Campus: CSU Chico -- November 5, 2004

Forensic Anthropologist Assists in Iraq Exhumations

P. Willey, a board certified forensic anthropologist, spent September and October in Iraq assisting in the identification of victims buried in mass graves. He is expected to return to Chico in the next few weeks. The work he did in Iraq will assist in the government’s efforts to prepare for the trial of Saddam Hussein for war crimes.

Willey spent the first month at an Army base near Mosul in northwestern Iraq, where the project’s morgue is located, and the second month in the field assisting with recovery in Ninawa. The mass grave exhumations were completed under the auspices of the Regime Crimes Liaison Office and the Iraqi Special Tribunal. The Regime Crimes Liaison Office has been in the process of investigating mass graves since May 2004.

Willey acted as senior anthropologist and morgue director. He oversaw the scientific aspects of the analyses and the day-to-day operation of the morgue. He worked with a cadre of handpicked experts from throughout the United States and a group of six scientists and military support personnel from the Joint POW/MIA Identification Laboratory in Hawaii. The project director was Dr. Michael K. Trimble of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Willey said that the grave exhumation was completed using standard archaeological and forensic techniques, building on similar projects in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. The exhumation process includes using a backhoe to remove the overburden in the grave and then excavating remains with hand tools such as trowels. Workers photographically document the process in detail and create a detailed map of the remains and the evidence.

Examination of the material in the morgue includes analyzing the bones of the bodies, examining the personal effects of the deceased and creating extensive photographic documentation of the deceased and their effects.

Two graves were investigated in the same immediate area near Ninawa. Nearby, investigators found a third area with bones and clothing and seven depressions in the ground consistent with additional graves. Morgue examinations continued for several weeks. Preliminary analyses suggest that remains from the first site investigated at Ninawa are those of women and children. Preliminary analyses from the second site suggest that the remains are consistent with those of adult males. Most of them had multiple gunshot wounds caused by a high velocity weapon, such as an automatic rifle.

Willey received his PhD from the University of Tenn. He became board certified as a forensic anthropologist in Feb.1989 and began teaching at CSU, Chico in Sept. 1989. Turhon Murad, chair of the Department of Anthropology, said, “When P. was hired, CSU, Chico became one of the few universities to have two board certified forensic anthropologists on the same campus.” Murad also was certified in 1989.

“The Forensic Anthropology Program at CSU, Chico is well known,” said Murad. “Our program has placed five former students with the New York City Medical Examiner’s Office after 9/11, four with Kenyon International out of Houston, and three with the UN’s efforts to recover remains in Bosnia.”

The Physical Anthropology Human Identification Laboratory offers identification services throughout northern California and the neighboring states of Nevada and Oregon. The forensic team assists various investigative agencies throughout the University's service area and beyond, including the California Department of Justice, the Nevada Division of Investigation, the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Both Murad and Willey have served as consultants to the U.S. Defense Department on the work of the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Contact: Kathleen McPartland, 530-898-4260


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