The Pentagon has disclosed for the first time that the remains of some Sept. 11 victims wound up in a landfill, adding a grim new chapter to an ongoing scandal over care for the military nation’s war dead.
A lengthy investigative report by a Pentagon panel into the handling of human remains at Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base found that both military and civilian remains had been mishandled at the facility, blaming the shortcomings on contractor malfeasance and a lack of proper oversight and training at the base.
According to the report, remains of 9/11 victims that could not be identified, either because they were too small or too burned, were cremated at a civilian facility, sent back to Dover, and then sent in a sealed container to a civilian waste disposal company. The firm was supposed to completely incinerate the containers, but the report said “there was some residual material following incineration” and “the contractor was disposing of it in a landfill.”
The report notes that “the landfill disposition was not disclosed in the contractual disposal agreement,” but doesn’t identify the company or specify whether the government has pursued any legal action against the firm. No senior Dover officials have been fired over the landfill controversy.
The 86-page report was sparked by media reports that military remains had been cremated at civilian facilities and ultimately sent to a landfill. The articles sparked outrage on Capitol Hill and fury among the tight-knit community of bereaved military families, who said the military had in essence been treating the remains of their loved ones as garbage.
The new report confirms that military remains were mishandled and then goes further. It concludes that military remains weren’t the only ones that ended up in a landfill; the remains of 9/11 victims, some of the most venerated in recent American history, were disposed of there as well.
The study identified smaller incidents that were nevertheless extremely painful to bereaved families. In late September 2011, the remains of a fallen service member were cremated. The family had requested the ashes be placed in a hardwood casket. Instead, the report found, the remains were placed in a cheap cardboard insert.
The report blames the failings on a lack of proper training and oversight at the facility, as well as systemic understaffing, and recommends a variety of bureaucratic fixes.