Elisabeth Bumiller in yesterday's New York Times [Air Force Officials Discussed Burial at Sea for Remains From Pentagon Attack,] on the escalating controversy over the disposition of 9/11 victim's remains in a landfill, reports that Defense Department documents released that day offer
...the latest disclosures about problems at the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, the entry point for the nation’s war dead. The papers show how officials at Dover struggled over what to do with small, unidentified biological remains that were mixed in with rubble from the Pentagon. In the end, without telling the victims' families, they determined that the remains — some 1,321 portions in all — should be treated like medical waste.This description, however, misstates the case entirely. The separating out of human remains from the rubble occurred at the Pentagon crash site. It is another sort of unmixing that is addressed later on in the article:
But at a news conference on Friday, Jo Ann Rooney, an acting under secretary of defense, offered a more telling, if graphic, description of the kind of remains that were burned and sent to a landfill. She said they were small portions that laboratory analysis judged as "biological," although not necessarily human. "It could have been something from someone's lunch," she said.This description confounds matters unduly, as it could have been biological remains from someone's lunch once contained in someone's stomach. The real task at Dover was like that of murder investigations everywhere, when a fingernail clipping, or single strand of hair or drop of blood, provides the scientific evidence that ties a killer to his victim, although the job of untying a killer from a victim seems too large for Dover:
Ms. Rooney also said it was impossible to determine if the remains had been mixed in with those from the terrorists who crashed United Flight 77 into the Pentagon.At a press conference in late February, Ret. Gen. John Abizaid said it was impossible to determine how many 9/11 victims went through the Dover mortuary:
Pentagon: Some 9-11 Remains Went to Landfill, AP Video, 1:48 minutes,
Question: It says, "This policy began shortly after September 11, 2001, when several portions of remains from the Pentagon attack and the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, crash site could not be tested or identified. These cremated portions were then placed in sealed containers that were provided to a biomedical waste disposal contractor...the contractor then transported these containers and incinerated them...then it said the residual material was disposed of in a landfill." Is that referring specifically to September 11th victims, and do you know how extensive this was?
Abizaid: No, I don't know how extensive it was, and it only was those victims that went through the Port Mortuary.
Question: And how many of those were there, do you know?
Abizaid: I don't know.
Question: And is there a way to find out?
Abizaid: I don't know that there's a way to find out. What you need to understand, the reason that we put that comment in there, is that there is a starting point for understanding how this happened, in other words, while I understand how sensational the notion is, there was a point where people considered going to the crematorium, and in some states its law, that that is the final disposition of the fallen, and, so that it goes from what many have considered the final disposition, which we don't agree with by the way, we think the final disposition needs to be the final resting place, and we believe if, that in 9/11 you can trace back the origins for why what happened happened---we only have records that really go back...the air force only has records, that we know of, that only go back, back...this is anecdotal evidence, that was told to us by the people that we interviewed. END OF TAPEFor Abizaid's edification, there were 125 civilian and military victims at the Pentagon, with 64 victims on Flight 77, which crashed into the it; with 41 victims on Flight 93 downed in Shanksville, PA, all of whose remains were sent to Dover---mixed in with lunch and the biological material of nine hijackers.
In the report of the independent investigation which Abizaid headed, is the statement that some remains, "later identified" as being from victims, were included in the rubble, victim, perpetrator and lunch admixture sent to the landfill.
Prior to 2008, portions of remains that could neither be tested nor identified, and portions of remains later identified that the PADD [Person Authorized to Direct Disposition] requested not to be notified of (requesting that they be appropriately disposed of) were cremated under contract at a civilian crematory and returned to DPM [Dover Port Mortuary]. This policy began shortly after September 11, 2001, when several portions of remains from the Pentagon attack and the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, crash site could not be tested or identified. page 26Since the change in policy, which first sent remains to a civilian crematory, was specific to the victims of 9/11, the reference to "portions of remains later identified" must refer to families who had already received remains and conducted burial services, often highly publicized affairs, who would be hard pressed, both practically and symbolically speaking, to deal with any additional matter on their own. Service members killed overseas in isolated engagements would come to Dover in single shipments, even if a commingling of body tissue occurred in multiple fatality events, the remains which "could not be tested or identified" were not likely to be transported, let alone be "later identified."
