DOD News Briefing on Dover Port Mortuary Independent Review Subcommittee Report at the Pentagon
GEORGE LITTLE: Good afternoon. Today we're honored to be joined by General John Abizaid, who is the chair of the Dover Port Mortuary Independent Review Subcommittee. As many of you know, this committee was appointed by Secretary Panetta last year to conduct an independent review of the changes to policies, procedures and practices put in place by the Air Force at Dover in response to instances where the remains of fallen heroes were mishandled.
General Abizaid's subcommittee has completed its review. The general briefed its report, the subcommittee's report, to General -- to Secretary Panetta and the rest of the department leadership yesterday afternoon.
Before turning it over to General Abizaid to describe the report's findings and conclusions, let me just say that Secretary Panetta is deeply grateful to General Abizaid and all of the distinguished committee members for devoting their time and energy to this important mission. Secretary Panetta shares their personal commitment to meeting the highest standards of care for the remains of our fallen heroes.
To that end, Secretary Panetta has asked Deputy Secretary Carter and Chairman Dempsey to work with the leadership of the military services to develop an implementation plan on the report's recommendations. These recommendations for the Air Force, as well as other services and DOD components, will strengthen the chain of command, improve oversight and help reduce the risk that these problems will occur again.
Secretary Panetta believes that Dover is a sacred place with a sacred responsibility, and he's committed to meeting this department's responsibility to deliver the greatest respect and reverence to our fallen heroes.
We have a statement from the secretary, copies of which are available here, and we'll also distribute it via email.
Now let me turn it over to General Abizaid to give some opening remarks and then take your questions.
GENERAL JOHN ABIZAID: Good afternoon there, ladies and gentlemen. Good to be here.
I briefed the secretary yesterday, Chief of Staff of the Army, Secretary of the Army, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Secretary of the Air Force and other people as well -- Deputy Secretary of Defense was in there as well, and the Chairman of Joint Chiefs -- on the findings of this report.
It is a complex subject, and it's going to require me to do some explanation to you. So I'm going to use some charts. I don't normally do that, but I think in order to understand what happened here, you've got take a look at it.
I'd like to publicly thank the members of the panel, a very distinguished group of Americans. They included General Fred Franks; Caleb Cage, Gary Huey, Vernie Fountain, Jackie Taylor, who are mortuary subject matter experts; Bruce Parks, medical examiner expert; Dr. Vic Snyder, who is a former member of Congress and also a medical doctor; and very importantly, Ms. Ruth Stonesifer, who is a gold star mother. It was very important to have her on the panel as well.
I want to make sure you understand what we were told to do and what we weren't told to do, so you can put this in perspective. Of course, we were told to look in a forward-looking manner about whether or not we're moving in the proper direction to correct the deficiencies out at Dover that were noted in a number of different reports. And we were told to look at processes, techniques, procedures to make sure that they were -- those that were having deficiencies that are being corrected -- that we note that to the Secretary of Defense if they have been corrected and look at overall systems to see if they're working right or if they worked right previously.
We were not told -- as a matter of fact, we were precluded from looking at any of the disciplinary matters associated with the various investigations that have gone on. I think you'll hear later today from the Secretary of the Air Force about those matters -- some of those matters. But again, that was not the charter of our committee. The committee was composed of -- or the panel was composed of a very, very solid group of experts, and I think we were able to, over a period of two months, look as closely as we could in that short of a period of time at the processes, the procedures, the activities, the chain of command, et cetera, in order to understand how to fix it.
The good news -- and there is good news, and I'll get more to the news that probably is not so good as well -- but the good news is that there's been a lot of progress made at Dover. The Air Force put a new commander in there, a new commander, Colonel Tom Joyce, a very effective commander. He is doing an exemplary job in moving forward to correct the matters that were noted in the various investigative reports. Colonel Craig -- or Captain Craig Mallak is the medical examiner at Dover. He's also a very fine commander that's moving forward correcting many of the deficiencies that were noted.
An awful lot of the problems associated with mishandling of remains, the final point of resting for the fallen, et cetera -- these points are, I think, addressed in manners that people will appreciate. And we commend the Air Force in particular but the other services as well for moving forward in a positive way.
However, there's a lot of things that need to be done there to correct problems that we saw, and it's important to understand that these problems need to be corrected right away. There's nothing more important than ensuring that our troops in the field know that if they give their last full measure, that the country will do everything for them to make sure that they are treated with dignity and respect and honor and reverence on the way to their final resting place.
