The reports in November about the gross mismanagement of soldiers’ remains at the Dover Air Force Base, including the policy of dumping slain soldiers into a Virginia landfill, continue to develop today as new reports suggest the policy, which the Air Force has defended, was much broader than anyone thought.
Now, records related to the period suggest that at least 274 US soldiers slain overseas were dumped in the landfill. Though the Air Force apparently never revealed the policy to top Pentagon officials at the time, this was their standard response to family members telling them to dispose of the remains “respectfully and with dignity.”
Air Force officials said there was “absolutely not” any intent to deceive the public or families about the disposal. At the same time they said they don’t intend to inform the families, saying it would be inconvenient to go back through the files from those years to get contact information.
Rep. Rush Holt (D – NJ), who had pressed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about rumors of the practice in September, was interviewed on the matter by the Washington Post. His response, perhaps the first reasonable official comment when told about the policy, was “what the hell?!” followed by speculating that the Air Force “just don’t want to ask questions or look very hard.”
The Air Force does not appear to even have records of when the policy began, saying it was doing so in at least 2004, but couldn’t rule out that it began earlier. The company that took the troops to the landfill, MedTrace Inc. denied knowing that they were hauling dead soldiers, saying the containers were sealed and labeled “medical waste” by the Air Force. The landfill operator, Waste Management, says they weren’t informed of the policy either and would have rejected human remains for the landfill.