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Confederate

December 28, 2007

What Killed Bhutto?

In a nation where conspiracy theories run a freely as water, a new statement by the Pakistani government that PPP leader Benazir Bhutto was felled by sharpnel from a suicide bomber and not from the assassin's bullets is sure to be greeted with skepticism.

It was initially reported that Bhutto, 54, was killed on Thursday after a public rally in Rawalpindi by the bullets of an assassin who blew himself up after firing the shots.

But the surgeon who operated on her, Dr Mussadiq Khan, told the Associated Press on Friday that Bhutto was killed by shrapnel from the blast -- from which at least 28 more people died and at least 100 were wounded. Khan said "no bullet was found in her body."

An account by IBNlive.com provides a murkier accounting:

Mystery shrouds the death of former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto. In an explosive revelation, Pakistan's Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz on Friday said that Bhutto did not die of bullet wounds.

Nawaz said that Bhutto died from a head injury. At least seven doctors from the Rawalpindi General Hospital where the leader was rushed immediately after the attack say there were no bullet marks on Bhutto's body.

The doctors have submitted a report to the Pakistan government in which they say that no post-mortem was performed on Bhutto's body and they had not received any instructions to perform one.

"The report says she had head injuries an irregular patch and the X-ray doesn't show any bullet in the head. So it was probably the shrapnel or any other thing has struck her in her said. That damaged her brain, causing it to ooze and her death. The report categorically ssyas [sic] there's no wound other than that," Nawaz told a Pakistani news channel.

Government sources say there will be an investigation to determine why no autopsy was conducted.

These accounts from doctors seem to directly conflict with that of John Moore, a Getty Images photographer at the scene that stated clearly (audio & slideshow) that Bhutto was shot and went down into the armored vehicle before the assassin detonated his suicide bomb.

Transcript:

...suddenly—well, I turned around and heard three shots go off, and saw her go down, um, fall down through the sunroof, down into the car, and just at that moment, I raised my camera and started photographing with the high-speed motor drive and that's how I was able to capture some of the explosion, and the aftermath...

Other witnesses at the scene concur with Moore:

Three to five shots were fired at her, witnesses said. She was hit in the neck and slumped back in the vehicle. Blood poured from her head, and she never regained consciousness. Moments after the shooting, there was a huge explosion to the left of the vehicle.

A pistol was recovered from the site of the assassination by Pakistani police and is assumed to be the assassination weapon, but the likelihood of a person firing with a pistol rapid-fire from an estimated 50 yards while in a crowd, and hitting his target seems remote.

This would seem to bring us back to the irregular patch on Bhutto's head once again:

"The report says she had head injuries an irregular patch and the X-ray doesn't show any bullet in the head. So it was probably the shrapnel or any other thing has struck her in her said. That damaged her brain, causing it to ooze and her death. The report categorically ssyas [sic] there's no wound other than that," Nawaz told a Pakistani news channel.

If the multiple eyewitnesses were correct and Bhutto was back down inside the armored vehicle before the suicide bomber detonated his explosives, then there is little possibility that she was killed by shrapnel. There is also little reason to suspect that the seven doctors who examined her in the IBNlive.com article would lie about there being no signs of a bullet wound.

So what killed Benizer Bhutto? What could cause blunt-force trauma severe enough to kill the former Prime Minister, and occur before the bomb detonated, at which point multiple witnesses state she was already back inside the armored vehicle?

While merely speculating, I think that when shots were fired (they missed), her security detail pulled her back inside the vehicle quickly, and she probably hit the back of her head on the sunroof edge as she was pulled in.

That would seem to account for the lack of wounds other than blunt force trauma, though it would be very hard to prove without an autopsy that was never performed.

Update: The U.K. Sun seems to have come to an identical conclusion. CNN has the story as well.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at December 28, 2007 11:37 AM
Comments

Jeeze, did they hire the examiner who looked at Vince Foster?

No one told them to do an autopsy, so they didn't?


Between that and the riots that seem to be targeting random people, trains and buses, I just have to say Pakistan isn't ready for prime time.

Posted by: Mr. Obvious at December 28, 2007 03:22 PM

Judging only by what I've read here (and my decades of experience as a firearms instructor), 50 yards is indeed outside the realm of possibility for all but the most skilled shooters under much calmer conditions than those present at the time of Ms. Bhutto's murder. Handguns are, for all practical purposes, effective at 25 yards and less, and while a 50 yard shot to the head or neck of a medium sized woman is possible, in that contemporary weapons and ammunition are up to that level of accuracy, under the scenario presented here, such a feat of marksmanship would be far more blind luck than skill. Consider that there are many documented gun battles where police officers and criminals have literally emptied their handguns at each other--and missed--from distances that would have allowed them to simply reach out and touch their opponent.

No doubt we'll need to know much more to render any kind of meaningful judgement on this.

Posted by: Mike at December 28, 2007 06:06 PM

Does it matter how (technical cause of death) she died?

This is a serious, non-rhetorical question. Regardless, her death is tragic on an individual level and could end up being tragic for Pakistan and the region as a whole. However, does the exact cause of her death change the post-assassination dynamic?

Some have criticized the Pakistani government - and even the Bush administration - for not properly protecting her. Stating that it was inexcusable to let an assassin get that close to her. However, if it turns out that the reaction of her personal security force or her own reaction to the shooting was the specific cause of her death, does that change things?

I honestly don't know, and I'm not trying to play blame the victim. I don't know if Mrs. Bhutto would have been the long-term solution that people are now claiming, but she had the courage to put her self in the line of fire and regardless of the actual cause, the underlying perpetrators of the assassination are to blame.

Posted by: JD at December 29, 2007 02:41 AM

"but the likelihood of a person firing with a pistol rapid-fire from an estimated 50 yards"

Where do you get 50 yards? There's a picture out showing the gunman holding the pistol at most 10 feet away from her.

Posted by: Molon Labe at December 29, 2007 08:43 PM

There is a slide show over at HuffPo that shows pics of the roof latch with blood on it and also a shot of the bloody interior of the vehicle.

Both are consistent with the doctor description of the fractured skull described by the doctors present.

Others who washed the body say they saw bullet holes.

Looks like this is going to take a while playing dueling story lines to be sorted out.

Posted by: JustADude at December 29, 2007 09:00 PM

Isn't it possible that the blast could have caused her skull to impact the roof or sunroof of the car?

Posted by: doc75 at December 30, 2007 07:38 PM

Doc, that story, which was first proposed by a person in the Pakistani government has now been officially retracted.

I think we can cross that one off.

Posted by: C-C-G at January 1, 2008 05:04 PM