Cover-ups, Politics, and Forensics

It would be naive to think medical examiners--or even forensic anthropologists--operate in a political vacuum. The themes of cover-up and politics in forensics has minor and major harmonics.

Dr. Michael M. Baden, former chief medical examiner for New York City, addresses this subject in his book, Unnatural Death--Confessions of a Medical Examiner. In the following passage, he discusses some of the pressures brought to bear on coroners and medical examiners in the ordinary course of events in any city:

"The public noticed when people died in police custody . . . If medical examiners diagnosed those deaths in custody as heart failures, they enraged the families. If we said they were due to excessive force, we enraged the cops." (Baden, pg. 52).

"Over the years there is a buildup of cases in which the ME has been too independent to suit the tastes of the politicians, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and insurance companies. He makes enemies in powerful places. The child of an influential family dies of an overdose and the family does not want the cause on the death certificate. The wife of a politician commits suicide and the husband wants it declared a natural death. Truth is not the criterion. If we do our job right, one group of people or another will be offended, and we can become a political liability in the next election," (Baden, pg. 53). Dr. Baden does not mention the corollary: if the medical examiner diagnoses the "right" cause of death, he can make friends in powerful places.

Several forensic pathologists who criticized the autopsy performed on President Kennedy felt the consequences on their profession. President Kennedy's body was illegally taken from the Parkland Hospital Secret Service agents and delivered to the Bethesda Naval Hospital where an autopsy was performed by the military doctors. While the autopsy was in progress, generals, admirals, and cabinet members milled around in the autopsy room (Baden, pg. 12). Vice Admiral George G. Burkely, the White House physician, issued orders on how the autopsy was to be performed, telling the pathologist, a junior officer, not to dissect the bullet wound in President Kennedy's back.

Dr. Cyril Wecht, a noted forensic pathologist, was forthright and outspoken when he gave his opinion about the professionalism of the autopsy. According to Baden, Wecht called the Kennedy autopsy "orchestrated incompetence" (Baden, pg. 23).

Dr. Wecht himself wrote a book Cause of Death, in which he discusses the Kennedy case and several other notorious questionable death cases. On the autopsy of President Kennedy, Dr. Wecht says: "If they had dissected this wound, they would have been able to trace the bullet's path through the body," (Wecht, pg. 25). Nor was the brain dissected. The complete incompetence of the military doctors was magnified when navy commander James J. Humes, a military pathologist who did much of the physical examination of the president's body, announced months later that he had burned his original autopsy notes in the fireplace his home on Sunday, November 24. "This violates every rule of forensic pathology and official medical-legal investigation," said Dr. Wecht. (Wecht, pg. 26).

After Dr. Wecht made his criticisms, he began seeing professional doors close. "Invitations to participate as a faculty member in the prestigious Armed Forces Institute of Pathology were no longer offered to me. There is no doubt that if I had kept my mouth shut and toed the government line in the Kennedy case, I would have been appointed to many more medicolegal positions directly or indirectly controlled by the US government. I have also gotten the cold shoulder from several national pathology organizations since I became an outspoken critic of the Warren Commission." (Wecht, pg. 44).

Dr. Baden reports that Milton Helpern, the highly respected chief medical examiner of New York City and the soul of diplomacy, suggested in an interview that the government should have called in competent Medical Examiners to assist Humes. Some of the leading MEs in the country were in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. In fact, Earl Rose, the Dallas coroner, was a trained forensic pathologist. As a result of the interview, Helpern thought, his name was removed from a list of lecturers to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (a federal training program for pathologists)." (Baden, pg. 8)

When citizens are routinely murdered by their governments, as Argentineans were murdered during the rule of the military junta between 1976 and 1983, civilian coroners and medical examiners played an integral part in the murders through cover-up.

Intelligence networks, and military and police death squads in Argentina rounded up more than ten thousand people during those years, and took them to secret detention centers. Many of the disappeareds were tortured and murdered. While some bodies were dumped in the ocean, or the river, others were burned in open pits.

In most cases, however, military or police squads delivered the bodies of their victims to municipal morgues, where the police surgeon gave them a brisk examination. Many morgue workers were well aware of the atrocities committed around them. Army trucks would arrive at morgues late at night, carrying bodies, often mutilated and bearing signs of torture. Officers ordered the morgue workers not to perform autopsies and simply register the bodies as 'N.N.' for 'no name.' These were usually buried in unmarked graves." (Joyce & Stover, pg. 224). Clyde Snow traveled to Argentina to recover and identify these poor remains.

"Of all the forms of murder, none is more monstrous than that committed by a state against its own citizens. And of all murder victims, those of the state are the most helpless and vulnerable since the very entity to which they have entrusted their lives and safety becomes their killer. When the state murders, the crime is planned by powerful men. They use the same cold rationality and administrative efficiency that they might bring to the decision to wage a campaign to eradicate a particularly obnoxious agricultural pest.

"The homicidal state shares one trait with the solitary killer--like all murderers, it trips on its own egoism and drops a trail of clues which, when properly collected, preserved, and analyzed are as damning as a signed confession left in the grave.

"The great mass murderers of our time have accounted for no more than a few hundred victims. In contrast, states that have chosen to murder their own citizens can usually count their victims by the carload lot. As for motive, the state has no peers, for it will kill its victim for a careless word, a fleeting thought, or even a poem."
--Forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow, speaking before the May, 1984 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as quoted by Joyce & Stover, pg. 217.

Next: Plausible Denial: Enter Dr. Nizam Peerwani

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Many people who distrust the mainstream media have turned to alternate news sources, some of which are Internet based.  Unfortunately, many of these alternate sources of news simply promote an alternate series of lies.  These alternate lies are of course dressed up as "exposés."  But you can easily tell the phonies from the real thing.  The information in the Waco Holocaust Electronic Museum is an acid test.

Does your news source promote Mike McNulty's video, Waco: The Rules of Engagement or wring its hands because the Davidian law suit against the government failed?  (See Waco Documentary Is A Hoax! and Waco Suits for Waco Suckers.) Does your alternate news source carry promotional pieces about rebuilding the Davidian church in Waco and mouth nice words about "healing"?  (See The Cover-up Church.)

Remember, since ancient times, inquiries into questionable deaths have started with the bodies of the victims.  If your news source won't give you an honest and full account of the forensic information on Waco, or if it does not have a link to the Waco Holocaust Electronic Museum ... your alternate news has failed a fundamental acid test.   

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This page last updated February 28, 2001.