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FACTDROP: US war dead 'mishandled'


US war dead 'mishandled'

The remains of soldiers arrive at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, in May 4th, 2009: Photograph: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Πηγή: IrishTImes
By Reuters
Nov 9 2011

Investigators in the United States have revealed the military's main mortuary mishandled remains of war dead, losing track of body parts twice and wrongfully removing a limb of a Marine.

The Air Force investigation into the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware is likely to add to questions about treatment of the country's war dead a year after a scandal broke at Arlington National Cemetery over the mishandling and misidentification of remains.

In one case disclosed in the investigation, mortuary staff severed a Marine's left arm because they were unable to fit the limb into his uniform - something they needed the family's permission to do. In other instances, the mortuary lost track of the partial remains of Army and Air Force service members.

In a letter to president Barack Obama, the chief of the US Office of Special Counsel - which reviewed the inquiry - lambasted the Air Force for a "failure to acknowledge culpability". It also criticised the service for waiting too long to notify families of the fallen troops involved.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen Norton Schwartz, while accepting blame on behalf of his service, rejected that criticism. He also defended a decision not to fire anyone over the affair and noted that disciplinary action was taken against one military officer and two civilians.

"You should have no doubt about how seriously we took the allegations," Gen Schwartz told a news briefing at the Pentagon.

Asked whether anyone might still be dismissed upon further review, Schwartz responded: "While their performance did not meet standards, this was not a deliberate act."

However, the Office of Special Counsel alleged there was a "pattern of negligence, misconduct and dishonesty" and questioned the message sent by keeping employees on the payroll.

It also noted that the mortuary director at the centre of the allegations fired one of the whistle-blowers, was accused of retaliating against the other two and fired a mortuary inspector who cooperated with the investigation.

Dover is the main entry point for returning American war dead. The Air Force investigation centred on events at Dover between 2008 and 2010 and turned up only a handful of cases of mishandled remains.

Gen Schwartz acknowledged he could not certify with certainty "that prior performance met our standard of perfection," suggesting other mishaps were possible.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he was deeply disturbed to learn about "questions involving the possibilities" of mishandled remains and said he supported the investigation's findings. He commended the Air Force for what he said was a thorough response to the allegations.

An independent review of operations at the Dover Port Mortuary is to be led by former US surgeon general Dr Richard Carmona.

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