The partial remains of some of the victims of the 9/11 hijacking of flight No. 93 that went down over Shanksville, Pennsylvania, were incinerated, mixed with medical waste, and placed in a landfill, according to a gruesome new Pentagon report.
Issued by an independent commission chaired by retired Gen. John Abizaid, the report looks into allegations of improper handling at the Dover Air Force base's mortuary of the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon released the 9-member panel's findings in an 86-page report (.pdf). On page 11, the panel notes that it was only after the committee's work began that it was alerted to allegations that some 9/11 victims' unidentified remains were also handled improperly at the facility:
Prior to 2008, portions of remains that could neither be tested nor identified ...were cremated under contract at a civilian crematory and returned to DPM [Dover Port Mortuary]. This policy began shortly after September 11, 2001, when several portions of remains from the Pentagon attack and the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, crash site could not be tested or identified.
These cremated portions were then placed in sealed containers that were provided to a biomedical waste disposal contractor. Per the biomedical waste contract at that time, the contractor then transported these containers and incinerated them. The assumption on the part of DPM was that after final incineration nothing remained. A DPM management query found that there was some residual material following incineration and that the contractor was disposing of it in a landfill. The landfill disposition was not disclosed in the contractual disposal agreement.
The practice ceased in 2008. "Remains are now cremated and retired at sea," the report said, referring to the new policy put in place.
Rep. Rush Holt (D-New Jersey) first brought the distressing allegations to the Pentagon chiefs' attention.
A spokesman for Holt told Yahoo News Tuesday that the congressman had originally learned of the issue last summer from a constituent whose husband had been killed in action in Iraq years before.
"She was getting evasive answers from the Pentagon about what happened to his remains," Holt's spokesman told Yahoo News in a phone interview Tuesday. "After digging into it, she was told his remains had been incinerated, mixed with medical waste, and put in a landfill. She was quite distressed and asked the congressman to dig in further."
Holt originally wrote Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about the concern in a letter last September. He sent a second letter on February 6th: "Can the Air Force confirm that no 9/11 victim's remains were ... sent to a landfill?" he wrote.
Holt pieced together a possible scenario. "Given this had been the Dover policy, and given that various 9/11 remains had been handled at Dover, he was concerned this might have happened," his spokesman said.
The White House expressed deep concern about the panel's findings on Tuesday, and said the President had been briefed on the review.
The President "strongly supports the Pentagon's efforts to make needed systemic structural changes so that these types of incidents never happen again," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a press statement Tuesday evening. "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."
More popular Yahoo! News stories:
Want more of our best political stories? Visit The Ticket or connect with us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or add us on Tumblr. Handy with a camera? Join our Election 2012 Flickr group to submit your photos of the campaign in action.