1995 Congressional Hearings
Intelligence and Security

US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Washington, DC
Wednesday, DECEMBER 6, 1995


Dr. WOLF. Thank you, Mr. Smith. It's certainly an honor to be asked to be here with you today and to share with you the observations of my colleagues and myself when we visited certain towns in Bosnia and Croatia 2 months ago. More specifically, I want to share with you our experience in working with our civilian physician colleagues from those nations at the sites of a series of mass human graves.

I think we can probably put the lights down a little bit. Yes, that's great. Thank you.

Between October 8 and 13, 1995, I joined a group of American physician-scientists on a trip to Croatia and Bosnia under the sponsorship of AmeriCares. [See Slide 1.] AmeriCares is an international humanitarian aid group based in New Canaan, Connecticut. It is a private, non-profit disaster relief organization providing immediate response to emergency medical needs, and also supporting long-term health care programs around the world.

The group with whom I traveled consisted of several other forensic specialists: Dr. Michael Baden, the co- director of the Forensic Sciences Unit of the New York State Police; Dr. Henry Lee, the chief criminalist for the Connecticut State Police; Dr. Moses Schanfield, a DNA specialist from Denver; and Dr. David Rowe, a Professor of Pediatrics from the University of Connecticut.

We went to Croatia and Bosnia to work with and lend our support to the forensic team from the Split Clinical Hospital in Split, Croatia. While there, we assisted in the excavation of bodies at mass graves, assisted in autopsies, and then worked with the Croatian forensic team in meeting with families to assist them in identifying the bodies.

We also worked with the Croatian scientists in their DNA laboratory, which they had set up a year ago with some guidance from Dr. Lee to deal with those cases that could not be identified by traditional means. [See Slide 2.]

We visited three newly-found mass graves which contained the bodies of Croatians killed in 1991 and 1992. Two of the graves, one containing 34 bodies and the other, 3, were located near Kupres, Bosnia. The third mass grave we visited was in Petrinja, Croatia, a 2-hour helicopter flight from Kupres. The purpose of this visit was to assist in the identification of those bodies found in the mass graves being uncovered in areas previously controlled by opposing armies.

Our goal was to identify the dead and thereby help heal the living. In many instances, these were families who, for the past 2 or 3 years, had been holding out the hope that their loved ones might still be alive. Some had been told that their relatives had been taken prisoner. Our task was to help identify these bodies, to allow the families some kind of closure.

My purpose in sharing these experiences today is not to make any comments or give opinions regarding the peace process. Likewise, I'm not here to seek penalties for anyone or to assess blame for these deaths. This was not the goal of the trip. We did not examine these bodies for evidence of torture or even for specific causes of death. This was a policy decision made prior to our journey. Our job was purely to work toward the identification of these bodies and to return them to their families for proper burial.

In case I sound unmoved by this experience, let me say that despite a decade in forensic pathology and dealing with death, there were many sights that I was unprepared for. In one instance, there was the body of an 82-year-old blind woman in one of the mass graves. Also, we were being assisted by a soldier who, while excavating one of the graves, had found the body of his missing civilian brother.

The entire trip was a very moving one, and one that I think certainly most people in this country could not truly comprehend or understand, and that one who has never lived through the experience of war could envision. My purpose today is to give a clinical perception of the problems of the people of Bosnia and Croatia in the aftermath of war.

The peace process is really just a beginning of some of the work to be done for these people. At this point, there are many thousands of soldiers and civilians still missing. As peace arrives in the region, more and more of these graves will be found. It is quite probable that this identification will be going on for many years, as we are still identifying soldiers from the Vietnam era. The sheer number of the missing and the lack of resources dictates a long road for this process. [See Slide 3.]

I'd now like to show you some of the sights from these visits. This shot was taken on the first day of the trip as we approached Kupres, Bosnia, which is a town in southwestern Bosnia that had been captured by the Serbs from the Croatians in 1992. The front lines had recently pulled back from this area, and several mass graves had been discovered.

