In March 2015, I was bombarded by telephone calls from CNN and other international news services to comment on allegations by the Iraqi ambassador to the UN, Mohamed Alhakim, who at a special meeting with the Security Council of the UN called on the counsel to investigate the deaths of twelve doctors in Mosul, Iraq. He said they were killed after refusing to remove organs from the bodies of captives held by ISIS. The ambassador claimed, “Some of the bodies we found are mutilated ... that means some parts are missing.” Bodies had allegedly been exhumed from shallow graves in an undisclosed location in Iraq. The bodies had been slashed open in the back where kidneys had likely been removed. This accusation followed a news report by Turkey’s Anadolu news agency that ISIS had opened a medical school in its main stronghold in Syria. There were rumors that doctors were forced to remove organs during or immediately following the executions of ISIS prisoners of war, which included Iraqi people across religious and ethnic divides, Sunni, Shia, Christian and Turkman.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special envoy handling Iraq, said the organ theft claim would be investigated. Reports that ISIS was relying on human trafficking as one of its sources of income have circulated for months. The US State Department issued a statement that, “given the atrocities that have been documented and the heinous crimes for which ISIS had proudly taken credit” there was “no reason to doubt” the reports of organ theft. When asked to comment I took a deep breath, thinking that this was one battle in which I did not wish to be involved. Nonetheless, I commented: “Dead bodies, once they are disarticulated, pulverized, processed, freeze-dried, etc., are so far removed from the 'human' person that they are simply commodities. The demand for fresh organs and tissues ... is insatiable."
Obviously, not all allegations of body and organ theft are true or evidence-based. Allegations of organs trafficking from the living and from the dead, from strangers and from enemies, have appeared in many counties. They represent a universal worst case scenario and a collective human nightmare: the fear of being cannibalized while living or dead. Since 1999 the Berkeley Organs Watch Project, of which I am the co-founding director, has followed allegations of illicit organ trafficking networks in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the United States. Hundreds of strange allegations were confirmed and several international criminal networks of illegal harvesting of organs from the living and from the dead have ended in prosecutions.
Most networks of human trafficking for the purpose of organ procurement are run and controlled by international traffickers, some of whom are surgeons who operate with the complicity of government bureaucrats, blood-matching technicians, public health officials, hospital administrators, medical insurance agents and immigration officers. The victims of human trafficking for the purpose of organ retrieval include the most vulnerable populations: immigrants, undocumented workers, political and economic refugees, the poor and desperate as well as the mentally or cognitively challenged. But these crimes can also be deployed during the context of political conflict, civil wars, ethnic cleansings, in which case the damage is more brutal and horrific. Both the UN Office on crime and human trafficking and Pope Francis have labeled organ harvesting of enemy combatants as crimes against humanity.
Here, we present collaborating evidence that fatwas, branded by ISIS, have been sent by twitter to inform ISIS combatants that harvesting the organs from the bodies of the enemy-infidel, even the removal of organs from living apostates that may cause their death in the process, is permissible. The fatwas neither prove nor disprove the allegations made by the UN ambassador, but they casts light on ISIS militants’ use of ancient and classic Islamic texts in fatwas that can be found in Arabic (and in English translation) online.
A Taboo Topic
The plunder of enemy bodies during or in the aftermath of wars, with the complicity and collaboration of military and police states represents the extreme limit of what might be called late modern, neo-cannibalism. The theft and consumption of human body parts especially during times of war, has a long genealogy. Evidence of the bio-savagery and headhunting for trophies taken from the enemy body is a common theme in archaeological and ethnographic records.
Stories of the plunder of the bodies of the enemy going back to ancient Rome and the rape of the Sabine women as a war tactic. But a specific, late modern deviation began in the twentieth century with the emergence of the Nazi death camps that included medical research and medical experiments that involved organ removal from the helpless inmates.
Similar practices continue to this day, such as the allegations by the Council of Europe of the existence of prisoner detention camps for former Serbian militants and other minorities in Kosovo and Albania after the war in which executions included organ harvesting. This rupture points to the demise of classical humanism, holism, and history—the end(s) of the body and the ends of history as we once knew it (or believed we did). Partible/divisible bodies, part-histories, and part-truths have replaced Enlightenment certitudes and universal codes of human rights and ethics.
