Mortuary Report: 9/11 Victims’ Remains Disposed of in Landfill


9-11-ground-zeroThe mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware disposed of some body parts of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by burning them and dumping the ashes in a landfill, an independent panel said in a report released on Tuesday.

The method of disposal of the Sept. 11 remains, which has not been previously disclosed, was limited to what the report said were “several portions of remains” that could not be identified from the Pentagon attack and the crash site in Shanksville, Pa. The report said the remains were cremated and placed in containers provided to a biomedical waste disposal contractor, who then incinerated them and put them in the landfill.

“We don’t think it should have happened,” John Abizaid, the retired general who led the panel, told reporters as he discussed the findings at the Pentagon.

The practice was also used for some unidentified remains of the nation’s war dead, a fact first disclosed late last year. The practice has since been stopped and the ashes are now put in urns and buried at sea.

The disclosure about the Sept. 11 victims came as the independent panel concluded that the mortuary, the entry point for the nation’s war dead, should have more oversight, training of employees and inspections. “These problems need to be corrected right away,” General Abizaid said.

The panel did not address a central issue in the scandal at the mortuary: whether the Air Force should have further disciplined three mortuary officials who had displayed what the Air Force termed “gross mismanagement” for losing body parts of two service members and then doing nothing to correct sloppy practices. The decision about what to do about the officials has been left to Michael Donley, the secretary of the Air Force, who has a news conference scheduled for later Tuesday.

The disclosure about the Sept. 11 victims’ remains came about only in passing, in a brief mention on Page 6 of the report and in a further brief mention in the report’s appendix. General Abizaid, who said his task had been to make recommendations and not investigate past practices, offered no detail about the disposal of the Sept. 11 victims’ remains beyond the sparse mentions in the report.

The panel, which was only asked to look into practices at the mortuary, found what it called a “lack of clear command authority and supervision, lack of command and technical oversight, unclear relationships among coordinating organizations” and other bureaucratic problems. Among other recommendations, it said that embalmers should have the most up-to-date training and suggested there be more of them.

In November, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta asked the panel to review practices at the mortuary after the Air Force made a public assessment of “gross mismanagement” at the mortuary and disclosed that the mortuary had lost body parts.

At that time the Air Force disciplined but did not fire three senior mortuary officials. Col. Robert H. Edmondson, the former commander of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center, who left his position as part of a regular rotation last year, received a letter of reprimand, effectively ending any further promotions. Trevor Dean, Colonel Edmondson’s former deputy, and Quinton R. Keel, the former mortuary director, both civilians, were demoted and moved to lesser jobs at Dover, although not in the mortuary.

At the same time, a watchdog agency, the Office of Special Counsel, released a scathing report on the mortuary and said the three should have been fired. In a letter to the White House in November, Carolyn N. Lerner, the head of the office, said that Mr. Keel and Mr. Dean had exhibited a pattern of “negligence, misconduct and dishonesty” and that there had been a “failure of leadership” by Colonel Edmondson.

Last month, the Office of Special Counsel released another report saying that officials at the mortuary – it did not name them – had retaliated against four employees after the employees raised concerns about the mishandling of service members’ remains. In a 39-page report, the agency detailed what it called reprisals against the four employees over a 17-month period in 2009 and 2010.

{New York Times/ Newscenter}