And that's hugely important, and that was one of the most important themes that pervaded everything that the subcommittee did.
I want to bring to your attention that we did make a report to the Defense Health Board in San Antonio, which was a public report. That transcript is probably going to be available at some time; I don't know exactly when, but it'll be very shortly. There was an awful lot of good discussion there that can help you understand some of the more detailed technical issues from the report.
But it's critically important, I think, that we own up to what the problems were out there, that we correct them and understand that this is not just an Air Force problem. This is a Department of Defense issue.
There were policy issues that weren't clear. Executive agency was not strongly exercised by the Army. The chain of command and command oversight was not properly conducted. Technical oversight was almost non-existent. Rules, regulations, et cetera were not properly understood, disseminated and taken into account in the way that I think we all can appreciate.
So what I'm going to do, if you'll bear with me -- because I know you have questions and I want to get to your questions -- if you'll bear with me, let me talk about the organization so you know how things link. It's very complex, but unless you understand these relationships and the organization, you probably can't put this in proper context with regard to our recommendations.
So we have here the important organizations: the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Office, who received most of our time and attention; the Armed Forces Medical Examiner Service; the Joint Personal Effects Depot, and various service liaisons. And I'd urge you to focus on these four organizations.
I think from the report, you probably know what they do. AFMAO is the mortuary. The medical examiner is, in civilian parlance, the coroner. The Joint Personal Effects Depot takes the final -- the equipment and personal effects from the fallen and gets them to their proper point of destination. They also take personal effects from anybody in the field that's been removed as -- from the field as a result of combat or sickness. So it's a very, very big job that they have. And over here the service liaison officers -- they are the point of interface between the families and the armed forces -- the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Office and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner Service.
What is done there is partially in conjunction with AFMAO. What's done here is fully in conjunction with AFMAO. And then there's some coordination responsibilities all along that line.
We found out the points of friction. Between AFMAO and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner is where portions were unaccounted for or improper handoff of accountability of remains took place. We also found that from time to time the service liaison officers were unable to get the proper information to the families in a timely manner. And when you look at this chain of command and then you realize how it's reporting, JPED reports up through the Army channels, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner reports to the Medical Research and Materiel Command of the U.S. Army, a medical chain of command; AFMAO reports right now to the assistant -- or A1 of the Air Force -- that's a personnel officer -- and the service liaison officers report directly to their respective services.
Can you go back, please? A couple of other things here to make sure people understand. The Department of the Army is the executive agent for mortuary affairs for the Department of Defense, so they're responsible not only for -- (inaudible). OK.
So the Army is the executive agent for the Department of Defense, and they are responsible for harmonizing policy across all these various organizations. And of course, the Army has a very important role, outside of the mortuary, in the activities that go on on the field when fallen troops are collected on the battlefield, transported back home. And it's a huge operation that the Army runs there.
As the war progressed, it was found necessary to form a Centralized Joint Mortuary Affairs Board, which was responsible for coordinating all of these various activities to ensure that the work was done properly, that there was some degree of policy oversight. It was chaired by an Army colonel, and the members of it were primarily civilians and military members in the O6 level of rank -- captains in the Navy, colonels in the Army. And of course, the Department of Defense USD for Personnel and Readiness, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, is charged with overall policy oversight of this.
So this is the historic chain of command that prior to 2008 was in effect.
And if you take a look at it and you see these comments on the side here: too many command channels, kind of a very difficult chain of command to sort your way through. The Air Force thought it necessary to streamline the chain of command, so they moved to -- next slide -- this chain of command.
This chain of command is the commander at AFMAO. It goes on up through the assistant personnel officer of the Air Force, to the three-star personnel officer for the Air Force, the chief of staff of the Air Force.
Now, when we looked at this command, this command structure, we figured that there was very little command oversight possible from it. First of all, the AFMAO commander did not have Uniform Code of Military Justice authority, which all commanders need. He was not what I would call a centrally selected commander. The A1S was a civilian SES [Senior Executive Service] at the time and had no command authority of his own. And of course, the three-star above the A1S has no command authority either.
So you have a commander in name who has no command authority, no true command authority, reporting to a chain of command that is a staff chain, that is not responsible to commanders. And this, in our opinion, showed lack of command oversight. If any of you think that organizations within this building would better supervise field activities than other commanders in the field, I think you would be mistaken.