The Cold War and its chaotic aftermaths released a triumphal millenarian capitalism bolstered by an ethic of consumerism. Global capitalism and advanced biotechnology led to new market demands including for human bio-products” skin, bones, flesh and blood, tissue, marrow, and genetic and reproductive material. Rapacious demands for scarce organs and tissues produced a post-modern form of human sacrifice. Organ scarcity and needs created an unprecedented demand for them and a division of the world into organ “givers” and organ “getters,” to put it bluntly. This logic is sanctified by the medical mantra of “saving lives,” a dangerous discourse that can obliterate the collateral harm done to individuals, communities, and nation-states in the illicit procurement of human biomaterials, especially when they are still attached to their native bodies.
Cannibal markets based on the disposability and dispensability of bio-available populations and groups have certainly flourished under economic globalization. There are cannibal markets in bodies, whole and in parts, dead and alive; in partible and portable organs; in tissues, oocytes, rented wombs, and babies; and even cannibal markets in doctors, surgeons, and nurses that move and remove these bio-products from one vulnerable country to other locations and populations that have defined new rights and new sovereignties over the bodies of others. As in any market enterprise, these markets are producing winners and losers, with populations of the advantaged and disadvantaged, super citizens and sub-citizens.
In contrast to the gradual normalization of kidney trafficking and selling, the plunder of dead bodies, especially of prisoners, enemies of war, the mentally incompetent, and children is perceived as a heinous crime, a crime against the state, and (in the case of the unconfirmed allegations in Kosovo) as a crime against humanity. However, these are not isolated scenarios. Other examples include : a psychiatric camp at the Argentine National Mental Colony of Montes de Oca, during and after the Dirty War; a police mortuary in Cape Town, South Africa, during the anti-Apartheid struggle where tissues and organs were plundered from the pile up of excess dead bodies at the Salt River Mortuary; a militarized National Forensic Lab in Tel Aviv (Israel) during and after the two Intifadas; and the allegations of murder for organs in transit—detention camps in Kosovo and Albania at the end of the Kosovo War in 1999.
Bio-Piracy of the Dead: The Body of the Enemy
Three photos of dead and violated bodies have kept my Organs Watch project alive. They are icons, displayed over my writing desk at home as I would not want my students to grapple with them. The first is a classic photo, purchased in Paris, of “Che” Guevara, his limp but graceful and slightly smiling dead body, propped up by clueless CIA agents, who did not realize they were showing the world the body of a future secular “saint.”
The other two photos were given to me on behalf of their grieving and traumatized mothers. One is that of seventeen-year-old Andrew Sitshetshe from Gugutethu, South Africa, whose plundered body lay exposed on a concrete slab at the Salt River Mortuary in Cape Town toward the bitter end of the anti-apartheid struggle. Andrew was caught in township crossfire, while carrying his mother’s radio that had been repaired in a local shop. Andrew’s body is shown split in half and his abdomen is as empty as his eye sockets. Andrew’s evacuated body—literally a body without organs—was carelessly laid out for viewing on the Cape Times Sunday comic strips. “Like a gutted fish,” his mother, Rosemary Tandiwe Sitshetshe, told me in 1994. Then she asked a question with a Biblical reference: “What have they done to my son?” I pursued the question, a quest that led to a full day’s reckoning at the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission about politically motivated dissections and dismemberment of the dead, all of them mixed race and black, at police mortuaries run by old school Afrikaner pathologists.
The other was a photo attached to a legal file at the Society of Saint Ives Catholic Center for Human Rights in Bethlehem that was handed to me by a human rights lawyer in 2000. Abdel Karim Musalmeh was mortally shot in the head on November 8, 1995 by Israeli Defense Force (IDF) snipers. The single bullet hole that was determined to have killed Abdel was clearly visible in the photo attached to the Israeli autopsy report from the Abu Kabir National Forensic Institute in Tel Aviv. Abdel’s execution followed a military order for the demolition of his family’s home in the Arab village of Beit Awa. Abdel was caught fleeing the family home and shot without provocation as a “wanted person on the run.” Abdel’s body was returned in tatters to his mother with the autopsy report that confirmed her son’s death by a rifle shot to his head.
Why then, his mother asked, was his dead body cracked open from neck to torso and crudely sown together and his eyes and skin removed, “Skinned,” she said, “like a rabbit.” I did not know, but promised to find an answer. Under the direction of Prof. Hiss, autopsies at the Israeli National Forensic Institute had been followed by body plunder for organs, skin, and eyes—the skin was sent to a military skin bank at Hadassah Hospital.
In contrast to the gradual normalization of kidney trafficking and selling of organs from trafficked persons, the plunder of dead bodies, especially of prisoners, enemies of war, the mentally incompetent, is viewed as a particularly heinous crime, a crime against the state, and in some instances as a crime against humanity.
