Remains of Some 9/11 Victims Went to Military Landfill: Pentagon

A report says several portions of remains that could not be identified were incinerated.

Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012  |  Updated 6:23 AM EDT
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Partial remains of several 9/11 victims were incinerated by a military contractor and sent to a military landfill, a government report said Tuesday in the latest of a series of revelations about the Pentagon's main mortuary for the war dead.

The number of victims involved was unclear, but the report said the remains were from people killed when a terrorist-hijacked airliner struck the Pentagon, killing 184 people, and another crashed in Shanksville, Pa., killing 40, in the Sept. 11 attacks.

There was no indication that remains from the attack on the World Trade Center were included.

The report was by an independent committee that had been asked to examine practices at the military's mortuary at Dover, Del., the first stopping point for fallen troops coming home from war overseas.

The panel was formed after an investigation last November revealed "gross mismanagement" at the Dover facility and found that body parts had been lost on two occasions. After that investigation, news reports revealed that some cremated partial remains of at least 274 American war dead -- including a soldier from New Jersey -- were dumped in a Virginia landfill until a policy change halted the practice in 2008.

Tuesday's report was explaining the old policy, which, it said, "began shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, when several portions of remains from the Pentagon attack and the Shanksville, Pa., crash site could not be tested or identified."

The partial remains were cremated, then given to a biomedical waste disposal contractor who put the remains in containers and incinerated those. The residual matter was then taken to a landfill, the report said.

"We don't think it should have happened," the committee chairman, retired Gen. John Abizaid, told a Pentagon news conference called to release the Dover report.

It was unclear whether families of the 9/11 victims were aware remains had gone to contractors and then to the landfill. In the case of the war dead, officials previously said that the remains were given to contractors only in cases where families had already buried their loved ones and had informed the military that they did not want to be told if additional remains were later found.

Such a development was not uncommon as the wars wore on in Iraq and Afghanistan, where bombs were the main insurgent weapon.

In the case of 9/11 victims, some remains from the Pentagon, where American Airlines Flight 77 crashed, were buried at Arlington National Cemetery on the first anniversary of the attacks. Three caskets of unidentified remains from the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in a field in Shanksville, Pa., were buried there last September.

Rubble from the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan was sorted at a former Staten Island landfill, and many families of victims have claimed that granules of remains were buried there after the operation concluded.

Al Santora, whose firefighter son, Christopher, died in the trade center, was originally part of a group of families who sued to re-open the Staten Island landfill, Fresh Kills, to resift the material there for remains.

Santora said the Pentagon discovery was "awful."

"If you had an animal and it died, and you threw it in the garbage,  you could get fined and probably go to jail," he said. "And yet you could have human remains in a garbage dump that everybody knows about, and nobody's doing anything about it."

Despite more than 10 years passing since the attacks, forensic scientists at the medical examiner's office in New York have still been able to make identifications with remains collected long ago. A victim who worked in the south tower had a piece of her remains identified just this month.

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