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August 5, 1992

Game's Afoot in Many Lands for Forensic Scientists Investigating Most-Extreme Human Rights Abuses

JAMA. 1992;268(5):579-583. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03490050025004

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DEAD MEN may tell no tales, but their bones speak plenty to those who know the language.

When the bones are the remains of victims of state-sponsored murder, those trained in the techniques of forensic archeology, anthropology, and medicine can help them to bear witness against the government's human rights abuses.

Desaparecidos, or "disappeared ones," is the Latin American euphemism for persons who were kidnapped, murdered, and secretly disposed of so that there are no public martyrs or evidence of government involvement.

'Dirty War'  While most notably practiced by the Argentine junta during its so-called Dirty War against "terrorists" between 1976 and 1983 (JAMA. 1989;261:1388-1389,1393), the military of Guatemala is widely credited with introducing the practice beginning in the 1960s.In January 1991, a civilian was elected to the Guatemalan presidency; however, human rights groups say that the military still runs much of the country and political killings continue. Recently,