In each case documented by Organs Watch, bearing on missing or disappeared bodies, illegal dissections, and the harvesting and stockpiling of organs, tissues, and other body parts on the bodies of enemy, of the infidel, fact and fiction, the social imaginary, and the hallucinatory eventually hardened into cold, forensic medical facts. The motives attributed to each case—the desecration of dead bodies of Palestinian enemies at the national forensic institute of Abu Kabir in Tel Aviv; the illicit harvesting of tissues and organs from black and ‘colored’ bodies in the Salt River Police Mortuary in Cape Town during the anti-apartheid struggle; a psychiatric camp at the Argentine National Mental Colony of Montes de Oca, during and after the Dirty War; a police mortuary in Cape Town, South Africa, during the anti-Apartheid struggle; the medical executions of Serbs left over in Kosovo and Albania at the end of the Kosovo War in 1999 — are complex, and contradictory, ranging from race hatred, nationalist interests, the desire to display power and authority or to curry favor with higher authorities, to ‘ordinary’ greed and corruption.
This research deals with a tabooed anthropological topic: a banned discourse on the anthropology of evil. The anthropologist’s norm of reluctance to judge or to second-guess what we are told by our informants takes on a different shape when one is working in the field of criminal behavior. Our discipline’s moral reticence may be a gentlemanly vestige of our post-colonial conventions of political reticence, one that has sometimes turned us into willing bystanders when crimes, including crimes against humanity, are taking place in our field sites. Documenting such crimes require collaborations with forensic pathologists, police detectives, bio-archeologists, and ethnographers with experience working in war zones. Anthropologists can assist governments and international investigations on organ trafficking not only by aiding the living but also, perhaps even more urgently, the dead, including in nightmarish scenarios in which the bodies of the enemy, become the spoils of war.
Anthropology of Evil?
Evil is not an anthropological subject, except, perhaps, with reference to African witches or to Amazonian dark shamans. After the Holocaust some social scientists dared to introduce a phenomenology of evil. Few anthropologists entered the dialogues. It is my intent to suggest that some forms of body plunder, especially when linked to war crimes, as when the body of the enemy, or the body of the terrorist, or the body of the "sub-human" non citizen (the profoundly disabled) are used as sources of organs, bone, skin, and tissues.
The late anthropologist Paul Reisman argued at an anthropology meeting several years ago that once anthropologists identified an evil, they ceased trying to understand the situation as a human reality. Evil became a code for inhuman, and therefore the scientific motive to understand it was replaced by how best to combat it. At this point, he argued, anthropologists left social science behind and entered the political process. I responded to the contrary in “The Primary of the Ethical: Toward a Militant Anthropology” that a scholarship with commitment was not only possible but necessary.
The traditional view that an objectivist approach to “evil”, maintaining evil as a neutral category, would ultimately provide a better understanding of how the world works has prevailed. And, thus, we have proceeded
Most instances of human trafficking for the purpose of organ procurement fit into the paradigm of what the late Franco Basaglia called peace-time crimes, crimini di pace, in which the violence requires the complicity of state bureaucrats, doctors, surgeons, blood-matching technicians, public health officials, hospital administrators, medical insurance agents and immigration officers. The crimes are directed at the disposable populations such as the sick, the poor, immigrants, refugees, the dispossessed and the mentally or cognitively challenged. However, peacetime crimes can also be deployed as war crimes and, in the worst instances, crimes against humanity.
The chaos of war provides an ideal cover for the inhumane treatment of the bodies of the enemy, the terrorist, and those seen as mentally or morally deficient, who are regarded as “better off dead.” In many cases in the Organs Watch archives, these crimes continued under the radar, unacknowledged by Human Rights Watch and other humanitarian organizations. They were protected by the belief that such crimes are technically impossible, that organs harvesting and transplant could not be conducted in unstable and technologically primitive regions.
When military interests and public health projects are enmeshed, moral reasoning is reduced to a kind of megalomaniacal hubris, which Ostrovsky and Hoy describe as “the feeling you can do anything you want to whomever you want for as long as you want because you simply have the power to do so.” Under these circumstances those in power believe they are themselves in combat with a larger evil force, be it a lethal disease or political enemies of the state.
In addition, a lack of awareness of the minimal technical, medical, and surgical requirements of organ and tissue harvesting and transplantation in unruly times and places made these cases difficult to adjudicate. Even seasoned prosecutors are often confused about the difference between organ and tissue harvesting from dead bodies, brain dead (deceased) donors, executed prisoners, and living, trafficked kidney suppliers.
