Posted by: uss017 | December 13, 2007

More on the Benazir Bhutto conspiracy theories

A while ago I stumbled across an item in yahoo’s news section entitled “Scotland Yard’s report on the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto leaves a number of important questions unanswered” authored by one Saeed Shah, a McClatchy Newspaper’s “special correspondent,” on Fri Feb 8.

The same writer has also composed a few other articles on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in which he tries to gently push forth a conspiracy theory involving the government (for example, see this, this, and this).

This will be a brief critical commentary to the above “unanswered questions” to show how wanting the “questions” truly are and how, on occasions, Shah even misreads the Scotland Yard report. This will be followed by some closing comments on the reasonableness of the conspiracy theories i.e., do they make sense?

My impression is that Shah is simply arguing for arguments sake and often he poses questions that can be very easily answered without requiring any significant research.

Shah’s “questions” are in bold and italics followed by my response in normal text.

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— How could the British police team be certain about the cause of death in the absence of an autopsy and based solely on X-rays of Bhutto’s head, the attending doctors’ hurried notes and the accounts of family members to Pakistani police?

Shah needs to read the report attentively because the doctors can see the nature of the head injury from the x-rays and from that determine the likelihood of it being the cause of death.

The Scotland Yard team explains how they can be reasonably sure about Benazir Bhutto’s (henceforth ‘BB’) cause of death:

In his report Dr Cary states:

• “the only tenable cause for the rapidly fatal head injury in this case is that it occurred as the result of impact due to the effects of the bomb-blast.”

• “in my opinion Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto died as a result of a severe head injury sustained as a consequence of the bomb-blast and due to head impact somewhere in the escape hatch of the vehicle.”

Given the severity of the injury to Ms Bhutto’s head, the prospect that she inadvertently hit her head whilst ducking down into the vehicle can be excluded as a reasonable possibility.

— Why didn’t Pakistani authorities exercise their right in murder cases to order an autopsy after Bhutto’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, refused to permit one?

BB was no ordinary person and disregarding the expressed wishes of her family would have led to more chaos in the streets of Pakistan.

Consider the type of large-scale destruction Pakistan witnessed in the first two weeks after BB’s assassination. PPP activists initiated killings, nation wide burnings, looting and plundering (mostly in Sindh) almost immediately after BB’s death was made public. Imagine the type of reaction BB’s autopsy would have elicited had it been carried out either without consulting her family or by disregarding their wishes.[1]

It is fine if some continue to disagree with the above reason and insist that the government should have still carried out a full autopsy irrespective of the consequences. Note that a conspiracy theory implicating the government still has no basis on the fact that BB’s autopsy was not carried out. Let’s say an autopsy demonstrated that BB had died as a result of bullet injury. How does that translate into government involvement in BB’s killing? The reasonable conclusion, were BB shot, would be that the suicide bomber shot her and later exploded himself to ensure his aim was accomplished (BB’s death). An autopsy cannot show that the government was somehow “involved” in the plot to kill BB.

Thus, it would seem that the government has no ulterior motive in denying an autopsy. They have nothing to hide. Their justification for not conducting it, whether we agree with it or not, appears to be genuine. More importantly, as President Musharraf has also said, if Zardari gives the permission then an autopsy would be conducted. Why don’t the adherents of the conspiracy theories pressurise Zardari to allow BB’s autopsy?

— Several witness accounts spoke of a bullet wound in Bhutto’s neck, but the X-rays and doctors’ reports say nothing about her neck. The report says that a British pathologist couldn’t “categorically” exclude a gunshot wound but that other unspecified evidence “suggests there is no gunshot injury.”

Two points here:

1. We would have to conclude that the witnesses (which witnesses?) were probably wrong in alleging a bullet wound in BB’s neck. It could be that initially, before she was examined, some thought BB had been shot in the neck since there was too much blood on her while others may have initially conjectured that perhaps she was shot in the head. No one, at this early stage, really knew about the precise nature of her injury. We can now conclude, however, that they were probably wrong about there being a bullet wound in BB’s neck and almost certainly wrong about there being a bullet wound in her head. There is no justification in making a huge fuss over the initial reports.

