Tragic news from a Defense Department report, brought to us by the Washington Post:
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 Sept. 11 victims taken to the Dover Air Force Base mortuary later ended up in a landfill.
The Dover mortuary has been in the news since November, when it was discovered the unclaimed remains of troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan were being incinerated and dumped in the landfill between 2003 and 2008.
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.
General Abizaid said his panel was intended to review and improve current operations at the Dover mortuary, and did not “go back and take a detailed look at the records to see what went on” in the past. Previous mistreatment of military remains has been attributed to poorly-trained workers having trouble coping with large numbers of battlefield casualties, and “poor communication.”
The latter must also explain what happened to the request from Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, asking the Defense Department to verify that “no 9/11 victims’ remains were incinerated, mixed with medical waste and sent to a landfill.” According to the Post, Holt never received a response to his letter. He has his answer now.