have been identified as those of persons who had been subjected to various kinds of torture. Parts of metal wire wrapped around the bodies or inserted have also been found," Dissanayake has said.

According to him, the government should also take steps to carry out investigations to scientifically probe the period of the skeletal remains.

Sri Lankan authorities say that the excavations have been completed and some preliminary tests have been conducted on the remains but the systematic forensic investigations of the remains to identify the era of the dead and their identities are still ongoing.

Thursday 14 March 2013

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In Cambodia, worry grows that Khmer Rouge leaders will die before being punished

Decades after Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge movement oversaw the deaths of 1.7 million people by starvation, overwork and execution, the regime’s imprisoned top leaders are escaping justice one by one. How? Old age.

Thursday’s death of 87-year-old Ieng Sary, foreign minister under the Khmer Rouge, is fueling urgent calls among survivors and rights groups for the country’s U.N.-backed tribunal to expedite proceedings against the increasingly frail and aging leaders of the radical communist group, which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.

Ieng Sary’s wife, former Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, was ruled unfit to stand trial last year because she suffered from a degenerative mental illness consistent with Alzheimer’s disease. Now, only two people — ex-head of state Khieu Samphan, who is 81, and the movement’s former chief ideologist, Nuon Chea, who is 86 — remain on trial for their alleged roles in some of the 20th century’s most horrific crimes.

There are growing fears that both men could die before a verdict is rendered. Both are frail with high blood pressure, and have suffered strokes.

“The defendants are getting old, and the survivors are getting old,” said Bou Meng, one of the few Cambodians to survive Tuol Sleng prison, known as S-21, where up to 16,000 people were tortured and killed during the Khmer Rouge era. “The court needs to speed up its work.”

“I have been waiting for justice for nearly 40 years,” Bou Meng, 70, told The Associated Press. “I never thought it would take so long.”

When the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh in April 1975, they began moving an estimated 1 million people — even hospital patients — from the capital into the countryside in an effort to create a communist agrarian utopia.

By the time the bizarre experiment ended in 1979 with an invasion by advancing Vietnamese troops, an estimated 1.7 million people had died in Cambodia, which had only about 7 million people at the time. Most of the dead were victims of starvation, medical neglect, slave-like working conditions and execution under the Maoist regime. Their bodies were dumped in shallow mass graves that still dot the countryside.

The tribunal, officially known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, was tasked with seeking justice for crimes committed during that era.

The court, which was 10 years in the making, began operations in 2006. But despite some $150 million in funding, it has so far convicted only one defendant: Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, the commandant of S-21 prison.

Duch was sentenced in 2010 to 35 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The sentence was reduced to a 19-year term because of time previously served and other technicalities, a move that sparked angry criticism from victims who said it was too lenient. Cambodia has no death penalty.

Several other major Khmer Rouge figures died before the court even existed, including supreme leader Pol Pot in 1998.

Ieng Sary’s death was no surprise given his age and ailing health, said Ou Virak, who heads the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. But “given the fact that the other two defendants are also in their 80s, it should act as a wake-up call to all concerned — the Cambodian government, the U.N., the international donors and the tribunal itself — that these cases need to be expedited urgently so that justice can be served.”

“The whole future of the tribunal is currently in limbo, and the possibility that hundreds of millions of dollars will have been wasted is now a very real threat,” Ou Virak said. “Most importantly, though, if all three die before their guilt or innocence can be determined, then the Cambodian people will quite understandably feel robbed of justice.”

The court has been criticized before for the sluggish pace of proceedings. But William Smith, one of the court’s prosecutors, said the trial has taken time because the indictments themselves have been lengthy, and the list of alleged crimes to be proven long.

The tribunal has been dogged by other problems, including funding shortages from international donors. Earlier this month, Cambodian translators angry that they had gone without pay for three months went on strike just before the court was to hear testimony from two foreign experts.

Tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra said Thursday that the interpreters would all return to work this week after the court administrator promised that they would get paid. But he added that the translators have threatened to strike again if they are not paid by month’s end.