The role of heavily militarized states in organ theft from the bodies of enemy combatants (the militant, the terrorist) and from the bodies of ”internal enemies” (the undocumented, immigrants, and the mentally incompetent) is a special case in the larger realm of global organ trafficking. It is a moment when during wartime, peacetime crimes are employed with political intent. In times of instability, severe rights abuses are conducted during the theft of illicit organs and tissues from prisoners of war, mental patients, and the unwanted dead bodies of the poor. Organs and tissues are harvested from socially and politically dead nonpersons, the Homo Sacer of the post modern era. These acts are so abhorrent as to fall under the moral-political category of crimes against humanity—that is, evil crimes.
Today, trafficking for organs is not uncommon in war zones, areas dealing with political conflict, transitional states, as well as regions suffering through natural disasters, like the earthquakes in Turkey and Haiti. These conditions create public chaos that provides a cover for illegal harvesting and plundering of the bodies of the dead. However, at the same time, these conditions can stir up rumors of organ harvesting, without any forensic evidence.
Of course, some of these allegations are false, based on moral panics, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the anxiety and “worst fears” of vulnerable populations and ethnic groups. For many marginalized populations across the world, who have experienced the disappearances of their loved ones, it is plausible that almost anything could be done to them, even the theft of organs. Their fears are based on a sense of political and existential bio-insecurity.
For example, there were many allegations of illegal organ harvesting by the Israeli humanitarian field clinic set up in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. A spokesperson for the UK Liberal Democratic Party called for a parliamentary investigation of the allegations, which were later dismissed as political propaganda from Iran and Palestine. However, the rumors were actually fueled by the presence in Haiti of US and Israeli religious organizations that proposed airlifts and adoptions by foreign families of the alleged " tens of thousands of Haitian children" orphaned by the earthquake. Organ theft and child theft are often linked in rumors. In this instance, speculation was fueled by humanitarian interventions to rescue children whose parents were wrongly presumed dead in the initial chaos.
In Kosovo, some allegations of the wanton killing of Serbian civilians in retaliation for the genocide in former Yugoslavia were verified. Other allegations were absurd political inventions. United Nations and EU investigations were tarnished by politically motivated disinformation campaigns, which led the European Parliament to table the investigation prematurely. Later, an EU prosecutor admitted that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that some, a small number, of Serbian captives had been killed and their organs harvested toward the end of the Kosovo war.
The Dismembered Body of Medicine and Religion: ISIS Fatwa on Organ Transplant
We approach this topic from an anthropological comparative perspective, which begins from a position of moral “bracketing”, as distinct from moral relativism or moral neutrality. Moral bracketing means a temporary suspension of one’s own cultural values and morals in the presence of a radical form of ‘otherness’ without which our work can never proceed at all. This method allows us to engage with the diverse values and cultural and religious logics and traditional laws that are not compatible with international treaties and Western definitions of human rights. A comparative approach can also help us understand the US government’s use of war tactics in the Middle East, such as enhanced interrogation and humiliation of prisoners of war that are seen as war crimes by many European nations.
In the wake of allegations of executions, beheadings, and organ harvesting of kidnapped persons by ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria, Khashayar Beigi came across the website of Jihadica, where a number of fatwas bearing ISIS insignia have been collected by a team of academicians and researchers. Many of these fatwas seem to be circulated by cell phones and Twitter, possibly originating from Yemen. Among these decrees are statements that allow the execution, harvesting, and cannibalization of infidel bodies.
Fatwas are traditional religious decrees that are delivered in response to a pressing question or problem without precedence in Islamic jurisprudence. At first glance many of these ISIS fatwas seem to deal with the administration and adjudication of a vast range of everyday life matters such as marital arrangements , inherited property and the permissibility of sports. However, some of the fatwas clearly show a direct engagement with inquiries specific to exceptional circumstances in the context of current wars and struggles.
There is much confusion in the media about the meaning of Islamic words such as jihad and fatwa. It is essential to understand that “a fatw? is not by definition a pronouncement of death or a declaration of war. A fatw? is an Islamic legal pronouncement, issued by an expert in religious law (mufti), pertaining to a specific issue, usually at the request of an individual or judge to resolve an issue where Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), is unclear. Typically, such uncertainty arises as Muslim society works to address new issues – issues that develop as technology and society advance. “Can a Muslim be involved in cloning?” for instance.”