Notwithstanding, in December, 2011, officials tried just this as a contention:
Air Force officials “said the procedure was limited to fragments or portions of body parts that were unable to be identified at first or were later recovered from the battlefield, and which family members had said could be disposed of by the military,” the Post reported. The procedure was stopped in 2008, and since then the remains of cremated soldiers have been placed in urns and buried at sea.The report is very exacting as it attempts to "de-conflict accountability issues" between the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation and the Air Force Medical Examiner System, yet the responsibility for sending 9/11 victims remains to a landfill is attributed to a non-specific "assumption on the part of DPM [Dover Port Mortuary]"
These cremated portions were then placed in sealed containers that were provided to a biomedical waste disposal contractor. Per the biomedical waste contract at that time, the contractor then transported these containers and incinerated them. The assumption on the part of DPM [Dover Port Mortuary] was that after final incineration nothing remained. page 26The same inexact designation is used to describe the personnel who identified the problem:
A DPM management query found that there was some residual material following incineration and that the contractor was disposing of it in a landfill. The landfill disposition was not disclosed in the contractual disposal agreement. This practice ceased in 2008, and a new policy was in place by 2009; under the new policy such portions of remains are now cremated and retired at sea. page 26It would seem to me to be a waste of taxpayer money to cremate already cremated remains, especially if the cremated remains, even if impurely sifted out from food particles and bad guys, had a highly charged, universal symbolic value. Such disposal seems more akin to an intentional destruction of evidence.
The high standards of military accountability were compromised at Dover in both the receiving of remains as well as in the remain's disposal:
...all Air Force personnel deployed to support mortuary operations also support AFMES operations. This arrangement perpetuated a system that is contrary to industry standards for medical examiners, mortuaries, and funeral homes. As part of the corrective actions the new alignment will replace AFMAO with AFMES personnel for receipt and initial processing of remains, thereby eliminating the seam. page 45When the ceremonial "Old Guard" regiment, whose normal duties include firing the 21-gun salutes at Arlington cemetery, were delegated to assist the F.B.I. in the recovery of body parts at the Pentagon, the public was told that decision would both ensure the chain of custody, as well as honor their fallen comrades, the two requirements which were not met on the other end.
Under revised protocols designed to ensure accountability
Once remains are received into the care of AFMAO, they are assigned a "Dover number" for tracking purposes, and they are cared for and prepared for interment or inurnment, according to the wishes of the PADD. page 45
If AFMES [Air Force Medical Examiner System] determines that remains are incomplete, the PADD must sign a Disposition of Remains Election Statement. page 46It is unknown how many families would elect to have "subsequent portions" of their loved one's remains remain at Dover but the issue is addressed in the report:
A crematory was installed at DPM in fall 2009 for cremation of subsequent portions, thereby eliminating the need for contracts with external entities. [pages 45 & 46]Is the new crematory a tiny one? A Feb. 28, McClatchy article covering this same report, says
The panel also recommended that the military no longer perform full-body cremations. "We think that it's a bad idea for the Department of Defense to be in the cremation business," Abizaid said.Dover got by without a crematory before the change in policy was put in place in September, 2001, probably because the issue of "subsequent portions," of any unclaimed tissue, hadn't come up.
Statistics are incomplete as to the number of family members who "chose not to be notified or take possession" of remains "subsequently identified," but in those cases, the PADD should really be called the PWWTHM [Person Who Washed Their Hands of the Matter.]
