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[casi] A final burst of mass grave critique - all bundled together.

Warning, this post will contain speculation as to nature, origin and purpose of some of the mass 
grave footage presented in the media.  It will suggest that at least partially these are public 
opinion moulding exercises.  Worse, at some point you will be asked to speculate what might be 
contained in sealed bags.  If any of this offends use your delete button now.

Justifying our violence.

The uncovering of mass graves has become a solemn ritual undertaken by media and selected 
"humanitarian" organisations upon completion of military activities in a region.  A process that 
has taken place in Bosnia, Kosovo and now Iraq, provides the comic strip justification of war that 
divides the world into good guys (us) and the bad, genocidal, mass murdering guys (whoever we wish 
to bomb at the time).  By contrast, in afghanistan the uncovering of mass graves was less crucial 
to gaining public consent.  Mainly because the public had been convinced that a group of arabs 
living in caves had perfected flying techniques that not only caused planes to explode on impact, 
but to explode in such a fashion as to completely disintegrate into small, unrecognisable pieces.  
Hence the Afghanis deserved everything they got.  But nevertheless, like the little troopers they 
are, Physicians for Human Rights went and uncovered a few mass graves just to be on the safe side, 
although no one took
 much notice.

Therefore it is well worthwhile examing just how and in what circumstances some of these powerful 
images are generated.

A disgusting example of American black propaganda.

The top photo on a CPA document on mass graves in Iraq, , 
is a photo of a some pieces of children's clothing, this we are told has been recovered from a 
"mass grave" - location unspecified.  The fact the clothing is clean, albeit slightly crumpled, 
that there is no sign of any human remains whatsoever, and that the clothing has not decayed or is 
even dirty.  There is nothing to suggest whatsoever that this clothing has been removed from the 
ground let alone it contained a child victim.  What an ugly cynical example of propaganda.  What a 
sick psychotic society which some behaviour goes completely without condemnation (and the only 
condemnation I expect to hear here is of me, for daring to doubt this is not a bona-fide atrocity 
and accusations of disrespect to all the child victims of Saddam Hussein).  Although this is clumsy 
example of propaganda and manipulation, it also shows that there is clear intent by the CPA to 
deceive and therefo
re one is entitled to ask the question "How many of the other images we are shown simply more 
sophisticated examples of propaganda?"

A Clear case of Staging a mass grave scene,

Unwittingly revealed by an amateur photographer, backpacker.  I came across this blog site while 
looking for information about visiting Iraq.  He presented photos that he claimed were a mass grave 
site - the list of his photos can be found here.
A representative photo
I wrote to this person saying that what this appeared to be was a whole lot of neatly arranged 
piles of earth (with no visible hole or reason for them being there) with old clothes on top.  That 
I had examined all his photos carefully and could not find one with recognisable human bones or 
remains and possibly this was a propaganda site rather than a mass grave site.  He gave a curious 
answer, angrily denying that this was propaganda, he tacitly conceding there were no human remains. 
 He said that the remains had already been collected by relatives, however the clothes had been 
left in case they wished to return and collect them later.  I replied that it seemed a very curious 
procedure, that 100% recognition by relatives solely on the basis of clothes was rather unlikely 
and that still didnt explain those curiously neatly arranged piles of dirt.  I received no reply.  
I leave you to make up your own mind.

Ann Clwyd, 10000 bodies, clothes not corpses.

I made a lot of mileage in the past about a photo with Ann Clwyd (which I doubted represented human 
remains), I approached Inforce Center for Genocide, Bournemouth University for comment as they 
claimed to have involvement in the site concerned (Hilla).  A similar photo can be found here of 
Ann Clwyd looking rather pleased with herself at the Hilla.
Their response was that I was correct - these white bags did not contain human remains, they 
contained clothes.  That this represented a reburial site with the clothes in the white bags 
representing the site of body buried beneath.  In this way people looking for lost relatives could 
identify them (by the famous "I remember the clothes they were wearing" method ).  The bags had 
"been inflated by a breeze across the site".  Its worth noting that these Iraqis seem to have been 
wearing a lot of clothes, although this might be a function of the bag inflating breeze.
I leave you to form your own opinion.

Both in the above case and Mahawhil it is claimed that the mass graves have been reburied.  As can 
be seen above and even more so in Mahawhil the reburials appear to be completely unmarked, in 
Mahawhil they seem just to have been bulldozed into a long trench.   I would have expected an 
attempt as far as possible to set out individual marked graves, both for memorial and for further 
investiagion - it appears I expected wrong.

Iraqis come in all shapes and sizes - Musayib

A mass grave has been excavated near the town of Musayib, supposedly revealing at least 650 
remains.  This site came under the supervision of the British NGO Inforce and therefore should 
represent a well documented example of mass grave investigation.

A photo gallery can be found here.

