Bosnia's Million Bones: Solving the World's Greatest Forensic Puzzle

Overview

The extraordinary story of how a team of international forensic scientists pioneered ground-breaking DNA technology to identify the bodies of thousands of victims of the Yugoslav Wars, and how their work is now giving justice to families from Iraq to Bosnia

What would it be like to be tasked with finding, exhuming from dozens of mass graves, and then identifying the mangled body-parts of an estimated 8,100 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in eastern Bosnia? A leading...

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Bosnia's Million Bones: Solving the World's Greatest Forensic Puzzle

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Overview

The extraordinary story of how a team of international forensic scientists pioneered ground-breaking DNA technology to identify the bodies of thousands of victims of the Yugoslav Wars, and how their work is now giving justice to families from Iraq to Bosnia

What would it be like to be tasked with finding, exhuming from dozens of mass graves, and then identifying the mangled body-parts of an estimated 8,100 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in eastern Bosnia? A leading forensic scientist likened it to “solving the world’s greatest forensic science puzzle,” and in 1999 one DNA laboratory, run by the International Commission on Missing Persons in Sarajevo, decided to do just that. Thirteen years on, the ICMP are the international leaders in using DNA-assisted technology to assist in identifying the thousands of persons worldwide missing from wars, mass human-rights abuses and natural disasters. Christian Jennings, a foreign correspondent and former staffer at the ICMP, tells the story of the organization, and how they are now gathering forensic evidence of those killed in Libya and Iraq, and tracing the victims of brutal regimes in Chile and Colombia. He describes too how they helped identify the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami , in this moving and fast-paced story about the power of science to bring justice to broken countries. Now used as evidence at war crimes trials in The Hague, the technology described in Bosnia's Million Bones is an amazing story of modern science, politics, and the quest for truth. It is real-life CSI in action. 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
09/02/2013
With cold-blooded, deadly efficiency, Serbian troops brutalized Bosnia’s civilian population and left behind thousands of victims executed in the war-torn country during the 1990s. Attempts by crack forensics teams to identify the victims and bring their killers to justice form the core of this difficult new book by Jennings, a journalist and former communications staffer for the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP). According to ICMP estimates, some 30,000 people went missing during the Bosnian conflict. The teams used the latest forensics methods to collect bone samples and develop DNA profiles around mass-grave sites, including profiles of 7,000 men killed in a grisly massacre in Srebrenica. Using the latest facts and figures, Jennings brings to light the horror of the ethnic cleansing, with Serb soldiers killing civilians with assault rifles and hand grenades, and trying to hide the evidence. At the tribunals of the International Criminal Court, a brutal Bosnian past catches up with Serbian butcher Ratko Mladic and his underlings as the grieving families rebury their dead in the book’s startling conclusion. Jennings stunningly renders the process of exhuming and testing the bodies, while highlighting the ICMP’s dogged determination to link the victims to the murderers. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
“This is an important book: it illustrates the unspeakable horrors of a complex war whose causes have always been hard for outsiders to comprehend.” —Nature

"In his detailed portrait of the bestial war crime that took place in Srebrenica, Mr. Jennings doesn't shy away from the stomach-churning details contained in the eyewitness testimonies he draws from. He previously worked as a communications officer for the ICMP, and deftly tracks commission investigators in action around the globe, whether in the aftermath of a typhoon in the Philippines or probing the remains of Saddam Hussein's victims in Iraq. The real value of this book, though, lies in Mr. Jennings's reporting of what occurred following the (Srebrenica) massacre. Ultimately, Mr. Jennings's vivid portrait of the commission's noble but tragic mission will have its greatest value as reading for Western policy makers, who shouldn't assume that the existence of the ICMP obviates the responsibility to protect target populations before the horror of mass murder descends." —The Wall Street Journal

“Bosnia’s Million Bones is not always comfortable reading, but the story…is utterly compelling." —The Northern Echo, UK

“Precisely rendered, grueling account of how the 1995 Srebrenica massacre propelled a scientific revolution in missing persons identification.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A comprehensive and up-to-date work for scholars and students of international relations, human rights, and forensic science as well as those interested in current events where the need for such DNA identification will most likely continue.”—Library Journal

“The International Commission on Missing Persons' work done with DNA is, without doubt, the single most important achievement within the field of human identification with DNA. The story of their very important, almost incredible, work must be told to the world. In this necessary book,  foreign correspondent Christian Jennings has done just that. This book makes a difference.” —Professor Niels Morling, Vice-President of the International Society for Forensic Genetics

