Richard Carmona, shown in a 2008 photo, was selected by President George W. Bush to be the U.S. surgeon general.
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Richard Carmona, shown in a 2008 photo, was selected by President George W. Bush to be the U.S. surgeon general.

Story highlights

Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona plans a Senate run

He plans to seek the seat being vacated by Sen. Jon Kyl in Arizona

A senior Pentagon official said his leaving should not affect the probe

Washington CNN —  

The man selected on Tuesday to run an independent investigation of problems within the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base has already bowed out.

When news broke that the Air Force was disciplining three people for improper handling of the remains of four service members, it was announced that former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona would run an independent review of procedures at Dover AFB Port Mortuary.

On Friday, just three days later, the Pentagon announced Carmona was stepping down from the investigation to run for public office. Carmona had announced on Thursday that he intends to run for the U.S. Senate seat from Arizona that will soon be vacated by Republican Jon Kyl.

“Dr. Carmona notified the department this morning that he is stepping down from the panel,” the Pentagon’s press secretary said Friday in a statement. “Secretary Panetta agrees with that decision, and he will name a replacement very soon.”

Carmona first came to national prominence when President George W. Bush chose him to be the U.S. surgeon general. Prior to his appointment, he was a doctor with experience in nursing and law enforcement in Arizona.

He is running as a Democrat.

A senior Pentagon official said his departure should not affect the probe.

“It’s clear that he wouldn’t be able to run a serious investigation into Dover and a political campaign at the same time,” the official said. “The decision was obvious for everyone. Since the panel hasn’t yet met, there’s been no impact to its work, which will begin in earnest soon.”

But late Friday, Carmona released a statement saying that he has been working for a couple of months to put together a panel to investigate Dover.

“It is … critical that the Dover review committee that I chaired and began assembling in August of this year moves swiftly and aggressively to review the actions of the Air Force,” Carmona wrote. “In order to avoid the opportunity for the appearance of partisanship with this important work, I have decided to recuse myself from the panel.”

Carmona was to have headed a panel of experts to conduct an independent review of operations at Dover.

It is one of two new investigations of the Dover situation. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered the Air Force chief of staff to consider whether appropriate punishment was given the three Dover mortuary employees.

On Tuesday, the Air Force revealed instances of mismanagement and inadequate accountability at the mortuary. It reported incidents of missing body parts and, in one case, the sawing off of an arm so a body would fit in a casket.