Mishandling the dead
Somehow, this became a US Air Force responsibility which is where the trouble begins. Mortuary work belongs with professionals in that business.
If there was ever a need to let civilians do it, this is it.
“Portions of 9/11 victims’ remains taken to landfill, report says
By Craig Whitlock, Tuesday, February 28, 1:16 PM
Some small portions of unidentified human remains recovered from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., were incinerated and ultimately dumped in a landfill, the Defense Department acknowledged Tuesday.
It was the first time that the Pentagon has said that some remains of 9/11 victims taken to the Dover Air Force Base mortuary later ended up in a landfill.
In November, The Washington Post first disclosed that the Dover mortuary for years had disposed of incinerated portions ofremains of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in a Virginia landfill. The practice involved unidentified or unclaimedbody parts; it was not made known to troops’ family members.
The Air Force later admitted that it had dumped the incinerated partial remains of at least 274 service members in the landfill between 2003 and 2008, when the practice ended. At the time, Air Force officials said their records only went back to 2003 and that they did not know when the landfill dumping began.
On Tuesday, a new Defense Department review of the mortuary operations at Dover revealed that “several portions of remains” recovered from the Sept. 11 attacks at the Pentagon and at Shanksville also ended up in a landfill.
The review, led by retired Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, did not quantify how many human remains from Sept. 11 were disposed of in this manner. It said the remains “could not be tested or identified,” apparently because they were too small or charred to allow for DNA analysis.
Those remains were cremated first, but then handed over to a “biomedical waste disposal contractor,” according to Abizaid’s report. Under an arrangement with the Air Force, the contractor transported bags of the medical waste for incineration.
Dover mortuary officials assumed at the time that “after final incineration, nothing remained,” Abizaid’s report stated. In fact, there was still residual material left over from the incineration, which the contractor then took to a landfill.
The mortuary changed its policy in 2008 and since then has buried unclaimed or unidentified cremated remains at sea.
Lawmakers have pressed the Pentagon for months to investigate the origins of the landfill-dumping, but defense officials so far have not clarified when the practice began or how extensive it was.
On Feb. 6, in response to news reports about the landfill dumping, Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta specifically asking if the Defense Department could confirm whether “no 9/11 victims’ remains were incinerated, mixed with medical waste and sent to a landfill?”
Holt’s staff said the congressman has not received a response.
Family members of victims of the attack on the World Trade Center have previously argued that some remains of their relatives were taken to a Staten Island landfill after Sept. 11. A city medical examiner indicated he believed remains were contained in fine particles at the landfill. Family members filed a lawsuit in 2005 to force New York to separate the debris in search of the remains, but a federal judge ruled that the plaintiffs could not successfully prove that they had a claim to any remains.
The review released Tuesday is the latest report to scrutinize operations at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary, where body parts have gone missing and even military officials acknowledge has suffered from gross mismanagement.
Abizaid’s review found that the Dover mortuary labors under poor oversight, insufficiently trained workers and understaffing when large numbers of casualties arrive from the battlefield.”