2. To say that the suggestion that there was no gunshot injury on Benazir Bhutto’s neck on account of “other unspecified evidence” is simply a gross misreading of the report. The relevant portion from the executive summary of the report specifies the evidence:

The limited X-ray material, the absence of a full post mortem examination and CT scan, have meant that the UK Home Office pathologist, Dr Nathaniel Cary, who has been consulted in this case, is unable categorically to exclude the possibility of there being a gunshot wound to the upper trunk or neck. However when his findings are put alongside the accounts of those who had close contact with Ms Bhutto’s body, the available evidence suggests that there was no gunshot injury. Importantly, Dr Cary excludes the possibility of a bullet to the neck or upper trunk as being a relevant factor in the actual cause of death, when set against the nature and extent of her head injury.

Thus, the evidence is: 1. limited X-ray material; 2. those who had close contact with BB’s body (medical staff and family members who washed her body).

While not ideal, this specified evidence makes it unlikely that BB had a bullet injury in her neck. Moreover, even if she had a bullet injury in her neck, it was not the cause of death. More importantly, a neck bullet injury gives no weight to any conspiracy theory involving the government. Once again we would have this scenario: the extremist religious terrorist managed to shoot BB in the neck and then exploded himself.

— Who ordered the crime scene to be cleared and hosed down within two hours of the attack, destroying crucial forensic evidence?

The above conveys the impression as if some high government official passed an “order” for the washing up of the area.

The area where the suicide attack occurred is usually busy with traffic and the local authorities, on their own, decided to hose it down after they thought the evidence had been secured. At most and at worse, this is a case of negligence by the local staff (as also acknowledged by Musharraf). We should not read too much into it.

Moreover, the report itself states that enough evidence was collected to determine with relative certainty BB’s cause of death:

Nevertheless, the evidence that is available is sufficient for reliable conclusions to be drawn.

— Why was there scant police protection and no security cordon as Bhutto left the Rawalpindi rally? Why were government-provided jammers that prevent cellular telephones from being used to trigger bombs apparently not working?

Where is the evidence that the jammers that prevent cellular telephones from being used to trigger bombs were “apparently” not working? And since Shah uses the word “apparent,” it implies that he is himself not sure about the accuracy of this claim (that the jammers were not working). Should a reporter not first attempt to verify the accuracy of a claim before using it as a point to gently push forth a conspiracy theory?

Moreover, this is an irrelevant issue. Jammers cannot prevent a suicide attack since the suicide bomber does not activate the bomb around his/her waist belt through a cellular telephone. Instead, he/she manually activates it by pressing a button on the belt or pulling a trigger. Therefore, that the jammers were or were not “apparently” working is beside the point.

Secondly, with regards to the allegedly “scant” police protection around BB and the “no security cordon” around her, why aren’t these questions posed to Mr. Rahman Malik, BB’s security manager, and the senior police officer handpicked and personally selected by BB herself to ensure security?

Third, four police mobiles were provided to BB comprising 30 personnel led by an officer she had hand-picked. The suicide bomber was unable to enter the rally itself since the security measures were high. He only got the opportunity to come close to her and strike when BB was making her way back home. This is the time when everyone is more vulnerable to attack since they are moving from one location to another. Had BB not come out of the escape hatch of the car, she would have been most probably alive. So one has to acknowledge that she made a careless mistake at a time when the risk of an attack was most high.

Fourth, to quote President Musharraf: Over 1,000 policemen had been deployed at Liaquat Bagh, there were about five walk-through gates and a bulletproof rostrum and policemen had been stationed on the roofs of nearby buildings. It was the responsibility of the PPP’s leadership to have ensured that BB did not expose herself to unnecessary risks.

Finally, if we accept the worst case scenario, according to which flimsy security was provided to BB, we still do not find here any evidence of the existence of an elaborate government conspiracy. Once again, we can blame the authorities for being negligent, clumsy and unprofessional; but that’s about it.

— On the night Bhutto died, doctors at the hospital first said that her death resulted from a bullet wound. What made them change their story to say that it was shrapnel?

