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Autopsies of Husseins Leave Heavy Scarring as Bodies Wait to be Claimed

Aired July 25, 2003 - 09:46   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And Dr. Sanjay Gupta is at CNN Center. He has seen all the videotape now and, Sanjay, thanks for joining us. Give us a sense of just how bad it is, because what we have seen and what has been cleared for air is pretty graphic and pretty gory.
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well you know, several things that you sort the notice right away when looking at these bodies. First of all, there is significant incisions that come up from both shoulder blades. They come sort of, meet at the sternum, that's sort of in the middle of the chest, and the extend downward. That's a standard autopsy incision. That's done to basically look at all of the internal organs including the lungs and all the organs in the abdomen as well.

A couple of other things that people have been talking about bullet wounds and whether or not they're self-inflicted, or whether or not in fact they came from somewhere else. Few things that the pathologists and morticians as well as the doctors performing autopsy look at to see if there's traces of gun powder actually on the skin at the entry site. The closer you hold the gun to your head, the more gun powder, the more damage to the tissue around the entry site there is going to be. So those are other things they look for as well.

Finally, as well, one thing is swelling. It gives you a sense of how quickly or how not quickly someone may have died after they were injured. If they start to have significant swelling it may mean, in fact, that they were alive for a significant amount of time before they actually died. After someone dies, the body no longer swells. These are all sort of little tips that people who are performing the autopsy look at.

But clearly, looking at those photographs, there's been a significant autopsy performed. There's been all the internal organs have been evaluated. Again you can see the pictures with the stitches sort of going up the belly and then up to each shoulder blade on each side. So those are some of the things that stuck out at me, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Sanjay, can I ask you to hold on and see if we have Dr. Victor Weedn to elaborate on something you just said.

Dr. Weedn, if you're on the phone with us, I just want to ask you a quick question. Sanjay talked about the massive track lines, frankly, that we can see in the chest that lead into the sternum, which indicative to him of an autopsy. Why would they go ahead and autopsy the bodies when they've already said they clearly believe this is Qusay and Uday? Why autopsy them?

DR. VICTOR WEEDN, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: Well, this is not just an issue of identification. This is an issue of defining the trauma, the events. Any homicide in the United States would have an autopsy as a part of the medical legal death investigation.

And I believe that's what's happening here. The war has been declared over, so you could consider this a homicide. They bring in the forensic pathologist to do an autopsy to document the injuries.

Also, it should be noted that part of the autopsy is for identification such as the removal of the rods from the leg. As you've just reported earlier, that was considered strong evidence that, in fact, is Uday.

O'BRIEN: We have word from the Associated Press that U.S. officials say the bodies will now be kept under refrigeration at Baghdad International Airport until a family member comes forward to pick them up. How typical is that in these -- any kind of autopsy or any kind of homicide case?

WEEDN: It is quite typical. The bodies are kept in a cooler, prior to autopsy, after an autopsy, then after embalming prior to showing.

O'BRIEN: It's pretty amazing to see. And, Sanjay, if you're still there I'd love to bring you in to answer this question. Were you surprised by just the quality of the bodies? The appearance is so much better than the photographs that we originally saw yesterday.

GUPTA: Well, you know, I'm actually -- I've seen a lot of autopsies being performed. And the bodies can be cleaned up very well here. You know, if you look at some of the before and after pictures. Before the was, obviously, a lot of blood on the skin, there was a lot of facial hair. That was obviously all cleaned up, which dramatically improves the appearance of the body. And then finally shaving that hair well does that.

They also look like, and this is something that is done in places where autopsies are performed, sometimes makeup is even applied on the face. And it looks like, I can't tell for sure there, Soledad, but it looks like some makeup has been applied to the faces as well. That is not uncommonly done either. So I wasn't that surprised, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: How long does it take? An autopsy, clearly one that's being done very, very carefully. What is obviously a massive reconstruction. Give me a sense, Sanjay, of how long that actually takes to accomplish.