Among the fatwas posted online, some that are concerned with medical circumstances during war, such as the shortage of doctors and the use of enemy organs as a life-saving measure. What is unprecedented in these ISIS medical fatwas is the substitution and re-articulation of the civil context of medical emergencies with wartime practices and conducts. By presenting a partial translation of the ISIS fatwa on organ transplantation, we argue that not only are human bodies held captive in the current wars in the Middle East, but also that medical, moral and theological boundaries of the recognition of life (and death) are being re-shaped forcefully.
In contrast to secular courts of law, fatwas are not binding rules unless a Muslim chooses to follow them. So rather than seeing ISIS fatwas as enforcing individual actions or moral judgments, fatwas should be viewed and studied as expert pronouncements that shed light on the social, historical and political circumstances where religious traditions and reasoning represent one unique mirror within multiple and contested social realities.
For example, terms such as "the constrained person" (modhtar) or “under constrained circumstances” (idhtar) are commonly used in fatwas to convey that the person or subject of the fatwa is under special or exceptional circumstances which necessitate a new religious decree. However the usage of this term in the context of permissibility of organ extraction hints at the exceptional mode under which wartime violence and medical circumstances in the ISIS-ruled territories are being addressed by the analogical reasoning associated with traditions Islamic jurisprudence.
Our emphasis on the contested authority of the fatwas—who has the right to issue these—and their deployment during wartime is obviously not to justify the violence unleashed in Syria and Iraq by all warring parties and in particular, by ISIS. Rather, we wish to highlight how the violence and chaos of war ripples far into the centuries-old fabric of Islamic medical practices, wartime codes of conduct and religious reasoning. We see these fatwas as pronouncements by unidentified Islamic scholars and clerics that attempt to apply ancient moral reasoning, religious scriptures and wartime conducts to contemporary conditions. These fatwas are being inserted into the desolate international wartime landscapes of bombed residences, amputated limbs, and beheaded corpses scattered in the battlefields of Iraq and Syria. War is hell and to forensic anthropologists and archeologists these scenes are horrific but not isolated or unexpected. What is being held captive by war in these ISIS fatwas in addition to the biological body of the prisoners are reflective spaces of moral reasoning, intelligibility, recognition of the humanity of the enemy and the Islamic codes of moral living. We might say that they are a travesty of Islamic jurisprudence.
Translation of Fatwa No. 68 (translated by Khashayar Beigi)
Question: Is it permitted to take organs of the captive apostate for those Muslims in need of it?
There is no doubt that those illnesses plaguing hospitals of Muslims have not abated, those intractable conditions for devoted doctors such as diseases of heart, kidney and all similar conditions that threaten the afflicted with harm and death.
What appears to be the case is that God the almighty knows better about the rewards of transferring of the healthy parts of the body of the apostate to the body of the Muslim to save his life or to remedy the loss of organs, for that there is evidence in all bodies of religious texts and rulings.
God the Almighty says, “And whoever saves one—it is as if he had saved mankind entirely”, and the context of this verse is general and includes all forms of saving lives and one of these variants is organ transplant. And the saving of Muslim soul from waste and death is a religious obligation necessitating all legitimate available means, and when a given means is the only way for a religious obligation to be accomplished then that means is itself obligatory.
Accordingly, the experts of the Shafi'i and Hanbali schools of Islamic jurisprudence permitted killing of the warring infidels or apostates under the constraining circumstances of eating their flesh to stay alive. Imam Alnawawi says "....There is permission for killing the warring party, the apostate, and to eat their flesh carries no contradiction". Thereby if the experts of jurisprudence have allowed the constrained person to eat flesh in order to prevent harm and loss of life, they will also allow the transplant of organs from the apostate to the Muslim, specially it is decreed that the life and organs of the apostate are not inviolable.
In short, the cannibalization of the warring infidel is permissible, especially in times of war when destroyed bodies and limbs are scattered on the fields. War is hell, and under these extreme conditions when Muslim soldiers are famished in the desert, wounded, losing blood, and needing surgery, the right to life means that the body of the enemy-infidel can be used to supply life forces, in the form of food, blood, and organs It is an argument that has parallels with the demands made by individuals, who travel abroad to purchase ‘spare’ kidneys from the poor, destitute, displaced, , to make themselves whole. This “neo-cannibalism” is based upon the exploitation of strangers in transactions where the buyer is purchasing “things” (organs) from the bodies of people who don’t count, who might as well be “infidels”.