But the doctors did not say, with certainty, that she died from a bullet wound in the head on the night of her assassination nor did they say that she died due to shrapnel wound. This is the problem: People often jump to conclusions. Initially, when BB was brought in the hospital, the doctors could only confirm whether or not BB was alive. They did not give a certain cause of her death but only suggested certain possibilities at this early stage. Thus, when the media first approached the hospital authorities, they answered ‘what may possibly have happened’…. and only later issued a definitive cause of death. The media, however, reported the entire saga as follows: “first the hospital staff said this…but now they say this.” Yet now we can be reasonably sure that BB did not die from a bullet injury (even if we suppose she was shot in the neck) and the Scotland Yard team has confirmed this as well. But it seems to me that Shah has already made up his mind and would not accept this reasonable conclusion.

Once again, let us suppose that BB did die as a result of bullet injury. Well, that does not support any conspiracy theory involving the government. The reasonable conclusion would only be that the suicide bomber shot BB, as a result of which she died, and exploded himself in a couple of seconds.

— If, as the report says, Bhutto’s head disappeared into the vehicle escape hatch 0.6 seconds before the blast, how did she collide with the hatch?

So Shah really cannot read attentively after all. Here is the relevant section of the report, which answers his question precisely:

High explosives of the type typically used in this sort of device, detonate at a velocity between 6000 and 9000 metres per second. This means that when considering the explosive quantities and distances involved, such an explosion would generate significantly more force than would be necessary to provoke the consequences as occurred in this case.

. . .

Ms Bhutto’s injury is entirely consistent with her head impacting upon the lip of the escape hatch. Detailed analysis of the media footage provides supporting evidence. Ms Bhutto’s head did not completely disappear from view until 0.6 seconds before the blast. She can be seen moving forward and to the right as she ducked down into the vehicle. Whilst her exact head position at the time of the detonation can never be ascertained, the overwhelming conclusion must be that she did not succeed in getting her head entirely below the lip of the escape hatch when the explosion occurred.

— Was the short distance that her head would have moved to hit the hatch capable of generating enough force to cause a fatal injury? A leaked Pakistani investigation report suggested that the distance was too short.

I have no idea about this mysterious “leaked” Pakistani report, but the Scotland Yard report states that BB’s head struck the hatch with a lot of force. So, we may say that the distance between the head and the hatch was short, but the force with which the head made contact with the hatch was a lot.

Is this really so difficult to understand?

— Why were the biggest questions— who did it and why?— put off-limits to Scotland Yard?

You have to first show that the Scotland Yard team specifically requested Pakistan to be a part of the “who did it and why?” part of the investigation and that the Pakistan government rejected their request. This did not occur as far as I can tell.

President Musharraf has said that outside assistance would be sought in all areas where it is felt that the Pakistani investigators lack the technology and the know-how. One needs to show that the Pakistani investigators are incapable of determining the “who did it and why” questions and only then raise the issue. It could be that the Pakistani investigators feel confident in pursuing these questions and, therefore, need no outside assistance.

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Consider the type of scenario which is being implied by the conspiracy theorists: the Pakistan government wanted to get rid of BB and to accomplish this purpose a suicide bomber was used to eliminate her. None of the theorists have said it in so many words, but this is essentially what it boils down to and what is being implied if we are to accept their proposal. Another, less common, suggestion posits indirect involvement by the government in the assassination of BB. That is, the government was aware that BB’s life was under threat from extremists yet it (the government) provided weak security to BB in order to increase the chances of her getting killed at the hands of extremists. The second proposal, although more nuanced, is also unreasonable and quite unlikely for reasons I will shortly explain.

First, in response to the theory of direct government involvement, we need to ask: Does this scenario make sense and does it sound reasonable? Are we to believe that the government used the services of a suicide bomber in order to kill BB? Why could they not simply use a sniper to shoot her? Surely the later could have been easily accomplished. There are so many ways of removing an opponent from the scene apart from utilising the services of a suicide bomber. From all that we know, suicide bombing (at least in our region and in the Middle-East) is the tool of religious extremists. From the outset, it makes sense to suppose that the ones responsible for a wave of suicide attacks in Pakistan – including attacks on President Musharraf, Shaukat Aziz (former PM) and Aftab Sherpao (former Federal Minister) – were also responsible for the suicide attack upon BB.

