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Outrage over Body Parts of War Dead Is Misdirected


There didn’t seem to be a lot of outrage last month when it was reported by the Washington Post that the Dover Air Force Base mortuary had for years been disposing of the unidentified remains of U.S. soldiers by cremating them and then dumping the ashes in a landfill in King George County, Virginia.

The Dover mortuary receives the remains of all U.S. military personnel killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other overseas locations. More than 6,000 U.S. soldiers have died in foreign wars since 2001. The mortuary engaged in the landfill disposal practice from 2003 to 2008. Relatives of the dead soldiers were not informed about the method of disposal. Since June 2008, the Navy has disposed of cremated remains at sea.

Waste Management, the owner of the landfill, said it was not informed about the origin of the ashes it disposed of.

The disclosure by the Washington Post came after several federal investigations documenting gross mismanagement at Dover Air Force Base. The Air Force has admitted that its mortuary lost an ankle, improperly stored and tracked other remains, and sawed off a dead Marines arm to fit his body into a casket. Three mortuary supervisors were disciplined, but not fired, after an 18-month investigation.

Now the Air Force has said that it dumped more human remains in the Virginia landfill than it previously acknowledged. It turns out that the cremated, incinerated partial remains consisting of 976 fragments from 274 identified American soldiers and 1,762 pieces of unidentified remains were deposited in the landfill. The Air Force had previously maintained that it could not estimate how many troops might have had their remains sent to a landfill. The Air Force has decided not to notify the relatives of the 274 soldiers because each of the families signed forms stipulating that they did not wish to be notified if additional remains were subsequently recovered or identified. Only if family members come forward and request the information will the Air Force disclose it. Naturally, the military regrets any additional grief to families that past practices may have caused.

Family members of the fallen are, of course, outraged. But they are not alone. Joe Davis, of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), said, The latest reports suggest the military hasnt been transparent. He further explained that these kids are being put in body bags with all the parts that can possibly be retrieved, and then a month, two months later, somebody might be patrolling down that same alley way and find a finger. Consulting the families is the thing to do. The top Democrat and Republican on the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating the Dover Air Force Base mortuary, said they found the most recent Washington Post revelations appalling. The committee is now going to broaden its probe to include all military burial practices over the past decade.

It is not really comforting to know that all the pieces of your loved one are buried in a coffin instead of being dumped in a landfill. The pieces that could be found, that is.

No, the outrage over the disposal of body parts of U.S. war dead is misdirected.

Where is the outrage of family members who have lost loved ones against George W. Bush for lying Americans into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and against Barack Obama for escalating the Afghan War and expanding the bogus war on terror to other countries? The United States has lost almost 5,000 soldiers in Iraq and more than 1,800 in Afghanistan. That translates into many thousands of grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins who have lost family members in foreign wars, and for no good reason. There are some notable mothers such as Cindy Sheehan and fathers Andrew Bacevich who have spoken out. But for the most part, relatives of the fallen are content to perpetuate the myth that their loved ones died fighting for their freedoms.

Where is the outrage of the VFW over the thousands of U.S. soldiers who have died while becoming veterans of a foreign war? There are U.S. troops stationed in more than 150 countries and territories doing everything but actually defending the land, coasts, borders, and skies of the United States. Vietnam veteran and peace advocate James Glaser has documented the 65 official foreign military actions since World War II that have been approved by Congress to qualify the combatants for membership in the VFW and that was before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Better that the VFW loose all of its membership than that more American soldiers die in vain and for a lie in foreign wars.

Where is the outrage of members of Congress over the hundreds of billions of dollars wasted on foreign wars? Why aren’t Bush and Dick Cheney being investigated along with the Dover Air Force Base mortuary?

But that’s not all.

Where is the outrage of Democrats over the silence of most in their party (with the notable exception of Dennis Kucinich) regarding not only the failure of their president to end Bush’s wars, but regarding his drone attacks and extra-judicial murder?

Where is the outrage of liberals over the dearth of criticism from progressives (with the notable exception of Glenn Greenwald) of Obama’s dictatorial view of presidential power and murderous foreign policy?

Where is the outrage of Republicans over all of the major Republican presidential candidates (except Ron Paul) who want the United States to stay in Iraq, continue fighting in Afghanistan, expand the war on terror, and provoke Iran?

Where is the outrage of conservatives over the leading conservative talk-show hosts (Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, Bill OReilly) who want the United States to continue its reckless foreign policy of policing the world at the expense of U.S. taxpayers, and soldiers and their families?

Regardless of whom U.S. military personnel are fighting, how they die, and where they are fighting, the Pentagon owes it to the families of the fallen to do all that it can to ensure that the remains of military personnel are handled, accounted for, and buried properly. But an even greater responsibility of the Pentagon is to actually defend the country and not engage in senseless and unjust foreign wars that needlessly sacrifice U.S. troops.

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