In December 2008, the DPM director recommended to the CJMAB that the Services implement a more fitting option for disposition of unidentified portions of remains that were subsequently identified and for which the PADD chose not to be notified or take possession.Even with trillions of unaudited dollars at their disposal, the military can still shoot itself in the foot:
Although AFMAO [Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation] was state-of-the-art at the time it was built, improvements are required in the air ventilation system. Efforts are under way to increase airflow while decreasing formaldehyde air concentrations. Currently, morticians are required to wear respirators while embalming remainspage 46The Dover Port Mortuary Independent Review Subcommittee, Final Report -- February 2012, summarizes a narrative thus:
As noted previously, until 2008, portions of remains that could neither be tested nor identified, or for which the PADD [Person Authorized to Direct Disposition] asked not to receive notification of, were cremated under contract at a civilian crematory and returned to DPM [Dover Port Mortuary], then placed in sealed containers that were provided to a biomedical waste disposal contractor. Per the biomedical waste contract at that time, the contractor then transported these containers and incinerated them. The assumption on the part of DPM was that after final incineration nothing remained. Press reports that followed the release of the OSC [Office of Special Counsel] review found that there was some residual material following incineration and that it was being disposed of in landfills. The landfill disposition was not disclosed in the biomedical waste disposal agreement. page 46
In December 2008, the DPM director recommended to the CJMAB [Central Joint Mortuary Affairs Board] that the Services implement a more fitting option for disposition of unidentified portions of remains that were subsequently identified and for which the PADD chose not to be notified or take possession. CJMAB recommended adoption of retirement-at-sea as policy for the disposition of those unidentified/untestable portions or those identified portions of remains where the PADD chose not to be notified or take possession. In April 2009 new policy guidance was issued. Initially the Department of the Navy developed the retirement-at-sea process. page 46How the report could limit the issue at hand to just "portions of remains that could neither be tested nor identified, or for which the PADD asked not to receive notification of," is forgetful of reporting done as recently as November 9, 2011, [Washington Post, Remains of war dead dumped in landfill, By Craig Whitlock and Greg Jaffe,]
Gari-Lynn Smith said she believed that Dover officials would treat the remains with respect. The deceased soldier’s parents declined to comment.
In April, Trevor Dean, a senior official at the Dover mortuary, informed her in a letter that some of her husband’s body parts were cremated and dumped in a landfill in King George County. In the letter, Dean listed her husband’s first name incorrectly, an oversight that Smith saw as yet another sign of disregard for her spouse.
February 28, 2012, McClatchy Newspapers, Pentagon: Some 9/11 victims' remains dumped in landfill, by Nancy A. Youssef,
WASHINGTON — Some cremated remains of people who were killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were disposed of in a landfill, the Pentagon revealed Tuesday, tracing the problems with the handling of remains at Dover Air Force Base back more than a decade.
A report by a panel that was tasked with reviewing procedures at Dover described "gross mismanagement" at the mortuary in Delaware where the nation's war dead arrive, including the mishandling of remains from an unknown number of victims of the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pa.
Remains that couldn't be identified or tested were cremated, the report said, and "then placed in sealed containers that were provided to a biomedical waste disposal contractor." Asked to provide further details, retired Gen. John Abizaid, who led the panel, testily said, "You'll have to ask the question elsewhere."
The panel was formed after revelations last fall that similar practices had been followed for some of the unidentified remains of American war dead. Pentagon officials said Tuesday's report was the first time they'd learned of the improper disposal of the remains of 9/11 victims.
The U.S. military has said the handling of its war dead is a sacred responsibility, but the panel's report found that Pentagon leadership "failed to recognize and address repeated issues that violated the standard of care." It made 20 recommendations for improving practices at Dover, including more training for mortuary workers and appointing a general to be responsible for it.
The report detailed several cases of mishandled remains or personal effects at the base. In 2006, the partial remains of four Navy personnel who'd died in a training plane crash were cremated and disposed of in a landfill. In January 2008, a Marine's widow received a $25,000 payout for "mental anguish" when her husband's personal effects were disposed of accidentally.
The panel also recommended that the military no longer perform full-body cremations. "We think that it's a bad idea for the Department of Defense to be in the cremation business," Abizaid said.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the bodies of at least 6,000 fallen troops from Iraq and Afghanistan have been transported to Dover Air Force Base.
Investigations into Dover began after whistleblowers reported mishandling of the remains of troops who'd been killed in the wars. The Air Force conducted an 18-month probe, concluding last fall that the partial remains of 274 service members had been incinerated and disposed of in a landfill from 2003 to 2008, when the Air Force said it had made reforms.
Last year, an investigation by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency, found "a pattern of the Air Force's failure to acknowledge culpability" for mishandled and lost remains. Earlier this year, a second Office of Special Counsel report revealed that some mortuary employees had retaliated against whistleblowers by suspending them from work.
After the Air Force and Office of Special Counsel findings, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta appointed Abizaid to lead the independent review.
Panetta, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who's the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the senior leadership of the Army and Air Force were briefed about the report Monday, officials said. Panetta ordered Dempsey to implement Abizaid's recommendations.
The Pentagon has disciplined three senior officials so far. Tuesday's report didn't say whether further disciplinary action was necessary, and no top officials signaled that more penalties were coming.
ON THE WEB
Dover Port Mortuary Independent Review Subcommittee report