The lack of command authority and structure at the Dover Port Mortuary led to the mishandling of cremated remains of soldiers and some 9/11 victims according to a report just released.
Former U.S. Central Command head, retired Gen. John Abizaid led the subcommittee of the Defense Health Board charged with looking into the mishandling of remains at the Dover Air Force Base, Dover Port Mortuary.
Among the initial findings: body parts packaged in plastic bags were mislabeled and lost; cremated remains were thrown in a Virginia landfill; and one fallen Marine’s mangled arm was sawed off, without family notification, so the body would fit in the casket.
Background information provided with the subcommittee’s report indicated that unidentifiable remains from the 9/11 Pentagon attack and the crash site in Shanksville, Pa., were cremated, sealed in containers and given to a biomedical waste disposal contractor. The contractor incinerated those containers and dumped the residual material in a landfill, according to the report.
The Wall Street Journal reports there are few specifics in the final report on the mishandling of the 9/11 victims cremated remains:
Detailing a series of previously undisclosed errors at the Delaware military mortuary, investigators for the Defense Health Policy Board found a 2002 memo that revealed portions of seven bodies of people killed Sept. 11 in Shanksville, Pa., and in the attack on the Pentagon couldn’t be identified and were then cremated and given to a contractor that deposited the remains in a landfill.
Abizaid and committee members made 20 recommendations. Military.com reports:
His report calls for upgrading the commander of the mortuary units from a colonel to a two-star general; giving the commander more authority to investigate and prosecute; and subjecting the mortuary units to regular inspections. Abizaid’s panel also calls for a “board of visitors” to oversee the mortuary units and report to the Defense Health Board.
In his media briefing, Abizaid said, “This is not just and Air Force problem. This is a Department of Defense issue. There were policy issues that weren’t clear.”
“We need to understand that this is a 100 percent no-fail mission,” Abizaid said. “And that means the same level of care needs to be taken with regard to the final place of our fallen that we do in safeguarding our nuclear munitions.”
Transcripts of the news briefing are available HERE.