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Bhutto Assassination Draws JFK Parallels

The assassination of Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto last December 27 has been called the "JFK assassination of Pakistan," and her murder has some parallels to that of the 35th US President. The Bhutto family of political leaders inspired many Pakistanis in a manner reminiscent of John Kennedy and his brother Robert, and Bhutto family members suffered similar fates. Benazir Bhutto's father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was ousted in a military coup in 1977, and later executed in 1979. One brother, Shahnawaz, died under mysterious circumstances, while another, Murtaza, was shot to death by police in 1996 while Benazir was Prime Minister. Like JFK, Benazir Bhutto herself was assassinated while riding in an open vehicle during a political campaign. In both cases, allegations of lax security and a government cover-up ensued as well.

While the JFK and Bhutto assassinations differ in that no independent body like the Warren Commission has been formed to investigate the murder, other post-assassination parallels do exist. Prime among them is the confusion and secrecy surrounding the exact cause of death and the basic medical evidence in the case. No autopsy was performed before Ms. Bhutto's burial, and there is sharp disagreement over the manner of her death.

Early reports indicated she was shot near-simultaneously with a suicide bomb attack. Then the Pakistani government bizarrely announced that she had died due to hitting her head on the escape hatch of the vehicle she was riding in, presumably due to force from the bomb blast. Within a few days, two videos surfaced which showed a gunman firing at the car prior to the bomb explosion. The government has stuck to its story, and a Feb 8 report by Scotland Yard investigators concurs. Because there was no autopsy, however the British investigation relied on X-rays and the videos. The apparent absence of X-rays of her neck and torso led Scotland Yard to report "investigators could not categorically rule out the possibility that she was shot in the neck or upper body." Given the eyewitness accounts that Bhutto was indeed shot in the neck, along with reports of her doctors being pressured, the report cannot be considered definitive.

It matters whether Ms. Bhutto was killed by bullets or a blow to the head in the aftermath of a bomb blast, beyond the issues of cover-up being alleged by many in Pakistan. Bullets, if recovered, might indicate the type of weapon used and thus shed light on the veracity of confessions now apparently being given by extremists in custody. The hosing down of the crime scene in the immediate aftermath of the assassination, reminiscent of the Secret Service's cleaning of the Presidential limousine outside Parkland Hospital, may make such questions unanswerable. No bullets or fragments were apparently recovered either from the vehicle or the area around it.

None other than Arlen Specter, former Warren Commission staff member and inventor of the "single bullet theory," has called for an international investigation into Benazir Bhutto's murder.

Ms. Bhutto's assassination threw into disarray planned parliamentary elections and a campaign to eventually unseat Pervez Musharraf, who had taken control of the country in a 1999 military coup and recently suspended the constitution and taken other actions to prevent being ousted. Elections have been rescheduled for February 18, in an environment of harassment which has caused Human Rights Watch to declare that the vote "cannot be considered impartial."

Who killed Benazir Bhutto? The Pakistani government claims that it was done by Islamic extremists. But when even the most basic facts are in grave doubt, it is hard to give too much credence to any such official pronouncements.

See Assassination of Benazir Bhutto for a chronology of news stories, videos of the assassination, and related resources.

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