I am suggesting that international medical "transplant tourists" who lay claim to the 'fresh kidneys' of total strangers from another country, paying pittance for them, exemplify a moral reasoning that is not too different from the permission to consume the organs of the enemy.
Crimes against the body of the enemy, while common across historical time and geopolitical spaces, are often referred to as heinous and unpardonable crimes. Such crimes evoke emotions of disgust, repugnance, and a fear of dead bodies. Death anxiety and death pollution—a fear and avoidance of confronting the dead body—creates a hermetically sealed environment for abuses to take place. Such was the case at the Israeli National Forensic Institute at Abu Kabir. The elegant building housed a genetics and DNA lab on the top floor that was clean, pure, completely segregated from the morgue in the basement. Workers on the third floor did not know what crimes were being committed beneath their clean scientific labs.
What explains the complicity of medical technicians, surgeons and pathologists? Perhaps during the worst times of political conflict there is a belief that the desecration of the prisoner of war or dead enemy combatant is morally justified and even necessary. One thinks of many other similar cases, such as the mistreatment of detainees by US soldiers at Abu Ghraeb.
Some dismissed the allegations against the Israeli Forensic Institute as political propaganda against Israel. When I began my investigations of the illicit harvesting of Palestinian organs at Abu Kabir in 1999, I was unaware that Dr. Chen Kugel had been working behind the scenes to stop the plunder of the dead and the stockpiling of body parts at the Institute. Nor did I know that the Swedish journalist Donald Bostrom had also been given photos by the relatives of murdered Palestinians whose bodies were dismembered at the Institute that he would publish in a Swedish newspaper in 2009. When Bostrom's story caused an explosion of acrimonious denials, I was forced to make my own findings public. Later, I learned about Dr. Kugel, the internal whistleblower who had paid a heavy price for his interventions. Dr. Kugel was filled with with righteous anger at the corruption, deceit, and abuse of the dead by public officials. Kugel paid a heavy price for his interventions. He was forced out of his position at the National Institute and was treated as a traitor.
Finally, our unlikely collaboration, between a Swedish journalist, an American anthropologist, and the Zionist Israeli pathologist and military officer brought about an unanticipated outcome. The Ministry of Health and the Israeli government accepted our conclusions and conducted their own internal investigations that led to the removal of Dr. Yehuda Hess and the appointment of Dr. Chen Kugel as his successor.
“The dead body has rights and a dignity of its own,” Kugel commented on a private tour of the “new” Forensic Institute and Ministry of Health, and the morgue at Abu Kabir in 2013, both of which are now under his direction. “Bad things may happen here, as in any forensic institution,” he said as he rolled out a dead body from its refrigerated cubby. “But these bodies under my care will be safe from illicit harvesting. It won’t matter if these are Jewish bodies, Muslim bodies, Christian bodies, whether they are Israeli bodies or Palestinian bodies or undocumented guest worker bodies, or Russian bodies. There is only one body here and they are all be treated in the same way.”
The body of the dead body is not nothing. A dead body is not simply an evacuated object. Dr. Kugel, for example, often used the word “person” to refer to the body of the dead and never used the words corpse or cadaver. The dead body was, in his view, a precious “someone” to parents, siblings, partners, and other loved ones. The body had a history and a life. He said that the choice to practice forensic pathology meant that the pathologist and the dead were joined at the hip, joined at the heart, the lung, and the skin. What happened during those two decades of corruption of the morgue was a violation of the body politic. It was an evil. Translated into secular language, the dismemberment, disarticulation, distribution, and stockpiling of skin, bones, organs, genitals, and tissues of the dead, was, indeed, to Dr. Kugel, a crime against humanity.
The violations of the bodies of the incarcerated, the disabled, and other “enemies” derive from a combination of a militarized interpretations of ancient religious beliefs, corruption, indifference, greed, and the violation of civil rights and medical human rights. Despite our attempt to maintain a neutral position, one may be an anthropologist to the bone and still reserve the right to protest. The allegations against ISIS may be false, based on rumors and worst fears of what can possibly happen to the enemy-combatant. Nonetheless, the wanton harvesting of the dead bodies of the enemy is not only a war crime—in the words of Jan Gross writing about the systematic butchery, torture, and burning alive of 1,600 Jewish men, women, and children in the Polish town of Jedwabne on July 10, 1941— it represents a time when “the devil enters history.”
Dr. Scheper-Hughes would like to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Khashayar Beigi, a graduate student of medical anthropology and Middle East Studies at the University of California, Berkeley in locating, translating and interpreting the ISIS-circulated fatwa.