9-11 DNA Identification in Mass Fatality Term Paper

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9/11 DNA Identification in Mass Fatality

The aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers

How important is DNA evidence in this case?

Will everyone get identified?

Restrictions on how DNA evidence can be used

Fragment sizes

Decomposing DNA

How does the analysis get proper resource and funding?

DNA management

Source of DNA samples

Using Identification Number on the site

Storing into the database

How DNA analysis (methods) can be utilized in making identification

DNA Extraction

DNA amplification and analysis (PCR)

Mitochondrial DNA

Single nucleotide polymorphism

Short Tandem Repeat analysis

Identifying victims

Probability ratio in linking to the victims

Linking victims using relatives and family member's DNA

Limitation of modern technology



An Analysis of DNA Identification of Mass Fatalities resulted from Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001

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DNA analysis has a number of advantages over other identification methods and is a critical tool in associating severely fragmented remains, such as those that resulted from the World Trade Center (WTC) attacks, with victims. -- Lessons Learned From 9/11: DNA Identification in Mass Fatality Incidents, September 2006

I. Introduction.

Term Paper on 9-11 DNA Identification in Mass Fatality Assignment

According to Gonzalez, Schofield and Schmitt (2006), "On September 11, 2001, 2,792 people were killed in terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City. The number of victims, the condition of their remains, and the duration of the recovery effort made the identification of the victims the most difficult ever undertaken by the forensic community in this country" (p. 3). The use of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) as a means of providing virtually positive identification of victims of mass disasters is of fairly recent origin having been introduced about 50 years ago, but the impetus is on to use these techniques for a wider range of forensic applications. For example, during the 1990s, a number of states began to develop DNA identification programs, and in 1993, the FBI implemented CODIS, a national program designed to (a) support federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in their creation of a population statistical database; (b) improve DNA forensic analysis methods; and - to serve humanitarian purposes such as the identification of missing persons or the human remains from mass disasters (Lyon, 2002). The FBI in particular favored the development of the CODIS application based on its "productivity and efficiency," but former director of the FBI crime laboratory John Hicks described the computer databank as "nothing more than an information management and screening tool" (Hoeffel, 1990, p. 527). The former director also indicated, though, that he expected that the initiative would.".. save time and effort, and courts will have fewer cases to process because investigations can be better focused and coordinated" (FBI, 1991, p. 37). The CODIS application links the DNA profiles of convicts gathered by scattered state law enforcement DNA labs, encourages uniform standards, and pools DNA data to facilitate identification of criminals across borders (Lyon, 2002). To date, a great number of convictions of murderers and other felons have been achieved through DNA identification (Milunsky, 2001).

II. The aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many observers were heard to suggest that "thing would never be the same," and in many ways this has been true. The aftermath of the attacks resulted in renewed calls for improved intelligence and security procedures and the American public has been vehement in their demands for answers concerning how such a series of attacks could have happened in the first place. Indeed, September 11, 2001 now represents a demarcation point in American history, and it is reasonable to assume that people generations from now will continue to describe events in terms of their being "pre-" or "post-" September 11.

This view is congruent with the abundant coverage that has taken place since the attacks. For example, on December 31, 2001, the New York Times published the final daily portraits the paper had been printing since September 15, 2001; the close of that fateful year also witnessed the final installment of "A Nation Challenged," a special section devoted to coverage of the "War against Terror" in which the portraits had appeared. According to Greenburg (2003), "The stand-alone section was deemed no longer necessary because the traumatic effects of September 11 had been woven into all aspects of national and international life. As of 2002, portraits would be published as further discoveries were made or as more families were willing to reveal their loss in print" (p. 39). The importance of being able to identify a lost loved one was made clear in this essay. For instance, on September 16, when just 39 of the victims of the attacks had been identified, Katie Stern, whose husband, Andrew, was identified in the official body count, was quoted as saying she was relieved to know that he was no longer among the missing, even though that knowledge also meant that he was dead: "I'm so happy that I have his body, and that we have closure. I pray to God that he gives them their loved ones so that they, too, can have closure" (quoted in Greenburg, 2003 at p. 39). This desire for closure that can be satisfied only by the return of the body (or its identification through DNA) in many, many cases remains unfulfilled (Greenburg, 2003).

a. How important is DNA evidence in this case? The importance of DNA evidence in the Twin Towers attacks cannot be overstated; because many of the victims were rendered unidentifiable otherwise, the use of DNA to establish the identities of these individuals is considered extremely important.

b. Will everyone get identified? To date, approximately 1,600 victims of the Twin Towers attacks have been successfully identified using DNA identification techniques (Gonzalez et al., 2006). Although DNA identification techniques continue to be refined and improved, it is unlikely that all of the identities of all of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks will ever be completely known. In this regard, Gonzalez and his associates (2006) point out that, "The answer to the question of whether every victim or every fragment of remains will be identified frames the scope of the DNA identification effort. Obviously, intact bodies will require fewer DNA tests than fragmented remains, although decomposing bodies may not easily yield full profiles" (p. 13). In addition, these authors caution that, "A number of variables affect the identifications that can be made in any mass disaster event. For example, it may not be possible to obtain family reference samples or a victim's personal effects, there may be no biological offspring, or the condition of the remains may preclude successful DNA typing" (Gonzalez et al., 2006, p. 21).

c. Restriction on how DNA evidences can be used. DNA samples are more than just a source of identification. Revealing information about health and predisposition, they can expose a person to workplace or insurance discrimination, creating categories of those "at risk"; in addition, DNA samples can be used to reinforce race or ethnic stereotypes (Lyon, 2002). In this regard, Harlan (2004) notes that law enforcement authorities have come to heavily rely on genetic information as a central element of their investigative and prosecutorial responsibilities. "By gathering DNA samples from criminal perpetrators and potential suspects," Harlan advises, "investigators can utilize elaborate matching techniques and systems to determine the probability that any one individual is responsible for committing a crime" (p. 179). The importance of this type of proof-positive evidence is clear; of those who have been exonerated by DNA evidence, appropriately 80% had been falsely accused by eyewitnesses to the crime (Duke, Lee & Pager, 2007). According to these authors, "FBI analysis of thousands of DNA samples in eyewitness cases supports the claim that as many as 25% of disputed eyewitness identifications may be erroneous" (Duke et al., 2007).

After an individual is positively identified, though, law enforcement authorities may retain possession of the DNA samples even provided by those who were exonerated by the DNA identification (Harlan, 2001). According to Jones (2005), "To date, 163 innocent people in nearly every jurisdiction in the country have been wrongly convicted and later exonerated, many as a result of DNA analysis performed on old evidence retained by the government. A major impediment to the use of DNA evidence to exonerate the wrongly convicted has been -- and continues to be -- the destruction of evidence, such as rape kits, by the government" (p. 1239). In her essay, "Evidence Destroyed, Innocence Lost," Jones (2005) reports that, "Every jurisdiction has some form of evidence management policy or practice that establishes the procedures for storing physical evidence collected by the government in criminal cases, including various forms of biological evidence like rape kits, samples of hair, saliva, and semen" (p. 1239). In most cases, such evidence protection requires an evidence custodian and a stipulation concerning how long evidence must be preserved, as well as formal procedures that must be followed prior to the destruction of old evidence in closed criminal cases (Jones, 2005).

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