Remains of some of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks ended up being dumped in a landfill site, it was revealed last night, in a new report on mismanagement at a military mortuary.
The US Department of Defence report said that some small portions of unidentified human remains from the Pentagon and from the crash site of the hijacked Flight 93 in Pennsylvania were improperly disposed of by staff at the Dover Air Force Base.
The disclosure is the latest revelation in the unfolding scandal at Dover, which receives the bodies of American soldiers killed abroad. Late last year, the Pentagon admitted that partial remains of hundreds of soldiers had been incinerated and handed to a private company for disposal at a Virginia landfill site.
The remains of at least 274 fallen men and women were improperly treated between 2003 – which is as far back as records go – and 2008. In addition to 976 identified body fragments, the Pentagon's records show that a further 1,762 unidentified battlefield remains, too badly damaged to be subjected to DNA analysis, also ended up in the landfill plot.
Yesterday's update was designed to set out exactly what had gone wrong at the base and to recommend new procedures to prevent a repeat. But it also – almost incidentally – revealed that remains from 9/11 victims had also been handled by the base. The remains were treated as biomedical waste, incinerated and – because mortuary officials assumed that nothing remained – taken to a nearby landfill.
The report said the remains had been handled in this way because they "could not be tested or identified". Retired army general John Abizaid, who led the investigation, said he could not quantify how many human remains from the 9/11 attacks were disposed of in this manner. "We don't think it should have happened," General Abizaid said. "Confidence has been lost in the ability of this organisation to care for the fallen. We must restore that confidence."
The number of people killed when a hijacked aircraft crashed into the Pentagon in 2001 was 184. Forty people on board Flight 93 died in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Rush Holt, a New Jersey congressman, was one of the first to react to the new revelations. "The Pentagon must provide absolute clarity and accountability as to what human remains were dishonoured in this manner," he said.