One of the graves containing 34 bodies had been excavated the previous week. It is my understanding from media reports that the 34 had been ordered executed while their relatives watched. [See Slide 4.] As we came to the town of Kupres, it was apparent that all of the region, all the houses, had been shelled, with the buildings being essentially in ruin. [See Slide 5.]

Although some of the people appeared to be attempting to get back to their homes, basically all the structures had been destroyed. This is the mayor of Kupres talking with Dr. Lee and Dr. Schanfield. [See Slide 6.] We found that the people of Kupres, as well as the people in all the areas that we visited, were very hospitable and extremely grateful for our help. Such was the appreciation of the mayor of Kupres that we were served a luncheon of lamb and local wines in the middle of a war zone.

This is the site of the grave that had been excavated the week prior to our arrival at the edge of Kupres. [See Slide 7.]This was the grave that had contained 34 bodies. A family member of one of the deceased had marked the grave with this cross. The bodies had been excavated, preliminarily autopsied at the site, and then moved to the Split Clinical Hospital where we would later work with the forensic team on these bodies.

The make-up of those in this grave cut across many lines: soldier and civilian, man and woman, adult and child, although there was a predominance of young males because of the soldiers. While we were not looking for specific causes of death, it was apparent that most of these people had died from multiple wounds, including gunshots and bayoneting. A conclusive determination of cause of death would also have been difficult because many of the bodies had been bulldozed and attempts had been made to burn the bodies.

This was a makeshift autopsy table at the edge of the mass grave in Kupres that had been used by the Split forensic team to conduct some of the initial examinations of the bodies. [See Slide 8.] It should be noted that while both traditional forensic pathology methods as well as DNA technology was available, the primary process used in the identification was largely direct visual examination by the families.

Most of these people came from towns that had been largely destroyed, so in most cases no dental or other medical records existed to work with. In many cases, we actually had to show family members a remnant of clothing to see if they could recognize it. [See Slide 9.]

While we were visiting this first mass grave site in Kupres, word came that another grave, which was later found to contain the bodies of three soldiers, had been pinpointed by Serb officials during a recent prisoner exchange. We went to that site, changed into scrub suits at the scene, and assisted in the excavation of these bodies.

I should take the opportunity to note that these bodies were not in any way extensively autopsied as we would do in this country. I recently participated in the recovery of one body in a criminal case in upstate New York where the removal of the body alone took 12 hours and the autopsy another day. This kind of precision was not available in Bosnia and Croatia simply because of the enormity of the numbers.

As I mentioned earlier, our visit was greatly noted and appreciated. There was a great deal of media attention given to our visit. An article appeared the next day following our visit to Kupres in the local paper, showing us at the grave site assisting in the excavation. [See Slide 10.]

Later that afternoon, we were taken by military helicopter to Petrinja, a town in north-central Croatia over the border from Bosnia where another large mass grave had been discovered. [See Slide 11.] At Petrinja, we arrived in a cornfield in the recently liberated region where local soldiers had identified another mass grave site. Although we did not stay for the entire excavation, it was later determined that the site contained nearly 100 bodies. [See Slide 12.]

I was told that the location of the grave had been determined by two Croatian soldiers who had been Serb prisoners of war and who had been forced to help collect and bury the bodies at the site. [See Slide 13.] When we arrived, a forensic team from Zagreb, the nearest forensic center located to the north of Petrinja, was working to excavate the bodies. Again, the make-up of the bodies in the grave included soldiers and civilians of all ages and both sexes.

Our timing was good. We were told that before our arrival, a dog had been blown up at the site by a landmine, and media reports noted that just hours before, three anti- tank grenades were recovered at the site, presumably put there to prevent anyone from excavating the bodies. The bodies in this grave were also from 1991. They were in very bad shape, both because of decomposition and because of the burial process, and consisted predominantly of skeletonized remains or partial skeletons.

