A feature story in the January issue of Archaeology Magazine reports that U.S. efforts in Iraq are doing more than just bringing freedom to the once totalitarian state. American scientists are also delivering a measure of justice to the families of tens of thousands of Kurds slaughtered by Saddam Hussein's forces, according to the magazine, which hit newsstands this week.
At the prodding of the investigators at Human Rights Watch, who had heard horrific first-hand accounts of the mass executions from survivors, U.S. Army archaeologists and other experts in 2003 began excavating mass graves and gathering evidence for trials that resulted in convictions last year for several Iraqi officials and military commanders on charges of crimes against humanity.
The extraordinary - and dangerous - work done by the Army Corps of Engineers team and other forensics experts uncovered horrific scenes in more than 200 mass graves spread out across the country. Their efforts, detailed in the current issue of Archaeology, were led by Corps of Engineers archaeologist Michael Trimble.
Trimble tells Archaeology's Heather Pringle that his team unearthed evidence of ethnic cleansing from the 1990s that leaves no doubt about the atrocities committed by Hussein's regime.
"If Steven Spielberg ever did a documentary on what happened to the Kurds, this is where he would come," Trimble tells the magazine. "There are graves as far as the eye can see." Trimble’s team team picked one, and brought in heavy equipment to scrape off the top layers of sand revealing bodies just a foot and a half below the surface.
Discoveries like this one, along with a stack of documents listing the execution orders and plans for rounding up political enemies of Hussein's regime, brought international attention to the slaughter of the Kurds and was the heart of the prosecution's case against Hussein and his cronies. Trimble's testimony, which included pictures of mannequins wearing the clothes of victims, was too much for the Iraqi trial judges.
Partway through his presentation Trimble noticed one judge dabbing his eye. Two others soon followed suit. At first Trimble was puzzled, thinking something was wrong. Then he realized what was happening. 'My God,' he thought, 'they are all crying,' Trimble told Archaeology.
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