Reuters Sees Touched Up Bodies of Saddam Sons
By Andrew Marshall
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. forces in Iraq partly rebuilt the faces of two bodies shown to journalists on Friday in an effort to convince Iraqis that the battle-scarred corpses were those of Saddam Hussein's widely feared sons.
I was one of 15 journalists shown into an air-conditioned, khaki tent at Baghdad airport to view the corpses. They did look like the brothers, who U.S. troops said they killed during a siege on Tuesday.
Arabic networks al-Jazeera, Abu Dhabi Television and other broadcasters began showing the bodies identified as Uday and Qusay, laid out at the makeshift airport morgue.
A U.S. military official said "facial reconstruction" was used to repair wounds, particularly to the face of the elder son Uday, which had disfigured the bodies shown originally to the public in photographs taken by soldiers after the battle.
An uncharacteristic beard on the body of Qusay, seen in those U.S. pictures, had been shaved off, leaving a mustache.
Inside the tent, U.S. officials said it was standard practice to use morticians putty to prepare bodies for viewing and was not intended to fool the Iraqi people.
But while it may be common in the United States, the move is unheard of in the Arab world. That could affect Washington's efforts to quash Iraqi conspiracy theories that the bodies are not in fact those of the once powerful and hated sons of Saddam, who is believed to be still in hiding in Iraq.
U.S. officials have already played down the importance of visually identifying the men, saying their dental and medical records positively identified the brothers. Four top Saddam aides have also made positive identification, they say.
"You can make anyone look like anyone else," one U.S. official said, insisting the medical evidence was compelling.
The brothers were lying side-by-side on metal trolleys, their bruised bodies, riddled with bullets and shrapnel, naked apart from a blue cloth that covered their genitals.
Autopsies had been performed on both men and large Y-shape incisions bound by black stitches marked their torsos.
Uday still wore his beard. A hole in the top of his skull was left untouched. U.S. officials said they had no evidence to support suggestions that he had shot himself to avoid capture.
A faint smell of disinfectant hung in the air.
Journalists were shown a metal orthopedic plate that officials said they had removed from Uday's left leg and were told that its serial number matched that of a disc that was inserted in his limb after a failed 1996 assassination attempt.
U.S. officials have declined to reveal how they have had access to the former ruling family's medical records.
They said both men had died from multiple gunshot wounds and blast injuries in the northern city of Mosul. Two other people also died. Those bodies were not shown. U.S. officials say one of them was probably Qusay's teenage son, Mustapha.
DNA tests were also being carried out but because previous samples of Uday and Qusay's DNA were not available, U.S. officials said this test would not conclusively identify the bodies. Washington says it has Saddam's DNA.
The officials said the bodies would be refrigerated to slow decomposition but their fate thereafter remains unknown. Muslim tradition demands that they be buried as soon as possible.
A spokesman for the U.S.-led administration said no one had so far come forward to claim the bodies of the fugitives for burial. He said: "If any of their family members want to come forward, we'd be delighted to speak to them."