GUPTA: Soledad, it could take several hours to do, maybe even longer sometimes. Typically what happens, without getting too graphic, as again you see the incisions there on the chest and abdomen. All of those organs including the lungs, including the organs in the abdomen are all removed. Sometimes tissue samples are sent from those organs. The organs are subsequently weighed. Their looking for other diseases as well in a complete autopsy when it's being performed. That process can take some time, obviously, with a significant trauma, as was suffered in both these bodies.

There's going to be other parts of the autopsy, actually looking at the trajectory of bullets, actually opening up the head to see what trajectory the bullet actually took. That's important from a forensic pathology standpoint at well.

But several hours, usually not longer than a day even for a very complete autopsy -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Sanjay. Thanks. We're going to ask you to stick around.

I've one final question for Dr. Weedn, who I think is still on the phone with us. How long -- we heard Sanjay talk about analyzing trajectories of bullets and things like that. Is that completed now or how many days further before all that information will come in?

WEEDN: The examination by the forensic pathologist can happen fairly quickly. They can look for soot around the gunshot wound. They look for the size. They look for the characteristics of the skin. So that's a fairly immediate examination.

If, however, they want to compare the size of that, then they might need to do tests firing comparisons, and that may take a few days.

O'BRIEN: Dr. Victor Weedn, we certainly appreciate your time. And thanks for hanging on the phone with us. We're going to ask you to continue while we hand it back to Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Soledad, earlier this week on Tuesday when news of the two sons broke in this part of the world and then confirmation came through the U.S. government, there was a lot of talk and speculation as to whether or not the attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq would lessen or would they increase, depending on a short-term view or a long-term view.

About 24 hours after the news broke about the two sons being captured and killed in Mosul, three U.S. G.I.s were killed in the northern part of country, right near that same location where that house was raided by the 101st Airborne Division.

Now as we go into the weekend, back to Baghdad and Harris Whitbeck for an update right now on any casualties he's heard about in the past 24 hours on the U.S. side. Harris, what do you have on that?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, so far, no casualties reported. However, there were several attempted attacks on U.S. forces out on the roads. Particularly around the area of northern Iraq, Mosul, Tikrit and that region. But so far no casualties reported.

The commander of that zone, Colonel James Hickey told me yesterday that obviously military activity had increased -- the U.S. has increased in that area, because it is conducting lots of raids. He mentioned that some of this troops had taken fire in plain daylight in Tikrit yesterday. Tikrit is Saddam Hussein's family homeland.

So they aren't surprised. They wouldn't be surprised if there were an increase in attacks, but so far, no reports of casualties on the U.S. side.

HEMMER: We've been watching these photos. And, again, to our viewers, we're being selective about what images we do pass along to them based on the videotape that was taken at the airport earlier today.

What are you hearing about Muslim tradition right now, Harris, when it comes to respect for these two bodies? Normally tradition dictates that the day of death you buried prior to sundown. Has there been much talk on the streets of Baghdad towards the sensitivity within the faith?

WHITBECK: Well, the only comment I heard was that Saddam's -- the bodies of Saddam's elder sons should be buried in Iraq. One man on the street said that he felt that God had already punished them and that their bodies should be buried in Muslim soil on Iraqi soil.

In terms of the tradition of burying them before sundown that is correct. But, you know, no family member has come forth to claim those bodies. Of course, they wouldn't have been released, at least until now I would think. But, yes, obviously, the handling of these remains is very, very sensitive in this part of the world.

HEMMER: And also to our viewers, we're are in a news gathering mode essentially. I know you've been tethered to that camera speaking to us for the last three hours.

All right, Rym Brahimi has been out in a number of cafes in and around the Iraqi capital. Has she gotten much reaction based on the latest news now?

Did we lose him? All right, Harris Whitbeck, he just dropped off the satellite there in Baghdad. Thanks again, Harris. We'll get back to him a bit later.


to be Claimed>

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