How did this news have snuck by us for TWO whole months?
The United States military has long borne a sacred obligation: to treat its fallen members and their families with utmost levels of dignity and honor.
But, thanks to three whistle blowers, it was uncovered that workers at the Dover Air Force Base mortuary routinely cremated and dumped in a landfill body parts of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dover is the main port of entry for America’s war dead.
This went on reportedly for FIVE years, between 2003 and 2008. The landfill dumping was concealed from families who had authorized the military to dispose of the remains in a dignified and respectful manner. The company running the King George County landfill in Virginia was not even informed what was being thrown away.
First reported by the Associated Press early last December, subsequent reports provided more and worse details.
Dashiell Bennett reports for The Atlantic Wire, Dec. 8, 2011, that officials at Dover Air Force Base finally put a number when they admitted that they dumped the partial, cremated remains of at least 274 American soldiers into a Virginia landfill. Those officials previously had refused to estimate how many soldiers’ remains had been disposed of in that disrespectful manner, saying that “it would require a massive effort and time to recall records and research individually.” After pressure brought by The Washington Post, Congressman Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.) and some other members of Congress, the military mortuary finally released the count from its own electronic records.
But the truth may be even worse because the first official record of the disgraceful practice came in 2004 and the mortuary’s electronic database only goes back to 2003. The widow of an Army sergeant killed in Iraq says that she was told by a mortuary official that remains had been taken to landfills since at least 1996.
Officially, between 2004 and 2008, 976 fragments and body parts belonging to the 274 soldiers were “cremated, incinerated and taken to the landfill” in addition to 1,752 other fragments that were too damaged to be identified. No attempt was made to notify the families of the identified soldiers, because relatives had previously indicated they did not want to know if more parts were discovered. Even after the news of the scandal broke and records re-examined, Air Force officials say there are no plans to alert the soldiers’ families.
Among the most egregious instances was when the family of one marine asked to see his dead body one more time – so staff at Dover hacked his arm bone off. The heat from a bomb attack in Afghanistan had caused the soldier’s arm to fuse at 90 degrees to his body so he was unable to fit into his uniform or his casket. But instead of speaking to his family to see what was for the best, staff went ahead and trimmed it anyway.
The practice was ended in 2008, and unclaimed and unidentified remains of soldiers that are too small for normal burial are now cremated and buried at sea.
The scandal at Dover Air Force base began after complaints by three whistleblowers – civilians who worked as embalmers or technicians – who sparked an 18-month investigation by the Air Force Inspector General. A separate probe was carried out by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative agency which looks into claims by whistleblowers.
The Washington Post reports that the landfill disposals were never formally authorized under military policies or regulations. They also were not disclosed to senior Pentagon officials who conducted a high-level review of cremation policies at the Dover mortuary in 2008, records show.
Senior Air Force leaders said there was no intent to deceive. “Absolutely not,” said Lt. Gen. Darrell D. Jones, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for personnel.
Three officials have been disciplined at Dover – but none have lost their jobs.
H/t our beloved Joseph.
According to the New York Times, Jan. 31, 2012, an investigation by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) found that officials at Dover Air Force Base retaliated against 4 employees who were whistle blowers, over a 17-month period in 2009 and 2010. Three officials were singled out for criticism: Col. Robert H. Edmondson, the former commander of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center; Trevor Dean, Colonel Edmondson’s former deputy; and Quinton R. Keel, the former mortuary director. After the body-parts scandal came to light, the Air Force had moved Dean and Keel, both civilians, to lesser jobs on the base. Col. Edmondson received a letter of reprimand, which effectively ended any further promotions. But the OSC believes — and is recommending — the three officials should be fired.