The revelation that “several portions of remains” recovered from the Pentagon and Shanksville ended up in a landfill was mentioned briefly on the latter pages of a report released Tuesday after an investigation led by retired Army Gen. John P. Abizaid.
The report said that the Sept. 11 remains in question “could not be tested or identified,” apparently because they were too small or charred to allow for DNA analysis. The remains were cremated and then mixed with biomedical waste at the Dover mortuary, where they were given to a contractor who incinerated them and dumped the residue in a landfill.
The report cites Army and Air Force memos from July and August 2002 directing that an unspecified number of “remains from the Attack on the Pentagon” be incinerated.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Abizaid said he didn’t know many details on what happened to the remains of Sept. 11 victims.
“We did not spend a great deal of time and effort and energy looking into what you’re talking about,” he said in response to a reporter’s questions. “That was not our charge. Our charge was to look forward.”
Abizaid declined to release the memos or other documentation on the matter, saying, “I have no authority to release anything.”
Late Wednesday, the White House issued a statement saying it was “deeply concerned” about the landfill disposals and about “the unacceptable handling of remains at Dover.” The statement said President Obama had been briefed about Abizaid’s review and that he “strongly supports the Pentagon’s efforts to make needed systemic structural changes so that these types of incidents never happen again.”
The report indicates that unidentified remains from the hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, were disposed of in a similar manner. But the Pennsylvania coroner who oversaw the handling of remains from that attack said no body parts from Shanksville were ever sent to Dover or taken to a landfill.
Wallace Miller, the Somerset, Pa., county coroner, said in news reports on Tuesday that all unidentified remains from Shanksville were buried in three caskets on Sept. 12 at a memorial site for Flight 93 as part of the 10th anniversary of the hijacking.
Members of Congress pressed the Pentagon to offer a more detailed account of the handling of victims’ remains.
“The heroic passengers on United Flight 93 gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation, and their families deserve to know the fate of their remains,” Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), wrote in a letter Tuesday to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta. “It is critically important that we get to the bottom of this matter, clear up any remaining doubts, and ensure that those responsible for any mishandling of remains be held accountable.”