US & Canada

Dover Air Force Base 'lost US troop remains'

A transfer case containing the remains of a US soldier arrives at Dover Air Force Base
Image caption Dover Air Force Base has received more than 6,300 military casualties for burial since 2003

A US Air Force base tasked with preparing military casualties for burial lost portions of remains twice during 2009, a probe has found.

The incidents were brought to light by civilian mortuary workers at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

The Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which held its own investigation, said the air force failed to "acknowledge culpability for wrongdoing".

Three supervisory air force officials at Dover were found to be at fault.

None of the three were fired, but they were demoted or moved to other departments.

Col Robert H Edmondson, who received a letter of reprimand for "failure in leadership", was reassigned to a personnel division.

Col Edmondson's top civilian deputy, Trevor Dean, took a different job at Dover in a lower pay grade.

The director of the mortuary division at Dover, Quinton Keel, was reassigned at the base to a non-supervisory position, although the OSC report said the position was created specifically for him after he was no longer director.

In a statement, the Air Force said the mortuary suffered from "deficiencies" in some procedures like paperwork, but "processes to which they related were appropriately conducted".

Two panels will review operations at the Dover mortuary and identify any improvements.

"I want to reassure our men and women in uniform, and the American public, that the Air Force mortuary standards they expect for our fallen heroes are being met," Gen Norton Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff said.

Credibility problems

The whistle-blowing mortuary workers revealed 14 specific incidents at Dover.

They including the discovery of an empty bag that was supposed to contain an ankle from a soldier killed in Afghanistan, the Washington Post reported.

In the search, officials found that the remains of two other soldiers were found to have gone missing three months earlier.

In one grisly incident in April 2009, mortuary workers were ordered to saw off the arm bone of a deceased soldier in order to fit his body into a military uniform for burial, in accordance with the wishes of his family.

The workers initially objected but eventually went ahead with the procedure on the order of their superiors - without gaining the consent of the family.

The office of the US Air Force Inspector General, while confirming the overall pattern of complaints, found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and concluded that the mortuary officials named had not personally broken rules or regulations.

A similar investigation by the Office of the Special Counsel, an independent federal body based at the Department of Justice, said the US Air Force's conclusions "do not appear reasonable", considering the base's responsibility to handle the remains of war casualties with the highest regard.

"More concerning, however, are the findings that these managers ignored evidence given to them, presented baseless explanations that were 'simply not credible', and took affirmative steps to conceal the problem," Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner wrote in a letter to US President Barack Obama.

Ms Lerner also questioned whether the Air Force officials had been appropriately disciplined.

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