Voice for the Victims

Article excerpt

DR. Michael Trimble, an archaeologist who heads the Curation and Archives Analysis Center for Expertise in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' St. Louis (Mo.) District, has been to Iraq a half-dozen times over the past few years.

Trimble led a U.S.-Iraqi effort to assemble an irrefutable body of forensic evidence against former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who was accused and eventually convicted of systematically exterminating individuals and groups that opposed his rule. He was hanged in January 2007.

"I want to give his victims voices," Trimble said when he started collecting evidence. "I want to be able to tell the world what happened to Saddam's victims."

Two years ago Trimble was asked by officials of the U.S. Justice Department to organize a team to excavate mass graves in Iraq. Soon after, he traveled there with other archaeologists and forensic anthropologists, photographers, collections managers and archivists.

The team also included a legal specialist, to ensure that evidence gathered would hold up in an Iraqi court of law.

Also included were other members of the St. Louis District and personnel from medical institutions, law-enforcement organizations and universities across America.

What ensued was more than a mission to excavate and count victims.

"It was more like a large-scale crime-scene investigation," Trimble noted. "We developed a system to meticulously exhume these victims, to carefully determine the circumstances and causes of their deaths, and to tie them precisely and indisputably to their origins, whenever possible.

"We wanted to be able to show the entire sequence of events of their deaths--from their homes to their graves," he added. …