'Getting Away With Murder': A Study Of Benazir Bhutto's Death

In 2007, Benazir Bhutto — twice prime minister of Pakistan and then-leader of the Pakistan People's Party — was killed in a suicide bombing attack that claimed 38 lives. The factors at play in her assassination, however, reached deeper than many imagined.

In his new book, Getting Away With Murder, Heraldo Munoz portrays the tense political climate that surrounded Bhutto's return to politics and examines the circumstances of her death.

Munoz himself was an investigator on the United Nations-led team that sought to identify Bhutto's killers, and he says he was inspired to write the book as a result of his role in uncovering the sometimes slippery truth.

"Our commission did not have duty to establish responsibilities for the perpetration of the assassination, only to establish the facts and circumstances," Munoz says.

He spoke to NPR's Arun Rath about Bhutto and the still-unanswered questions that surround her death.


Interview Highlights

On Bhutto's concerns for her own safety

There were many signals and intelligence information that there would be ... extremist cells that would attack her, that would seek to kill her.

She also had information that people around [Pervez] Musharraf wanted to kill her. In fact, she sent a letter to Musharraf saying that three individuals ... were plotting against her.

So she felt there was a high risk of going back, but nevertheless she felt that she had no other choice — that this was her destiny [to go back].

On the circumstances surrounding her death

She's in this park, in the city of Rawalpindi, near Islamabad, and she's quite happy about the results of the rally. And she's going away from this park, and despite the protection she was to be afforded by the police, the police are nowhere to be found. And there's a huge number of people around her vehicle. And an individual fires and then blows himself up — a suicide bomber — and kills 38 people, including Benazir Bhutto.

Many stories around this, I began to discover in this investigation, including that there was a back-up car that was bullet-proof that was no where to be found. ...

I think she died out of the blast, by hitting her head on the lip of the escape hatch. There was no autopsy done because the police impeded that from being carried out. So we'll never know, exactly, the cause of death. But the best we can say is that it was a blast and her hitting her head as a consequence of the blast.

On who holds responsibility

In the book, I came out with a sort of metaphor: There's a play in Spain — an old play, 17th century — called Fuenteovejuna, which is about this ruler of a village, who's very much hated by the population, and he's assassinated one day. And a judge comes in from out of town, and he has to interrogate every villager. And every villager says, "Fuenteovejuna did it," the village did it.

In a sense, I think Fuenteovejuna did the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. The village did it. Because al-Qaida was certainly behind it — they gave the order. The Pakistani Taliban executed it. The local police was involved in a cover-up, in my view, because I watched the scene of the crime one hour and a half immediately removing a lot of important evidence. ... And the U.S. and the U.K. promoted [her] return but without providing any security — they didn't want to take any responsibility for that.

And in the end, most political actors would rather turn the page, rather than continue to investigate who did it. So, in a sense, she was part of the circumstances of her time and there were many people who wanted to do her harm.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

If you're just joining us, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Arun Rath. Turning now to Asia and back to 2007. It was the height of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Neighboring Pakistan was increasingly unstable, but former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto decided to return from exile, vowing to bring democracy with her. Just two months later, she was dead, killed by a suicide bomber.

The circumstances of her death and who was responsible remain shrouded in mystery. Heraldo Munoz led the UN investigation into her murder. Now, he's written a book on that investigation and its findings. He says despite Pakistan's instability, Bhutto was determined to return.

HERALDO MUNOZ: She felt that it was her duty to go back. She had been prime minister twice. Both times she had not been able to complete her period. She had been dismissed by the army, the intelligence services on the accusations of corruption. And this time - we're talking about 2007 - the country was undergoing huge instability. The suicide bombings had multiplied in the country, and you had a dictatorship again led by General Musharraf.

And the U.S. and the UK saw Benazir Bhutto as answer to the problems. They felt that they needed the legitimacy that Benazir Bhutto could bring to Pakistan, the stability, democracy, rule of law.

RATH: On her return, she made no mystery of the fact that she was concerned about her safety. Why?

MUNOZ: Well, there were many signals, intelligence information that there would be cells, extremist cells that would attack her, that would seek to kill her. She also had information that people around Musharraf wanted to kill her. In fact, she sent a letter to Musharraf saying that three individuals, a former head of the ISI, the intelligent service of Pakistan, Hamid Gul, the head of the intelligence bureau Ijaz Shah and someone else, a head of the provincial government of Punjab, were plotting against her. So she felt that there was a high risk going back, but nevertheless, she felt that she had no other choice, that this was her destiny.

RATH: And there was an attempt on her life almost as soon as she gets there. And then sure enough, two months later in December of 2007 is when the assassination occurred. She's at a rally. There are gunshots and explosions. There's a lot of confusion. How did she die?

MUNOZ: Well, she's in this park in the city of Rawalpindi near Islamabad, and she's quite happy about the results of the rally. And she's going away from this park, and despite the protection that she was to be afforded by the police, the police are nowhere to be found. And there's a huge number of people around her vehicle. And an individual fires and then blows himself up, a suicide bomber, and kills 38 people, including Benazir Bhutto.

Many stories around this, I began to discover in this investigation, including that there was a backup car that was bulletproof that was nowhere to be found.

RATH: A lot of dispute over how Benazir Bhutto actually died. Was it from a gunshot? Was it from the blast? The government even said it was because she hit her head. Do you have a sense - out of your investigation - a sense of clarity about how she actually died?

MUNOZ: I think she died out of the blast by hitting her head on the lip of the escape hatch. There was no autopsy done because the police impeded that from being carried out. So we never know exactly the cause of death, but the best we can say is that it was a blast and her hitting her head as a consequence of the blast.

RATH: And what about the likely suspects, and there's always discussion of the role of the intelligence services, the ISI, may have played.

MUNOZ: Well, I've been thinking about - hard about that because our commission did not have the duty to establish responsibilities for the perpetration of the assassination, only to establish the facts and circumstances. But I thought strong about that. And in the book, I came out with a sort of metaphor.

There's a play in Spain, an old play - 17th century - called "Fuenteovejuna," which is about this ruler of a village who's very much hated by the population, and he's assassinated one day. And a judge comes in from out of town, and he has to interrogate every villager. And every villager says, Fuenteovejuna did it, the village did it.

In a sense, I think Fuenteovejuna did the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the village did it, because al-Qaida was certainly behind it. They gave the order. The Pakistani Taliban executed it. The local police was involved in a cover-up, in my view, because they washed the scene of the crime one hour and a half, immediately removing a lot of important evidence.

RATH: They just hosed it down.

MUNOZ: Hosed it down, exactly. And the U.S. and the U.K. promoted the return but without providing any security. They didn't want to take any responsibility for that. And in the end, most political actors would rather turn the page rather than continue to investigate who did it. So in a sense, she was part of the circumstances of her time, and there were many people that wanted to do her harm.

RATH: Heraldo Munoz led the United Nations' investigation into the 2007 assassination of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. His new book is called "Getting Away With Murder." Heraldo Munoz, thank you.

MUNOZ: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.