I think you'd probably know that. So it's important to understand that.
The other portion that you need to understand is that within the chain of command, there's a requirement for oversight of inspection. And that requirement was not fully exercised throughout the operations that were conducted at AFMAO. So command oversight, inspection oversight were lacking.
Technical oversight was also lacking. In other words, outside of the very small group of -- who are, by the way, very excellent embalmers and morticians that operate from AFMAO -- there was no body of independent technical oversight that could show them the way ahead or could brief them on the most modern techniques.
So here you see one of the realignments that's currently under way between the Armed Forces Medical Examiner and AFMAO.
Now what you have to understand is, this is a diagram of the building that they worked from, and this really shows that activity between AFMAO and the Armed Forces Medical Examiner was intermingled within this activity, within this building, in this facility. And there -- in the civilian world you would recognize the coroner as being very separate and distinct from the mortician.
So -- next slide.
In the reorganization that's taken place, they've completely separated those two activities, and they have made a clear line in the sand of responsibilities between organizations.
In the many recommendations that we made -- we made 20 of them -- I'll highlight the ones in command and control.
The Secretary of the Air Force needs to direct that the commander at AFMAO be given Uniform Code of Military Justice authority, that he be centrally selected, and that he be trained well in advance of accepting this position.
It's also very clear to us that the Air Force -- next slide -- go back to the first slide, please -- that the Air Force needs to establish a responsive chain of command, and we recommend that that be an Air Force two-star, either from an existing command or a new command -- but I imagine the Air Force would probably figure a way through services commands to figure out how to get the oversight. But our recommendation says that we have to strengthen the chain of command by giving the Air Force a clear line of command authority for AFMAO, that the Armed Force Medical Examiner also needs to be given command authority, and that the service liaison officers need to become directly responsible to the commander at AFMAO.
I know this is confusing; I know there's an awful lot of moving parts and boxes in there. But I think if you read the report and understanding this line-and-wire diagram, you'll understand some of the changes that we -- that we recommended from a command perspective.
We also recommended that the centralized Joint Mortuary Affairs Board have the general officers at the top, above the level of AFMAO -- at the top be part of the CJMAB, and that the senior Army general officer or Assistant Secretary of Defense chair that and have directive authority, which they did not have previously, to make policy recommendations flow through the chain of command, et cetera.
Throughout all this, you can see that in order to make all this work, you've got to have an overarching Department of Defense Inspector General or some form of inspection agency designated by the Secretary of Defense to look at all of this to make sure that the problems between organizations are fixed and properly accounted for.
We think that just like in the nuclear surety business, we need to understand that this is a hundred percent no-fail mission. And that means the same level of care needs to be taken with regard to the final resting place of our fallen that we do in safeguarding our nuclear munitions. It's, I think, hugely important to understand it's a no-fail mission, perfection is expected, and there has to be very stringent oversight.
And by the way, the Air Force can do this. They have a very excellent oversight program for nuclear weapons security and accountability, and those type of standards and organizational readiness inspections, et cetera, should also be implemented here.
And, of course, the Secretary of Defense has -- and the Secretary of the Army have roles in making sure that this system works as well.
And there were also training issues that we found at AFMAO. These training issues -- although the people there are quite skilled in what they do, the training issues are more of routine training that needs to be conducted over time. We found some issues with regard to manning in terms of whether it was robust enough -- robust enough. We also found some other resourcing issues throughout AFMAO that need to be addressed.
And the Air Force, by the way, is addressing it.
Finally, it's important to note that as you look through the report, there are many other recommendations that we urge the Air force to make, but for the panel, it's clear to us that correcting the lack of oversight for command, lack of oversight for technical capabilities, lack of oversight for policy, et cetera, et cetera, all of these things need to be fixed, and the report provides a way for them to be fixed in a very timely manner.
The panel also recommended the establishment of a board of visitors, of technical experts, not unlike the board of -- the board, the panel that we assembled to be able to report through the Defense Health Board on technical oversight matters, and assisting AFMAO getting their job done, in particular.
So I presume you've all read the report. I'll quit talking now and I'll answer your questions. Yes, sir.
Q: General, Craig Whitlock with the Post. I know your review has been to look at current operations and how to improve things going forward, but it seemed to me there are some startling revelations about things that happened in the past at the port mortuary.
GEN. ABIZAID: Startling?
Q: Well, to me.
