WASHINGTON -- Gen. Tommy Franks disclosed Sunday that American authorities have DNA from Saddam Hussein and his sons, raising hopes that forensic experts can determine whether the Iraqi president was killed in U.S. strikes on government compounds.
Saddam's fate remains a maddening mystery, even though his government collapsed last week. Franks, commander of the war effort that has displaced Saddam's government, said investigators are armed with a powerful tool that could be used to identify even fragmentary remains.
Asked on CNN's "Late Edition" whether he had the DNA of Saddam Hussein and his sons, Franks said, "Of course; of course." He did not say how the DNA was obtained.
With that material, investigators would be able to positively identify Saddam "unless the remains were removed" from where he died, Franks said.
"What you should know is that we have the forensic capability to chase these things down, and we'll chase them down, every one of them, all the way," Franks said.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he could not confirm Franks' comment, but "I'm sure it's true if he said it."
"I heard that he said that," Rumsfeld said after an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I just happen not to know about it."
Aiming directly at Saddam
The opening salvo of the war on March 19 was aimed directly at Saddam and aides, including his sons. Cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs struck a compound near Baghdad where he was believed to have been sleeping.
On April 7, an American bomber struck a residential complex in Baghdad after U.S. intelligence agencies received information that Saddam, his sons and other top Iraqi leaders might have been meeting there, U.S. officials said.
"The appropriate people with the appropriate forensics are doing checks you would find appropriate in each of the places where we think we may have killed regime leadership," Franks said.
On MSNBC, Jim Wilkinson, spokesman for Franks' Central Command, agreed with his boss that DNA is available but said: "We can't tell you what form it's in. The Marines needs to be secretive about these types of things."
Asked whether he expected the DNA to be used, Wilkinson said, "Sure hope so. This is so much bigger than Saddam Hussein, but it's good to be able to identify them all."
The April 7 strike targeting the Iraqi leader used four 2,000-pound, bunker-penetrating bombs that demolished several buildings. At least two bodies were recovered.
With DNA analysis capability, even the tiniest fragment of human remains can be identified, said Barry Scheck, an attorney who specializes in DNA testing.
DNA analysis can greatly simplify the identification process, Scheck said by telephone Sunday.
"It allows them to check blood stains, skin cells, sweat, saliva, pieces of clothing they find, to determine whether or not what they recover at a scene of destruction is Saddam Hussein's DNA," said Scheck.
A hair can yield DNA and is particularly helpful if it contains the root, Scheck said.
Tests to determine a match take as little as a day or two, he said.