Suspicions Surround Majed’s Postmortem Exam

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Lebanese security forces inspect the scene of a huge car bomb explosion that rocked central Beirut on December 27, 2013. (Photo: AFP / STR)

By: Mohamed Nazzal

Published Monday, January 6, 2014

Why were both the Lebanese judiciary and the army content with only one coroner examining the corpse of Majed al-Majed, emir of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades? Why didn’t his home country, Saudi Arabia, or his family request an autopsy? These were some of the questions asked by doctors familiar with forensic medicine in Lebanon.

“In controversial cases that don’t even amount to the importance of Majed’s, a medical committee of forensic doctors is usually formed to avoid any possible medical mistakes and to insure more transparency,” one doctor explained.

Interestingly, the doctor who examined Majed’s body made “a serious medical mistake” about a year ago. In his autopsy report of prisoner Ghassan al-Qandaqli, he attributed the death to “natural causes,” with “no signs of torture detected.”

However, the case caused a big stir and Qandaqli’s body was re-examined by other coroners, who concluded that the Roumieh prisoner was “killed by asphyxiation” and his body possessed “bruises and clear signs of torture.” The killers were prisoners belonging to Fatah al-Islam.

Doctors don’t deny that human errors are possible, hence “the need to form a medical committee to examine Majed’s body.” Meanwhile, forensic medicine circles wonder why security forces are relying on a single doctor to investigate the incident, especially since “he is not the most qualified medical examiner, and there are many other coroners accredited by the Justice Ministry.”

One medical examiner recalled an incident 10 years ago when Ismail al-Khatib from Majdel Anjar, accused of forming a terrorist cell targeting Beirut, died in custody. “Back then, a medical committee of three doctors was formed to examine his body,” he said.

“Why did one doctor examine Majed’s body, even though he was involved in a critical national security issue?” asked the doctor. “Autopsy is crucial to examine the gallbladder and to conduct toxicology analysis in order to detect, for example, the presence of arsenic in the system. Also, it is necessary to have blood and urine tests.”

Lebanon’s Caretaker Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi said the state prosecutor “assigned a medical examiner to follow up on the Majed case since finding out about his deteriorating health. The doctor made a report documenting Majed’s stay at the army hospital from the day he entered, until his death.” According to Qortbawi, “The report stated that Majed died of natural causes due to kidney failure and a viral infection, also Majed entered a coma two hours before his death.”

Acting state prosecutor Samir Hamoud told Al-Akhbar there was no need for an autopsy since everything in the medical report was clear and undisputed. If the Majed family asks for an autopsy, or there is a real need for it, “we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Hammoud added, “The medical report was written after conducting all necessary tests and medical imaging. It revealed that Majed suffered from acute inflammation in the lungs, a kidney failure, a reduction in blood platelets, and hypotension, which eventually led to his death.”

He also said army investigators “couldn’t interrogate Majed, as he had been in a coma all along, and all media leaks in this regard are incorrect.”

“In any case, we have absolute confidence in our security forces, and we don’t accept to question them,” said Hammoud.

However, Qortbawi and Hammoud’s stories contradict each other. While the minister said Majed entered a coma “two hours before his death,” the state prosecutor revealed “he had been in a coma upon arrest.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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