GEN. ABIZAID: I think startling -- I wouldn't say it's startling, when you don't have an effective chain of command.
Q: Well, let me ask you your characterization of this. It seemed to imply in a couple of places that the unidentified remains, portions, of at least some of the 9/11 victims that had been recovered from the Pentagon attack and from Shanksville were incinerated and dumped in a landfill. I don't think we've heard that before. Can you clarify that? And were you surprised by that?
GEN. ABIZAID: No, I can't really clarify that. I can clarify that the process for unidentified remains -- by the way, all the remains of all of our fallen have been identified.
But you have to also understand the way the remains come into the mortuary from times to time -- not all of the time, but unfortunately, way too often, where there are either many pieces that happen to be mixed as a result of the horrific explosions that take place from IEDs. And so what happens, Craig, is that the unidentified remains -- and you can imagine, there's a lot of unidentified remains -- and you can also imagine that there are subsequent remains, portions -- these are not whole bodies. I mean, the idea that whole bodies were ending in a landfill is not correct.
What happened was -- just give me a second; I'll come back to you -- what happened was unidentified portions or portions that the families elected not to have join up with the already buried major portions of the fallen, went to a crematorium. They were cremated there. From the crematorium, they were, in some sense or other, mixed with -- and we can't really tell for sure; we don't have the full information. And I'm sure you'll have to talk to the Air Force about what exactly happened, but they were either mixed in with some portion of medical waste -- so you're taking the remains, you are cremating them, then you're mixing them in with some medical waste -- I can't say what it is because we just couldn't figure it out. And then it goes to a incineration. And in the incineration -- it gets down even further -- and then from the incineration, it was turned over to medical waste contractors, and that's where the notion of it ending up in the landfill comes about. And as far as we're concerned, that's what happened.
Q: Yes, sir, I understand.
GEN. ABIZAID: And by the way, we don't think it should have happened. We think that our fallen deserve what they're getting now, which is the fallen remains are taken out to sea and they're buried at sea or there are other things that you see in the report about the Veterans Administration providing other options that we think the department can put into effect.
Q: Yes, sir. I guess what I'm asking has to do with 9/11 victims, because previously the Air Force had described the procedure you just did. But they had said -- they only had records of this happening going back to 2003. What your report says is --
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, I think what --
Q: Please let me -- I just want to clarify, because I think this is important. A lot of people in the public are -- want to know what happened with this. It says that this -- these incinerations of unidentified portions of remains --
GEN. ABIZAID: Can you give me the page that that's on?
Q: I think that's Page 6 of one of your subsequent sections, under Section 2, Background and Introduction. If you look on Page 6 --
GEN. ABIZAID: Right.
Q: -- of the third full paragraph, it says, "This policy began shortly after September 11th, 2001, when several portions of remains from the Pentagon attack and the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, crash site could not be tested or identified."
GEN. ABIZAID: Right.
Q: "These cremated portions were then placed in sealed containers that were provided to a biomedical waste disposal contractor. The contractor then transported these containers and incinerated them." Then it said the residual material was disposed of in a landfill. Is that referring specifically to September 11th victims? And do you know how extensive this was?
GEN. ABIZAID: No, I don't know how extensive it was, and it was only those victims that went through the port mortuary.
Q: And how many of those were there? Do you know?
GEN. ABIZAID: No, I don't know.
Q: And is there a way to find out?
GEN. ABIZAID: I don't know that there's a way to find out. What you need to understand, the reason that we put that comment in there is that there is a starting point for understanding how this happened. In other words, while I understand how sensational the notion is, there was a point where people considered going to the crematorium. And in some states, it's law that that is the final disposition of the fallen. And so it goes from the -- what many have considered the final disposition -- which we don't agree with, by the way; we think the final disposition needs to be the final resting place, and we believe if -- that in 9/11, you can trace back the origins for why what happened, happened. We only have records that really go back -- the Air Force only has records that we know of that only go back -- this is anecdotal evidence that was told to us by the people that we interviewed.
Q: Yes, sir, but then, in Appendix E of your report, it lists under timeline, 25 July 2002, a memo from acting director of Army casualty and mortuary to dispose of Group F remains from the attack on the Pentagon through incineration. So it sounds like there's a memo that talks about it. Then 7 August --
GEN. ABIZAID: Right.
Q: -- 2002, there's another note about Group F remains. So it seems like it's not just anecdotal; there's paperwork that directed that these be incinerated.
