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Portion of 9/11 remains dumped in landfill, report says

By Scott Spoerry, CNN
updated 9:23 PM EST, Tue February 28, 2012
A Wall of Names recognizes the victims of the United Flight 93 crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on 9/11's 10th anniversary.
A Wall of Names recognizes the victims of the United Flight 93 crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on 9/11's 10th anniversary.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: White House endorses efforts for "systemic structural changes"
  • Pentagon report: Some cremated remains were handed over to a biomedical contractor
  • The remains were incinerated a second time and disposed of in a landfill
  • The mortuary had erroneously assumed that no remains were left, report says

Washington (CNN) -- A Pentagon report released Tuesday on the military's Dover mortuary finds that not only did some remains of U.S. troops end up in landfills — so did remains from the 9/11 attacks.

Dover AFB is where the remains of deceased U.S. armed forces first arrive home from overseas. How the Dover Port Mortuary (DPM) handled military remains caused an uproar last November, and the new report says much the same thing happened to remains from the Pentagon attack and the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, crash site of September 11, 2001.

Of the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks, 224 were killed at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

The report says that in 2002, some unidentified and already cremated remains from those attacks were placed in sealed containers, handed over to a biomedical waste contractor and then transported in containers and incinerated a second time.

The assumption on the part of the mortuary, the report says, was that nothing was left. But then mortuary management found that some residual material had in fact remained after the second cremation and that the contractor had disposed of it in a landfill. And according to the report, "The landfill disposition was not disclosed in the contractual disposal agreement."

Confusion over just exactly what the words "final disposition" meant was one of the reasons that unidentified 9/11 remains ended up in a landfill.

Pentagon: 9/11 remains in landfill

Retired Gen. John Abizaid, who is in charge of the independent review subcommittee investigation, told reporters, "We think 'final disposition' needs to be the final resting place (of remains)." Abizaid noted that some states legally define "final disposition" of remains as delivering them to the crematorium, and he added, "we don't agree" with what many consider to be that sort of final disposition.

The report notes that such disposition ceased in 2008 and by 2009 a new policy was in place. Now, unidentified portions of remains are cremated and "retired at sea."

The White House issued a statement Tuesday night expressing concern "about the unacceptable handing of remains at Dover."

"The President has been briefed on the independent review of Dover Port Mortuary and strongly supports the Pentagon's efforts to make needed systemic structural changes so that these types of incidents never happen again," the White House statement said. "The United States has a solemn obligation to compassionately and professionally care for fallen service members and their families, and those we tragically lost on 9/11."

Why 9/11 remains ended up in the Dover Port Mortuary is not explained in the new report and was not the focus of the investigation, said Abizaid. He said the report's purpose is to address how mortuary operations should be reformed and controlled.

Abizaid says the real problem with mortuary operations was a failure of command and the command structure. He said the Air Force has very strict regulations that it enforces on the handling of nuclear weapons, and that spirit needs to be adopted in this sphere of operations, too.

"We need to understand that just like the nuclear surety business, this a 100% no-fail mission, and that means the same level of care needs to be taken with regard to the final resting place of our fallen," Abizaid said.

The issue came up earlier this month in a letter from Rep. Rush Holt, D-New Jersey, to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in which Holt inquired whether 9/11 victims ended up in the landfill.

"Can the Air Force confirm that no 9/11 victim's remains were incinerated, mixed with medical waste, and sent to a landfill?" Holt wrote in the letter. "In her November 2011 correspondence, Acting Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness Jo Ann Rooney stated to me that the five hijackers responsible for the Pentagon attack were also identified by Dover from DNA samples. How were the remains of the hijackers handled?"

A spokesman for Holt said the secretary of defense has not responded to those questions.

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