The first observation is just how rare images are shown that show remains being uncovered in-situ.  
And when the very rare photo is presented of remains being uncovered it is almost certainly not 

This image is a classic example
Note how the skeletal remains are positioned in a small heap, whereas when a body decays insitu the 
bones are left stretched out lengthwise as the body was deposited, not a jumble of ribs, skull 
fragments and femurs all mixed together.  Hence in this case we can conclude the trench has been 
dug first and then the remains added later (or remains that had been removed were returned to the 
trench for purposes of photography).  Further, in a mass grave setting one expects to see a layer 
of bodies and remains adjacent to each.  This is not the case here (the trench is otherwise 
completely empty), nor in any of the few other insitu photos I have seen, invariably they are of 
one set of remains that has managed to decay into a small heap.  All other images are of sets of 
remains removed and placed on the ground, frequently no remains are visible at all, simply plastic 
bags or linen bundles.

Inforce also claim to have a major involvement in this site.  I would expect as professionals in 
forensic exhumations that would have made a complete photographic record, and this would include 
pictures of remains being uncovered insitu (if indeed that actually happened).  However, repeated 
requests if they were intending to publish reports on their forensic investigations and if they 
could be inspected have lead to no response.

The photo gallery also contains a number of images of large collections of white linen bundles 
supposedly representing remains (looking remarkably similar to photos from other sites) eg
I have caused offence by saying this before, however, I have to repeat these seem simply to bulky 
and large to represent a set of human remains even with clothes.  Any photojournalist would far 
prefer the visual impact of a room full of skeletal remains rather than a large set of white 
bundles.  Especially as one of the captions informs us grieving relatives are trying to identify 
loved ones - a task that would be very difficult unless the bundles were unwrapped.

Here we have a photo of an Iraqi woman who is clutching two bundles supposedly remains of relatives
Here is another photo of a woman with family remains
The difference in size is glaring.  Hopefully you can see why I am little suspicious of the large 
bundles in the previous photos.

The mass grave 20 km from Basra

The above photo gallery also includes some photos purporting to be of a mass grave near Basra, HRW 
claiming it contains 100-200 bodies.  It is difficult to see how they make such a claim, no remains 
are visible and no excavation has been done.  There is simply some raised earth, with a flag placed 
on top and some clothing strewn in front.
That the clothing has been placed recently seems fairly obvious, it lies very loosly on the ground 
and has not even been partially buried by wind blown sand over the years.  There is absolutely no 
way that this can be concluded to be a mass grave until at least a small excavation is done and 
some remains revealed.  The site seems totally untouched.

US Military presence at Mahawhil.

One of the claims of HRW was that the US military had not been doing enough to protect mass graves 
especially at Mahawhil.  To which the US replied they simply did not have resources.

Interestingly I found a US military media publication on Mahawhil dated several days before the 
story hit the internation media.
Making it clear that there was a significant US military presence at Mahawhil all the time, and 
also they were providing assistance.  That resources were available and in fact were being 
deployed, although to what end.  At the site one can also see the ubiquitous backhoe, presumably 
supplied by coalition forces in sanction weary Iraq.   Another feature of this site is the presence 
of barb wire, suggesting that prehaps the local population far from driving the excavation is being 
actively kept at arms length.

The usual caveats apply at Mahawhil.  There are no pictures at all of remains in situ, simply large 
arrays of skeletal remains, sometimes simply clothes, layed out on the ground.  Most of the remains 
appear to be wearing a similar dark clothing that I am guessing may represent a uniform, suggesting 
it is possible these may be soldiers, and not necessarily the victims of "genocide".
Given the presence of US military units, its difficult to believe that if this is a bona fide site, 
that a complete photographic record would not exist.  Including site identification, excavation, 
remains in situ, remains lying in trenches side by side where they were deposited, the presence of 
spent cartridges (none have been mentioned) which would indicated if they were executed at the 
site, the presence of bullets or not.  Instead of just picture after picture little piles of 
remains or unidentifiable heaps on the ground.

Does this photographic record exist?  It should.  Can it be accessed? It ought to be.  Will it be?  
I am not holding my breath.  To me it seems a concerted effort to create the illusion of large 
numbers of mass graves but avoiding the rigorous investigation that such a situation would surely 

As an aside I found at Mahawhil another of those curious piles of dirt + clothes but no remains 
Does it represent a reburial site, with clothes left above for grieving relatives?  Who knows.  But 
frankly to me the dirt looks like it has been deposited methodically on to an undisturbed surface, 
not the result of burial.

To my mind while I suspect Saddam was very brutal to political opponents I am not convinced about 
claims of genocide.  For much the same reason I tend to doubt claims of US military brutality, for 
the simply reason your average American or Iraqi soldier is unlikely to be willing to participate.  
Equally Saddam, the consumate survivor was hardly going to jeopardise his main basis of support - 
the Iraqi army, 85% Shiite.

Tom Young

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