Thursday 13 December 2018

Staff at US air force base 'lost body parts of dead servicemen'

Leon Panetta, defence secretary, said he supported the air force's findings.
Leon Panetta, defence secretary, said he supported the air force's findings.

Ben Farmer

Staff at a United States Air Force base have been found guilty of "gross mismanagement" after losing body parts of servicemen killed in Afghanistan and mishandling the remains of another.

An investigation into the mortuary in Dover Air Force base, which receives and identifies America's overseas war dead, found parts from two bodies had been lost.

Another body had part of a protruding bone cut off, without the family's permission, to ensure it could fit in a dress uniform for funeral.

The mortuary’s commander and two civilian officials were disciplined but were not sacked as the mistakes were not “a deliberate act".

General Norton Schwartz, airforce chief of staff, Michael Donley, secretary of the air force, said they took overall responsibility for the mistakes.

Gen Schwartz said: "There is nothing more sacred ... than treating our fallen with reverence, dignity and respect. This is tough stuff."

However a separate report from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent government investigative agency, criticised the air force for its "failure to acknowledge culpability".

The OSC said the air force had waited too long to notify the families concerned and had tried to retaliate against three mortuary whistle-blowers who first raised concerns of lax procedures.

The air force investigation found parts of an ankle from an airman killed in an F-15 fighter crash were missing in April 2009 from a labelled plastic bag which had a slit in the side.

In the other incident, in July 2009, tissue from a soldier killed in Afghanistan was also found missing from its bag. Neither remains were found.

Since 2003, the mortuary has received the remains of more than 6,300 dead troops, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Officials said that in no cases did they suspect foul play, criminal acts or deliberate mishandling of the missing pieces.

Leon Panetta, defence secretary, said he supported the air force's findings but had asked for a separate review to be led by the former surgeon general, Dr Richard Carmona.

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