wrote last week about the Office of Special Counsel's (OSC) investigation into grotesque mishandling of soldiers' remains at Dover Mortuary. Courageous whistleblowers and a revamped OSC led by Carolyn Lerner deserved gratitude, I wrote, "for trying to ensure that our fallen are treated with reverence, dignity and respect, not treated like pieces of garbage." Unfortunately, the simile was literally true, as WaPo later reported:I
The Dover Air Force Base mortuary for years disposed of portions of troops’ remains by cremating them and dumping the ashes in a Virginia landfill . . .
The lame response from the Air Force demonstrates the lack of accountability:
Asked if it was appropriate or dignified to incinerate troops’ body parts and dispose of them in a landfill, [Air Force’s deputy chief for personnel Lt. Gen. Darrell G.] Jones declined to answer directly. “We have recognized a much better way of doing things,” he said. “Let me be emphatic: I think the current procedures are better.”As is too often the case when whistleblowers expose misconduct, WaPo reports today that the whistleblowers received more punishment than the officials responsible for the disrespectful mistreatment of soldiers' remains.
According to Lerner, three whistleblowers (William D. Zwicharowski, James G. Parsons, Sr., and Mary Ellen Spera) and one cooperating witness (David Vance) have pending reprisal complaints with the OSC, an independent federal watchdog agency that receives complaints from whistleblowers and protects them against reprisals.
Zwicharowski told OSC that Dover was "a spiraling decline in the sacred care of our fallen . . ." Zwicharowski and another whistleblower, mortuary specialist Spera faced disciplinary actions for their refusing stay quiet about the horrific mistreatment of soldiers' remains.
OSC is also investigating retaliation against two other mortuary whistleblowers, autopsy embalming technician Parsons and mortuary inspector Vance. Parsons and Vance were fired last year, but quickly reinstated after OSC intervened claiming that the terminations appeared to be reprisal for cooperating with federal investigations.
Meanwhile, the officials responsible received far lesser punishments. According to WaPo, the mortuary's top civilian official (Trevor Dean) still works at Dover, having voluntarily accepted a transfer. Mortuary division director Quinton R. "Randy" Keel also still works at Dover, having been demoted but reassigned to a new position created specifically for him. Former mortuary commander Air Force Col. Robert H. Edmondson received a mere letter of reprimand and has been reassigned but allowed to remain on active duty.
Lerner commendably questioned the lack of accountability:
. . . given the pattern of negligence, misconduct, and dishonesty by Mr. Keel and . . . Dean, and the 'failure of leadership' by . . . Edmondson, I question whether the Air Force has taken appropriate disciplinary actions.
The retaliation against Dover employees mirrors the retaliation against Arlington Cemetery whistleblower Gina Gray, who was fired in 2008 after blowing the whistle on mismanagement, including including headstones discarded into streams, dumping human ashes into dirt, and more than 200 mislabeled graves.
Our fallen deserve better and the Air Force should protect – not retaliate against – the public servants determined to ensure soldiers' remains are treated with respect and dignity.
Jesselyn Radack is National Security & Human Rights Director for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.