"A terrific piece of work: an important story which is told compellingly but soberly." —Edward Stourton, BBC journalist

“Until now, the issue of the millions of persons missing due to armed conflict and human rights abuses has been a silent one. When people disappear, particularly through violent crimes by state authorities, family members left behind are often terrified to seek answers about the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones. ICMP has helped end that silence. This important and timely book on the groundbreaking efforts of ICMP demonstrates that the missing can be located and those responsible brought to account." —Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan

“Christian Jennings is a lucid and compassionate writer.  His research, attention to detail, and storytelling skills make Bosnia’s Million Bones an engrossing exploration of the techniques that forensic scientists use to unravel the crimes of war and bring those responsible to justice.  This book is a poignant tribute to every parent who has moved heaven and earth to find his or her disappeared child—and to the scientists who have come to their aid.” —Eric Stover, author of The Witnesses:  War Crimes and the Promise of Justice in The Hague and Faculty Director, The Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law

“Precisely rendered, grueling account of how the 1995 Srebrenica massacre propelled a scientific revolution in missing persons identification.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A comprehensive and up-to-date work for scholars and students of international relations, human rights, and forensic science as well as those interested in current events where the need for such DNA identification will most likely continue.”—Library Journal

 

Library Journal
11/01/2013
Jennings, who writes for Wired, The Economist, and Reuters, was communications director for the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), a group founded through an initiative by Bill Clinton to aid governments with this tragic issue. The ICMP was formed a year after the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia, when 8,100 male civilians were taken from their homes, never to return. In 2000, the ICMP started working with the new government in Bosnia and bodies were recovered from mass graves. The ICMP's team of international scientists created new forensic techniques to identify the victims through improved DNA technology. As of February 2013 more than 88 percent, or 6,850 persons, have been identified. The impact of this method is far-reaching: it can be used for evidence in war-crime trials and help to enable a successful prosecution, give some closure to families by providing remains, and discount conspiracy theories that such an atrocity never occurred. The technology can and has been used elsewhere, such as with the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Asian tsunami. A scientific success story, this is also a powerful account of how the ICMP used DNA technology to map a human genocide. VERDICT This is a comprehensive and up-to-date work for scholars and students of international relations, human rights, and forensic science as well as those interested in current events where the need for such DNA identification will most likely continue.—Krista Bush, Shelton, CT
Kirkus Reviews
2013-10-03
Precisely rendered, grueling account of how the 1995 Srebrenica massacre propelled a scientific revolution in missing persons identification. Sarajevo-based journalist Jennings creates an ambitious narrative divided between the Bosnian War's horrific endgame and the prominent role of forensic science in its aftermath. He argues that the massacre by Bosnian Serb forces of several thousand Bosnian Muslim males--"the only incidence of genocide to have taken place in Europe since the Holocaust"--provoked the creation of the International Commission on Missing Persons. Since then, the ICMP has grown into an effective clearinghouse for the science of forensic pathology, particularly regarding mass graves and natural disasters. Jennings seems equally fascinated by the difficult scientific advances made since then and by the war narrative of ethnic conflict that preceded the massacre. He authoritatively describes how Yugoslavia's breakup created a brutal civil war, depicting the repugnant actions of the Bosnian Serb military with cool detachment. The massacre was quickly detected by American surveillance, and key figures like the notorious Ratko Mladic were soon indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. The Serbs then dispersed the large mass graves to numerous secondary burial sites, dismembering the bodies in the process. As a result, the initial forensic investigations following the war presented unique challenges, which Jennings discusses in grotesque detail. Yet the ICMP responded by building a scientific facility in Sarajevo and developing an enormous DNA repository of both survivors and unidentified remains, ultimately identifying many of Srebrenica's victims, thus providing evidence for the ICTY war-crimes trials and some closure to the Bosnian people. Since then, the organization has become a worldwide scientific force, aiding in recovery efforts following 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, among other traumatic events. An inspirational but disturbing story of science as counterweight to evil--not for the squeamish.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781137278685
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 11/26/2013
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 694,458
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Christian Jennings is an investigative journalist who has written for Wired, The Economist and Reuters, among others, from countries including Rwanda, Kosovo, Somalia, Burundi and Bosnia. He is the former Communications Director at the ICMP, the international forensic science organization, founded by Bill Clinton, that uses advanced DNA technology to identify persons missing from conflicts worldwide. He has also been investigating and covering the hunt for Ratko Mladic and other major war-criminals in the Balkans since 1999, and splits his time between Sarajevo, Bosnia and Turin, Italy.

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