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Air Force seeks outside advice on Dover flap

Dec. 20, 2011 - 08:09PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 20, 2011 - 08:09PM  |  
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WASHINGTON — Air Force Secretary Michael Donley is expanding his review of the disciplinary actions taken as a result of the mishandling of body parts at the Dover, Del., military mortuary, and he did not send a completed assessment to Pentagon leaders last week as initially expected.

In a statement Tuesday, the Air Force said Donley is asking a retired general and two experts to review the punishments. And he also plans to wait for the Office of Special Counsel to complete its separate investigation of the matter so he can include that in his review.

The additional steps could delay the final report for weeks. Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. John Dorrian said there is no specific date for its completion.

Asked about the delay, Pentagon press secretary George Little said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta believes Donley is "proceeding prudently and deliberately." He said Panetta expects to review the final report as soon as possible.

In a series of gruesome revelations in November, the Air Force said small body parts of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan were lost on two occasions. It also revealed that some cremated partial remains of at least 274 American troops were dumped in a Virginia landfill until a policy change halted the practice three years ago.

The Air Force, which runs the mortuary, disciplined three supervisors but did not fire anyone. But as outrage over the matter reverberated through Congress and the public, Panetta asked Donley to assess whether stronger punishments were warranted.

The Office of Special Counsel was highly critical of the Air Force's handling of the matter, and its review is ongoing. Part of that review involves allegations by three whistle-blowers who called attention to the problems that the Air Force retaliated against them in several ways, including an attempt to fire one of them.

The Air Force has said it found no evidence that those faulted at Dover deliberately mishandled any remains. They attributed the mistakes largely to a breakdown in procedures and a failure to fix problems that had been building over time.

Donley sent an interim report to Panetta on Dec. 15 that summarized the discipline taken and its legal basis.

The Air Force statement said the interim report was the first step in a three-step process, and was intended to ‘gather the facts."

Donley is asking a retired general from one of the other military services and two experts on federal civilian personnel law to do independent assessments of the discipline to date.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told a congressional committee last month that Col. Robert Edmondson, who commanded the Dover mortuary at the time of the incidents in 2009, had been given a letter of reprimand. He also was denied a job commanding a unit at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., and will not get any future commands.

Two civilian supervisors at Dover — Trevor Dean and Quinton Keel — took a cut in pay and were moved to non-supervisory jobs at Dover. They still work there.

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