Because teeth tend to be relatively resistant to decomposition, they were our most useful tool in identifying these bodies. Although dental records were essentially nonexistent, sometimes members of a family might remember, for example, a characteristic front tooth of a loved one and could recognize the person that way. In one case, a dentist who had worked on several of the missing people came to the autopsy room and was able to identify his own dental work on some of the bodies. [See Slide 14.]

This is closer to the first layer of the mass of bodies in this grave. You can see the outline of several of the bodies in the top layer at the upper center of the slide. The two things that really struck me as we first encountered this grave was the jumbled fashion in which these bodies were stacked one on top of the other, and the stench of almost 100 bodies with 4 years of decay. It seemed, at least to me, reminiscent of movies of the World War II concentration camps with layers and layers of bodies jumbled in a grave.

The following day, we returned to the Clinical Hospital in Split, Croatia, to work with their forensic team on the 34 bodies recovered the previous week in Kupres. Officials had notified members of the families in this town who were missing relatives that they could come to Split and attempt to identify their missing loved ones.

This slide shows the large refrigerated truck where the bodies were kept prior to examination at the medical center. [See Slide 15.] The truck is that long white structure across the middle of the slide. This is looking inside this trailer, this refrigerated truck, showing rows and rows of bodies in body bags. [See Slide 16.]

If this were the United States, this would have been a month's work for me. At Split, this turned out to be essentially a morning or a day's work. This is not because of lack of caring of the forensic team or lack of sophisitication. It was just that given the enormous number of people to identify as many people as possible without specifically autopsying each body.

This is the autopsy room in the Clinical Hospital in Split. [See Slide 17.] There were probably five or six bodies at a time on tables in this room. These are the members of our team, myself on the right; Dr. Lee and Dr. Baden in the middle working with Dr. Simun Andelinovic, who was the chief forensic pathologist in Split, preparing to identify one of the bodies. [See Slide 18.]

We arranged the bodies on tables in the autopsy room in a way we hoped would be the least grotesque to family members. [See Slide 19.] This is the body of a dead Croatian soldier. [See Slide 20.] His helmet is on his chest, and although it really doesn't show well here, there's a large bullet hole in the helmet. This is a shot of the same soldier showing substantial facial trauma. [See Slide 21.]

As I mentioned, in many of these cases, identification came down to a family member just recognizing a piece of jewelry or a piece of clothing. In this case, the wife of this Croatian soldier who's shown here feet first was able to identify her husband just by recognizing his Nike socks. [See Slide 22, 23.]

While we were examining these decomposing bodies from several years earlier, we were also reminded of the continued ongoing violence nearby. The adjacent autopsy room was the site of the autopsies of soldiers being killed in the current fighting. This was a soldier who had been killed the day before with multiple shrapnel wounds. [See Slide 24.]

As a forensic pathologist, I'm used to families coming to an autopsy room to examine or identify their relatives, but having five or six bodies on tables and dozens of families rotating through an autopsy room was an experience I wasn't prepared for. It was much more difficult because of the language barrier. Dr. Andelinovic, who is in the center of the photograph, tried to serve as an interpreter for us, but with six bodies and many families, it was essentially impossible. [See Slide 25.]

We showed families whatever we could find to help in the identification process-frequently, teeth of the deceased. The thing that was most difficult was that because of the language barrier, we couldn't offer any comfort to the family members. [See Slide 26.] Despite the grisly nature of the bodies before them, the family members wanted very much to spend time with their identified loved ones.

I should note that the mission in this case was largely a success. Before the end of the day, 27 of the 34 bodies in the first mass grave, and all 3 of the soldiers from the second grave, were identified. DNA testing is continuing on the remaining bodies yet unidentified.

The people in Bosnia and Croatia have been through one of the worst wars of the century with cruelty and man's inhumanity to man reminiscent of World War II. I would appeal to this Commission and to all the governments of the world to understand the plight of these people and to help make the resources available to them that will be needed probably for years to come in working with and identifying these victims. Thank you.