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Current Issues with Forensic Anthropology



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On January 1, 2008, confronted with overwhelming empirical evidence contrary to its own rhetoric, Pakistan's Interior Ministry retracted previous claims that former prime minister Benazir Bhutto died because her head struck a sunroof latch during a shooting and bombing attack on December 27, 2007.

After flip-flopping from initial claims that Bhutto was killed by either a bullet or shrapnel, the Interior Ministry spun to base its sunroof claim on a medical report later obtained by CNN that reported the cause of death simply as "Open head injury with depressed skull fracture, leading to Cardiopulmonary arrest." The report had nary a mention of a sunroof latch.

CNN reported that seven doctors signed the three-page medical report that described the wound as "an irregular oval of about 5 centimeters by 3 centimeters above her right ear." "Sharp bones edges were felt in the wound," according to the report.

After the medical report went public, the speed and zeal with which Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema sought to retract the claim and spin the motives behind the government's account was astounding and revealing.

"I was just narrating the facts, you know, and nothing less nothing more," Cheema said, according to CNN.

The facts that led to the revised claim, as narrated to Cheema by the doctors who worked on Bhutto, almost certainly had to do with the authoritative determinations by the forensic anthropologists assigned to the case that there was no physical way that what the ministry reported was possible. Furthermore, to persist in proffering those claims to an already incensed and suspicious public was political suicide. Despite the plethora of eyewitness and video accounts of the attack, empirical forensic evidence proved the strongest deterrent to the ministry's motivation to fiddle with its version of the facts.

Forensic anthropologists exist to narrate the facts.

On the other side of the world in Jacksonville, Florida, when U.S. Marine Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach's charred remains were found in a shallow grave in the backyard of Marine Corporal Cesar Armando Laurean's home, forensic anthropologists once more were commissioned to the site of an international incident.

Laurean, who had been accused by Lauerbach or raping her, wrote in a note found by police that Lauterbach had "come to his residence and cut her (own) throat," according to the Associated Press.

Laurean did not stick around to discuss his version of the events and the FBI's website has reported that he has fled to Mexico and remains at large there, but the AP has reported that "evidence now is showing that what he claimed happened didn't happen," according to Onslow County Sheriff Ed Brown.

Forensic anthropologists exist to find evidence to show that what people claimed happened didn't happen.

Finally, in a revelation that may have sent Oliver Stone scrambling to get started on "JFK II: Jim Garrison's Revenge," a conversation purportedly sourced to Lee Harvey Oswald AND Jack Ruby has surfaced and has given new rise to the somewhat-dormant JFK conspiracy theorists, according to The Guardian.

While the manuscripts have officially been written off as the likely result of a rather hackneyed attempt at a screenplay, the essential gripe of the unconvinced masses as to the true fate of the 35th president of The United States of America remains concentrated on the lack of access that forensic scientists had to the deceased.

The fundamental lament continues to be that forensic anthropologists have not been given license to determine - once and for all - whether Mr. Kennedy's head in fact went "backand to the right."

Forensic anthropologists exist to put the correct angle on things.

Forensic anthropologists exist to narrate the truth, to supply the evidence, to tilt it back and forth and show us how it could or couldn't have happened. Forensic anthropologists exist for certain situations, some of them central to society's dealings, and the nations who demand answers, the loved-ones soliciting closure, and the simply unsatisfied and unappeased truth-seekers are buoyed by the fortuitous existence of the discipline and the skilled and devoted professionals who serve therein.

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