2002 Pentagon memo guided 9/11 remains disposal

Feb 29, 2012, 9:12 PM

AP National Security Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – The disposal of human remains from the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, including the incineration and dumping of some portions in a landfill, was based on high-level Pentagon instructions, the Air Force’s top general said Wednesday.

Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, told reporters that the actions taken by the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware were based on written guidance issued in March 2002 by David Chu, who was the Pentagon personnel chief under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta directed that the families be briefed on past practices of remains disposal.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Wednesday the briefings would be offered “within the next few weeks.”

“We intend to make the facts about that past policy known to the loved ones of those who died,” Little said, noting that in 2008 the practice of disposing of remains in landfills was ended.

Chu did not specifically mention dumping incinerated residue of 9/11 remains in a landfill, but his words might have been interpreted to allow that final step.

The Pentagon released a copy of the Chu memo, which was addressed to Thomas White, the Army’s top civilian official at the time. The Army oversaw the Air Force’s mortuary activities at Dover and elsewhere.

Schwartz said he only became aware on Tuesday that some portions of remains were dumped in a landfill.

“To the best of our knowledge at this moment in time, we followed those disposition instructions” from Chu, Schwartz said. He added that “there is a requirement for us to validate that that is the case.”

The Chu guidance did not mention disposing of any remains in a landfill. It said unidentifiable remains that were mixed with fragments of “non-biological material” from the attack site were to be “treated in the same manner as any biological tissue removed for surgical or diagnostic purposes (i.e. disposition by incineration).”

That appears to leave open the question of whether disposal in a landfill was permitted.

Chu, who is now president of the Institute for Defense Analyses, a federally funded think tank, did not return a call seeking comment.

The disposal issue came to light Tuesday when the head of an independent panel, retired Gen. John Abizaid, released a report that assessed management problems at the Dover mortuary. His work was triggered by revelations last fall about the mishandling of remains of American war dead at Dover in 2010.

The Abizaid report mentioned in passing that the practice of dumping of some portions of remains in a landfill began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The report said several portions of unidentifiable remains from the Pentagon attack and the site of the hijacked plane that crashed near Shanksville, Pa., were cremated, incinerated and dumped in a landfill.

Asked about the Abizaid report on Tuesday shortly after its public release, Schwartz and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said it was the first time they had heard of 9/11 remains being disposed of in a landfill.

At a previously scheduled breakfast interview with reporters Wednesday, Schwartz said the Air Force overnight had unearthed the Chu memo. He also said the Air Force determined that no remains from the Shanksville site were handled by the Dover mortuary, “as best we can tell.” He added that the Air Force would endeavor to “nail down” with certainty that Dover dealt only with remains from the Pentagon attack.

Schwartz said it was still unclear how many remains portions from the Pentagon were incinerated and dumped in a landfill.

Chu’s instructions in March 2002 spelled out how to handle three categories of remains from the Pentagon.

It said those remains that could not be positively associated with an individual, and that were known not to be remains of the hijackers, should be cremated and presented to the superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery for burial. This category also included portions of remains that were positively identified as being from a person whose remains had already been released to that person’s family, so long as that family did not want to take possession of the additional portions.

Also, Chu directed that remains positively identified as those of the hijackers be transferred to FBI custody.

The final category described by Chu was those mentioned in the Abizaid report as having been incinerated and placed in a landfill. These remains that could not be identified and were mixed with fragments of “non-biological material.”

The dates on which remains in the final category were incinerated and sent to a landfill are unknown thus far.

The Abizaid report included a brief reference to two other memos. One, dated July 25, 2002, appeared to be follow-up correspondence from the acting director of the Army’s office of casualty and mortuary affairs about disposing of unidentifiable remains. The other, from an Air Force outfit, was dated Aug. 7, 2002 appears to be a similar follow-up note.

In June 2008 the Air Force halted the practice of disposing of incinerated unidentified human remains in a landfill. Since then it has put the remnants in an urn and disposed of it at sea from aboard Navy or Coast Guard ships.


Robert Burns can be followed on Twitter at

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

Associated Press

Prosecutors: South Carolina prison supervisor took $219,000 in bribes; got 173 cellphones to inmates

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A supervisor who managed security at a South Carolina prison accepted more than $219,000 in bribes over three years and got 173 contraband cellphones for inmates, according to federal prosecutors. Christine Mary Livingston, 46, was indicted earlier this month on 15 charges including bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering. Livingston […]

24 minutes ago

Associated Press

Oil and gas companies must pay more to drill on public lands under new Biden administration rule

WASHINGTON (AP) — Oil and gas companies will have to pay more to drill on public lands and satisfy stronger requirements to clean up old or abandoned wells, according to a final rule issued Friday by the Biden administration. The Interior Department’s rule raises royalty rates for oil drilling by more than one-third, to 16.67%, […]

32 minutes ago

Associated Press

Tennessee governor signs bill requiring local officers to aid US immigration authorities

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signed a bill that would require law enforcement agencies to communicate with federal immigration authorities if they discover people are in the the country illegally, and would broadly mandate cooperation in the process of identifying, detaining and deporting them. The Republican signed the measure Thursday, and […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Flash flooding sweeps into the Pittsburgh area and spurs numerous water rescues

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Flash flooding caused by relentless heavy rains that soaked western Pennsylvania spurred numerous rescues and evacuations in the region, but no injuries were reported. The National Weather Service said nearly 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) of rain fell in a short time late Thursday afternoon and evening in parts of Allegheny County, and […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

In death, O.J. Simpson and his trial verdict still reflect America’s racial divides

For many people old enough to remember O.J. Simpson’s murder trial, his 1995 exoneration was a defining moment in their understanding of race, policing and justice. Nearly three decades later, it still reflects the different realities of white and Black Americans. Some people recall watching their Black coworkers and classmates erupting in jubilation at perceived […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Houston hospital halts liver and kidney transplants after learning a doctor manipulated some records

HOUSTON (AP) — A Houston hospital has halted its liver and kidney transplant programs after discovering that a doctor manipulated records for liver transplant candidates, according to a media report. “Inappropriate changes … effectively inactivated the candidates on the liver transplant waiting list,” Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center said in a statement published Thursday in the […]

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles



Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

2002 Pentagon memo guided 9/11 remains disposal