In recent years, the tribunal has also been hit by infighting and angry resignations by foreign judges over whether to try more Khmer Rouge defendants on war crimes charges. Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985, has warned that no more trials will be allowed. Many former members of the Khmer Rouge, including Hun Sen himself, hold important positions in the current government.

The trial against Ieng Sary, his wife and the last two accused senior Khmer Rouge leaders alive began jointly in 2011. All have denied guilt for their roles during the radical communist movement’s rule.

Lars Olsen, another tribunal spokesman, said Thursday that “we understand that many probably are disappointed with the fact that we cannot complete the proceedings against Ieng Sary, and therefore we cannot determine” whether he is guilty or innocent of the charges against him.

But it’s important to remember, he said, that the case against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan “is not over.” He said it would not be affected by Ieng Sary’s death and proceedings will continue on schedule.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group gathering evidence of the Khmer Rouge crimes for the tribunal, said Ieng Sary’s death “carries little value for the regime’s victims, who patiently wait to see justice done.”

Ieng Sary died early Thursday under the care of doctors at a Phnom Penh hospital, where he was admitted earlier this month suffering from weakness and fatigue. He suffered fatal cardiac failure, said one of the prosecutors in his case, Chea Leang, who added that under Cambodian law, all charges against him will now officially be dropped.

Yim Sopheak, a 47-year-old street vendor who said the Khmer Rouge regime had executed her parents, said Ieng Sary “deserved to die in prison, not in a hospital. He should have died in the same way as he executed my parents and other people.”

Yi Chea, a 72-year-old flower seller who says her husband and other relatives were also killed during Khmer Rouge rule, said she was happy Ieng Sary was gone. But, she added that “he did not deserve to die naturally like this.”

Tribunal hearings resume on March 25, said Neth Pheaktra. Foreign medical experts are due to testify on the health status of Nuon Chea, to determine whether the ailing ex-leader is still fit to continue to stand trial.

Thursday 14 March 2013

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Plane crash kills 10 in northern Brazil

Ten people were killed when their single-engine plane crashed in the small town of Almeirim, in northern Brazil, local authorities said Wednesday.

The plane disappeared from the radar screens late Tuesday, but the debris was not found until Wednesday morning because the crash site is in a densely forested region. There were no survivors, authorities said.

The plane, a single-engine Embraer 821-Caraja, took off from Belem, Para state's capital, and crashed only 20 kilometers away from the city's Monte Dourado airport. The names of the victims were not disclosed.

The plane, which belonged to air charter company Fretax, was transporting nine employees of engineering company Cesbe to the Santo Antonio do Jari hydroelectric power plant, which is being building in neighboring Amapa state.

The cause of the accident remains unknown and will be investigated by aviation authorities.

Both Fretax and Cesbe released statements regretting the incident and saying they are providing assistance to the victims' families. Fretax said the pilot had been in good health and the plane's inspections were up to date.

Both Fretax and Cesbe released statements regretting the incident and said they were providing assistance to the victims' families.

Thursday 14 March 2013

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More than One Immigrant a Day Found Dead Near Border with Mexico

Agents patrolling the border between the United States and Mexico routinely find dead bodies of immigrants trying to sneak into the country. The toll of those who fail to make the difficult journey has averaged more than one dead body a day since the 1990s.

Over the last 15 years, 5,513 bodies have been recovered along the border. In 2012 alone, the total was 463.

The border area near Tucson, Arizona, has proven the most deadly since 2001, with 177 bodies found in the last fiscal year.

But fatalities have jumped significantly in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where the death toll went from 66 in 2011 to 150 last year. There is no medical examiner in the county, and the corpses of suspected illegal immigrants are buried in unnamed graves in a cemetery in the small town of Falfurrias.

Hundreds are never identified, either due to bodies being too decomposed or lack of identification. The Pima County Forensic Science Center alone has recorded 700 immigrant John and Jane Doe’s since the late 1990s.

Thursday 14 March 2013

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