May 14, 2008

The Bloodless Bullets of Baghdad

I suspect that this is less a case of "fauxtography" than a curious physiological response, but Associated Press cameraman Karim Kadim captured this photo of a Sadr City woman having a bullet removed from her forearm.

Here is an enlarged and cropped version of the photo as tweaked in PhotoShop to focus on the wound. I got as close as I could without distorting the image significantly.

As you can see, the bullet is being pulled nose first, suggesting that it penetrated though the outside of the woman's arm and passed through the interosseous membrane between the ulna and radius to stop at some point on the inside part of her forearm.

All combat rifle cartridges commonly used should have fully penetrated this woman's arm completely with a significant (and ghastly) exit wound if not impeded by either hitting a barrier of some sort, or coming from an extreme distance away. I'd love to see a higher resolution version of this photo to see if we could determine what kind of rifle cartridge this was.

Whatever the bullet is, I'm pretty sure it isn't one of these.

5/20 Update: After speaking with Associated Press resources in New York, trauma surgeons, and other resources in Iraq, this photo is confirmed as the extraction of a bullet that hit the woman in the photo after being fired from a considerable distance, and after the bullet had expended much of its energy. Additional still footage is said to exist showing the entry wound, and there is also said to be videotape of the extraction.

This was not a staged photo, just a strange physiological response to an uncommon wound.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at May 14, 2008 11:43 AM

That looks to have a ballistic tip on it.

Posted by: Oilcrash at May 14, 2008 12:23 PM

Kinda tough to make that assessment, as many kinds of military ammunition has painted tips as a visual aid showing the kind of ammunition it is. A red or orange tip is often the sign of a tracer round.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at May 14, 2008 12:32 PM

It could have been a "spent" bullet, ie at the far extent of its range and just about capable of of such a wound.

But gloveless? Even washed for reuse? Heck, even cotton gloves? Well, maybe.

Posted by: teqjack at May 14, 2008 01:56 PM

A few thoughts:
Did you notice the amount of scarring on the arm?

That seems to be a large penetration to leave no trace of blood. Maybe the wound area has been cleansed with alch.?

If the wound was 'splinter' like, just under the skin, don't you think the lady would have removed it herself?

Posted by: mekan at May 14, 2008 03:26 PM


Good questions, all. In order:

  • by "scarring," are you referring to the disturbed skin around the bullet? I would love to hear from a trauma doc, EMT, or combat medic on this, but since none are around, I'll hazard a guess that it might simply be a reflection of how the skin is being stretched and pulled upon extraction. I could very well be dead wrong, too.
  • The lack of blood is fascinating, especially if you dig up an anatomical chart of the forearm that shows the various major and minor arteries running though that general area of the arm. Frankly, I'm not confident about the use of alcohol to clean the wound.
  • yes, if it was a splinter, I would think she would have removed it on her own, and quickly, as bullets tend to be quite warm, if not hot, when they hit flesh. If it had been the case where the bullet was hanging out as shown, and hot, I'd guess that human nature wold dictate to grab it and try to pull it out.

Of course, not being there, and not having much to work with, this is all guesswork.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at May 14, 2008 03:39 PM

I sent the link to my sister, who is a combat medic. She may see something we don't.

Posted by: Grey Fox at May 14, 2008 04:04 PM

I was a combat medic. The pic is an obvious fake. No way would that bullet still be shiney. No way would there be no blood with a piece of metal that large. No way would there be no apparent distortion of the point. For years after I returned from Vietnam, Republic of, I had pieces of shrapnel easing out of my side and leg. That little event was always accompanied by pus and blood. The person in the pic may have a "void" in their arm from a previous injury that just happens to be the approximate diameter of a bullet. But I really doubt the bullet you see in the pic was ever fired. Who but a vet or cop would know? None of the sheep would.

Posted by: Tonto (USA) at May 14, 2008 04:43 PM

US Military Tracer round: Red tipped 5.56mm Round with red tip Ball, Tracer M193 55 GRN or New Version Ball, Tracer M196 55 GRN.

The 'scarring' around the arm looks more like what happens when your bandages are on too tight... the skin puckers and take on the fabric shape/distortion. Not agreeing that this is fake or disagreeing..

Also: Tracer BURN. Burn hot.

Lastly: The bullet appears (in relation to the thumbnail BIGGER than a 5.56mm round IMO

Posted by: Big Country at May 14, 2008 05:36 PM

It's difficult to see from the picture what exactly that is, whether bullet or not. But I can tell you as a combat medic that extraction would not be bloodless, nor unbruised. Even a bullet that has been in a limb for months still shows up as a swelling.
Fresh bullets leave holes as large as themselves only at the entry point, and grow larger as they pass through. Exit wounds are BIG. And bloody.
I'd say the picture is definitely fishy, but I must also comment that the photo linked to it, the one with the woman holding up two bullets she says struck her house--that's hilarious! Bullets can be fired in their casings, now?

Posted by: Grey Fox's Sis at May 14, 2008 08:25 PM

Based on the cross section of the round as compared to the medic's thumb I would say 7.62. Red tracer tip makes it a US 7.62 (at least I dont rember seeing any red tipped AK ammo)

My guess, a spent round at the end of its trajectory (possibly one fired up in the air as Haji is prone to do)

It entered the arm thru the hole and lodged itself right under the skin. She probably had it there for a day or two. The Doc pushed and pulled until he got the tip out enough to extract it. Has to be an Iraqui Doc. No US one would do it without gloves

Posted by: Rey at May 14, 2008 08:49 PM

Fauxtography. As several others have suggested. The absence of blood and pus (the response of white blood cells to a foreign body) alone render this an obvious fake. In addition, if there is, in fact an entry wound on the opposite side of the arm, the "victim" would be screaming in pain as the person supposedly "removing" the bullet, apparently without rubber gloves, antiseptic or medical tools, put pressure on the entry wound.

As for the idea that this could be a round so nearly completely spent as to end up in this position in a woman's arm? Bullets and flesh don't react that way. Possible? Yes, but only to the extent that monkeys might, at any minute, fly from my rear end.

Do you suppose Scott Beauchamp is involved? Could this be one of those fabled square bullets?

Posted by: Mike at May 14, 2008 10:46 PM

The scarring I was referring to are the lines that start about 1-2 inches above the foreign object. The statement by a commenter above that those are pressure lines from a tight bandage recently removed make sense.

Posted by: Mekan at May 15, 2008 06:12 PM

Neither the M62 nor the M276 have a red tip. So you can count out 7.62x51.

The Syrian made PANSSART SYTYTYS in 7.62x39 does have a red tip.

Posted by: Eric at May 18, 2008 02:08 PM

"As for the idea that this could be a round so nearly completely spent as to end up in this position in a woman's arm? Bullets and flesh don't react that way. Possible? Yes, but only to the extent that monkeys might, at any minute, fly from my rear end."

As many projectiles used in AK style weapons are coper washed steel jacketed mild steel core, it would not be difficult to say that it could have gone through a soft structure and entered her arm with minimal (zero to no) deformation of the projectile.

It is very difficult to tell if they cleaned it before removing it.

It does seem fishy, I will give ya that. But weirder things have happened.

One odd thing here. While we can not see the projectile very well, we should be able to see some striations. We can not.

Posted by: Eric at May 18, 2008 02:16 PM