Pentagon admits it dumped some 9/11 remains in a landfill
Updated at 2:35 p.m ET: For the first time, the Defense Department acknowledged Tuesday that some cremated remains of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were dumped in a landfill.
Retired Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of an independent task force reviewing operations at the military’s mortuary at Dover, Del., confirmed the news but said it was only a minor part of his panel’s overall report, which he said found that “there were many things that were going wrong there.”
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta formed the task force in December after an investigation by the Air Force, which runs the facility, found that some remains of U.S. military personnel weren’t handled “in accordance with procedures.”
The Air Force acknowledged that it had disposed of the incinerated remains of at least 274 service members in the landfill before it ended the practice in 2008. At the time, officials said records went back only to 2003.
But the independent panel found that the practice went back at least to 2001, and it discovered that “several portions of remains” recovered from the 9/11 attacks at the Pentagon and at Shanksville, Pa., also ended up in a landfill, where they were put by a contractor. That information was first reported Tuesday morning by The Washington Post.
Asked by NBC News Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski whether he had known about the 9/11 victims, Air Force Secretary Michael Donley replied, “This is new information to me.”
‘Commanders in name only’ Abizaid told reporters that the Air Force’s complex command structure led to the problems at Dover by creating “commanders in name only.”
But “this was not just an Air Force problem,” he said, adding that the entire U.S. military “needs to understand this is a 100 percent no-fail mission.”
For one thing, he said, the Dover facility should no longer cremate fallen troops, because “we think it’s a bad idea for DoD to be in the cremation business” in the first place.
The Dover facility is the first point of entry for U.S. service members who are killed or die overseas. It first came under investigation in 2010 after employees complained about how some cases were handled.
Investigators said last year that they had found no evidence that anyone intentionally mishandled the remains, but they concluded that the mortuary staff failed to “maintain accountability” with some remains.
“The standard is 100 percent accountability in every instance of this important mission,” the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Norton Schwartz, said at the time.
“We can, and will, do better, and as a result of the allegations and investigation, our ability to care for our fallen warriors is now stronger,” he said