Some Alleged Remains From Pentagon and Shanksville Not ID'ed

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From the Wall Street Journal:

FEBRUARY 28, 2012, 2:42 P.M. ET

Dover Military Mortuary Sent Some 9/11 Remains to Landfill

WASHINGTON—Problems with handling human remains at the Dover Air Force Base stretch back at least to Sept. 11, 2001, when portions of seven corpses brought there after the terrorist attacks were cremated and deposited in a landfill, according to a Defense Department report issued Tuesday.

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.

The report has few other details of the apparent mishandling of the Sept. 11 remains. In 2008, the Air Force halted the practice of disposing of small portions of unidentified remains or partial remains that family members declined. The service now buries such remains at sea.

But the disclosure of the new details, following recent revelations that portions of soldiers' corpses had been discarded in landfills, could rekindle public consternation.

John Abizaid, the retired Army general who led a subpanel investigating the problems at Dover, briefed reporters on the findings but avoided providing details of the errors, saying he was assigned to recommend changes to prevent future mistakes, not to investigate past shortcomings.

A timeline included as an appendix to the report points to other problems at the mortuary over the last decade.

"We thought the timeline was important for understanding what went on there," Gen. Abizaid said. "And the time line goes back pretty far."

An investigation conducted in 2005 determined human remains were misrouted and the person responsible guilty of "dereliction of duty." In 2006, portions of human remains from a crash of a Navy training plane that killed four people were cremated and deposited in a landfill, rather than being placed in a group burial as they should have been.

In 2007, an unspecified personal item belonging to a fallen Marine was inadvertently destroyed. The following year the Air Force paid $25,000 to the spouse of the Marine for "mental anguish" caused by the loss of the personal effects, according to the report.

Gen. Abizaid's panel considered and rejected a large-scale reorganization of the mortuary that would have put the Army medical examiners and Air Force morticians under a single commander. Instead, Gen. Abizaid recommended giving the current Air Force commander more authority, strengthening the chain of command and providing more-regular oversight.

Gen. Abizaid said the changes should lay the groundwork for improving operations at the mortuary and eliminating errors.

"It is about confidence," Gen. Abizaid said. "Confidence has been lost in these organizations to care properly for our fallen; we must restore that confidence."