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Pentagon decides against cremation

From Barbara Starr
CNN Washington Bureau

Pfc. Lewis Michael and Pfc. Seth Fisher dig a foxhole during exercises in Kuwait.
Pfc. Lewis Michael and Pfc. Seth Fisher dig a foxhole during exercises in Kuwait.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After a lengthy policy review, the Pentagon has decided against authorizing cremation as a means of disposing of the remains of U.S. troops if they die in a chemical or biological attack.

A panel of military health and mortuary affairs experts had been considering whether years of U.S. military mortuary policy should be amended to include cremation. The concern was that in the event of a mass-casualty attack in the Persian Gulf, mortuary teams could become overwhelmed by large numbers of contaminated remains.

Of special concern were biological contaminates such as smallpox or anthrax, that would require the quick disposal of bodies to protect the living.

The review panel has now found that standard procedures involving sealed caskets are sufficient.

Cremation has never been an authorized means of dealing with remains on the battlefield.

There is a longtime U.S. military tradition of making every effort to return each person's body home in a flag-draped coffin.

The panel that studied cremation considered problems of how the military would operate a crematorium in the Middle East and how the ashes would be sorted and returned to families.

There were also cultural and religious objections raised by some service members.

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