Hospital lawyer: Pakistani police stopped doctors from conducting Bhutto autopsy
John Byrne
Published: Monday December 31, 2007 |
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The police chief of the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi prevented doctors from performing an autopsy on the corpse of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, according to a lawyer on the hospital's board.

The dramatic new revelation emerged as new videotape showed a gunman in close proximity to Bhutto in the moments before her assassination, and a surgeon said he'd felt pressure to conform to the government's official story on Bhutto's killing.

Pakistan's interior minister had previously said that Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, had requested the autopsy not be performed.

"Even if the family of a murder victim refuses to allow the autopsy, no investigation can be completed if doctors do not perform the autopsy and conclusively find the cause of death," Athar Minallah, a top lawyer and a member of Rawalpindi General Hospital where Bhutto was taken after the attack said in an article by Times of India. "The doctors were worried that their initial report, which did not determine the definite cause of death, is being politically twisted."

The decision was taken despite the fact a post-mortem examination is required under Pakistani law in the cases of murder.

Doctors performed an "external" post mortem and distributed cropped images of Bhutto's skull to reporters. Under the official story, Bhutto was killed by the sunroof of her armored LandCruiser after a bomb went off when she was standing up to wave to a crowd.

In an open letter Monday, Minallah released the doctors' notes.

"In the letter," according to CNN, "Minallah said the doctors 'suggested to the officials to perform an autopsy,' but that Rawalpindi police chief Aziz Saud "did not agree." He noted that under the law, police investigators have 'exclusive responsibility' in deciding to have an autopsy."

Minallah told CNN he was voicing his concerns because doctors didn't feel they could speak out, saying they were "threatened."

"They are government servants who cannot speak -- I am not," he told the network, saying the failure to perform an autopsy has fueled "a perception that there is some kind of cover-up, though I might not believe in that theory."

The medical report of Bhutto's death identified a wound of several centimeters above her left ear, with no foreign body felt. Pakistan's interior ministry says they are open to exhuming the body; Bhutto's husband opposes the move, saying he doesn't trust the government.

The police meddling at the hospital would not mark the first time officers' actions have come into question regarding Bhutto's assassination. At the rally where she was killed Thursday, police abandoned their posts before the attack by a gunman and suicide bomber. The scene of the attack was also hosed down within an hour, destroying untold amounts of potential evidence.