Secondly, consider the motive. That is to say, why on earth would the government desire to kill BB? Ask yourself: did the assassination of BB benefited or harmed the government? Was the government so inept to realize that the elimination of BB would merely result in creating troubles for them? The only motive I have come across thus far is that BB, on the day of her assassination, planned to submit a “very sensitive” report to certain American officials listing evidence of the alleged “rigging” which was to be initiated by the government during elections. According to Saeed Shah:

“Bhutto had been due to meet U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., to hand over a report charging that the military Inter-Services Intelligence agency was planning to fix the polls in the favor of President Pervez Musharraf.”

Therefore, being upset, the government decided to remove BB from the scene (through the agency of a suicide bomber). Again, does this make sense? Couldn’t the government just deny the allegations made within the report instead of going out of their way to kill BB (and that too through a suicide bomber!)? Are we to believe that the government is so incapable and unimaginative that they could not think of a way to challenge the details and credibility of the report?

Could not another member of the PPP submit this report to the American politicians after BB’s assassination? Was there only one copy of this “very sensitive” report? Did the government think that this report would vanish into thin air or become invisible upon BB’s assassination? In short, it seems pointless to remove BB from the scene for fear of her submitting this “very sensitive” report to certain American politicians.

Further, how did the killing of BB help the government in negating the claims listed within BB’s report? With BB out of the picture, how has it assisted the government in mitigating affects of the report and in substantially reducing, if not entirely obliterating, its damaging repercussions? Has the removal of BB hurt the government – and created sympathy voters for her party – or has it benefited the government?

Third, in response to the conspiracy theories proposing indirect government involvement, once again the above raised issues remain: the motive and whether the government benefited or received harm from the act. Moreover, it is not good enough to merely propose a theory and a possible scenario. We can introduce multiple theories and endless possible scenarios. Just because a proposed scenario is “possible” that by itself does not mean that it did happen. One needs to submit proof and evidence, without which all theories and scenarios are worthless. To present two examples, one may theorise that BB acted so carelessly since she had a secret suicide desire and, therefore, decided to increase her chances of getting killed in a terrorist attack. Now this theory is certainly “possible,” but it is improbable and there is no evidence to back it up. Likewise, it is “possible” that Zardari wanted to get rid of BB and so decided to ignore many of the security suggestions in order to increase her chances of getting killed in a terrorist attack. Once again, this scenario is “possible,” but is it probable? Most would answer in the negative. Bottom line: just because the proposed scenario is “possible” it does not mean it did happen.

Furthermore, all indications are that BB had received reasonable security. She was travelling in bullet and bombproof vehicles and she was allowed to select the police officer responsible for her security arrangements. While one may argue that perhaps the government could have tightened the security even more, from what we know the level of security that was provided was quite high nonetheless. Interestingly enough, it is BB’s team which mostly ignored and failed to implement a number of key security suggestions made to them whereas the government, more of less, met their obligations (For example, we read: “However, there was no indication that Bhutto’s team – including her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, who attended at least one of the meetings – had followed through on the most critical of the recommendations, including the hiring of private guards and reducing her visibility in large crowds like the one in Rawalpindi where she was killed.“).

In response, PPP activists, such as Wajid Shamsul Hasan, have blurted out that (paraphrase): “you are asking BB not to be a politician and not to meet her people!” In reply to this bogus excuse, we may say that instead of whining you need to accept the consequences of being a politician and meeting the people, particularly when you are a known target of terrorists. You know the dangers and you are not willing to be careful, then why complain?

In conclusion, in my view, the conspiracy theories have no substance whatsoever and are nothing more than the products of minds which have nothing worthwhile to do in life. The fact that there was a suicide bombing should be more than enough evidence for us to know that this was an act of misguided religious extremists and terrorists.

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1. Conspiracy theories would have probably still emerged had an autopsy been conducted since PPP activists could have blamed the authorities and doctors of distorting the reports and hiding facts etc.

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© Musharraf Supporters 2008 All rights reserved

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Responses

  1. Excellent analysis !


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