A lack of oversight and proper training at Delaware’s Dover Air Force base led to the mishandling of both military and civilian remains, according to an investigative report from the Pentagon cited in National Journal today.
According to the report, remains of Sept. 11 victims which 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 “that there was some residual material following incineration” and that “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 concluded that military remains weren’t the only ones that ended up in a landfill; the remains of Sept. 11 victims, arguably some of the most venerated in recent American history, were disposed of there as well.
The report cites systemic understaffing as another potential cause of this problem and prescribes a variety of bureaucratic solutions to ensure this never happens again. Let’s hope those prescriptions have some basis in reality and actually serve their purpose. Somewhere along the way, though, we have to begin to recognize that, in the end, what alone prevents this kind of callous disregard for the dead is a sense of the sacredness of the human person and life itself in the first place. What prevents this is individuals taking responsibility for the way they treat other human beings, whether alive or dead.
My heart goes out to the bereaved military families that have grappled with this kind of disrespect before as well as to the families of the Sept. 11 victims.