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, you can see where the paperwork is and you can go try to track it down.
Q: Well --
GEN. ABIZAID: But I am telling you -- I'm telling you, that was not the focus of this panel.
Q: (Off mic) --
GEN. ABIZAID: This focus of the panel was to look forward, to see what was wrong, to correct what was wrong or make a forward- looking sort of recommendation about what needed to be fixed.
We did not spend a great deal of time and effort and energy looking into what you're talking about.
Q: No, sir, I'm sorry, but this is -- these are --
GEN. ABIZAID: I'm sorry; we're going to the next question.
Q: -- (inaudible). Aren't you the --
GEN. ABIZAID: It's my report, but it's not the focus of the report.
Next question. Yes, sir.
Q: But there do seem to be in this timeline a series of -- of incidents that make responsible officials, military and civilian, aware of problems or at least questionable activities at the mortuary, I mean over a series of years.
GEN. ABIZAID: There were - I will readily admit that there were a series of investigations that took place within the mortuary, that were command-directed inspections, that we looked at and we concluded that the results of those inspections were not properly taken into account. In other words, corrective actions were not taken. And with a dysfunctional, isolated chain of command, it could not have, which is the point I would like to come back to.
I appreciate the fact that you are looking deep, but we didn't look deep. We spent five percent of our time looking back for information. That was not our charge. Our charge was to look forward. And we think that the recommendations we have made -- which is really what I would like to talk to you about -- are recommendations that will fix the problem and restore the confidence.
Q: One thing I did want to ask is about the lack of oversight.
GEN. ABIZAID: Go ahead.
Q: Not to -- not to go too far into the past, but, you know, you look at this timeline, there are a number of events. Why do you think it’s taken so long for there to be a sort of come-to-Jesus moment? And do you think that there are any factors that will keep that chain of command from being tightened?
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, we think the recommendations we made will strengthen the chain of command and will give it the oversight that's necessary. There weren't proper memorandums of organizational understanding between the various organizations. The chain of command was really not a chain of command.
What the chain of command that they adopted in 2008 did, essentially, was isolate the command. It was an isolated, orphan command, I would call it, that really didn't have proper oversight. And whenever you put things in staff channels as opposed to command channels, you're asking for trouble, and that trouble, identified through the whistleblowers coming public and the various investigations that were undertaken, were -- clearly happened, and I think it's primarily a result of lack of command oversight.
Q: General, Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal. From my reading of the earlier reports, a lot of the problems of the missing portions were due to the seams and interaction between the medical examiners and AFMAO.
GEN. ABIZAID: Correct.
Q: Why not a more radical chain of command recommendation from your subcommittee, whereby you have a single commander at the port mortuary who's in charge of both groups?
GEN. ABIZAID: Yeah, we did look at the possibility of a joint command and/or a joint agency. But you have to understand that the Armed Forces Medical Examiner is not completely doing work on fallen troops. It's working for the broader medical command and Armed Forces of the United States, does toxicology, DNA, does DNA for the entire Armed Forces of the United States. It does not only autopsies, which is where it impacts here with AFMAO, but that's probably only 10 percent.
So we thought about -- I mean, at first glance, you say, well, really, we need to put a joint command in here. But then when we look at it, we say, no, we need to keep this medical line of command to the Armed Forces Medical Examiner, and then we need to strengthen the Air Force Services command line to the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Office. We need to make the service liaison officers and elements come under the supervision of the Department of the Army for minimum standards of training, manning, tour length, et cetera, and they need to be made what I would call tactical command under the AFMAO commander.
Now, the strengthening of the chain of command here also comes from properly resourcing what goes on in USD P&R, where the current person is one -- the current office that supervises mortuary affairs is one person deep and unable to really handle these very, very serious and difficult operational issues that come up.
And then you -- so you have to strengthen that office. Then you have to strengthen the Army's executive agency oversight. You have to up the level of directive authority within the Centralized Joint Mortuary Affairs Board.
Radical surgery is liable to break it worse. So I think that we have given a path ahead here that is very important to fixing the lack of oversight from a technical manner as well as a command matter.
Q: Could you talk a little bit more about Recommendation 20, whole-body cremations should not be conducted at DPM? It -- so it seems -- if I'm reading this explanation correctly, it seems there an incident with a master sergeant who was cremated there in September of 2011 and who wasn't cremated in a hardwood casket, and so it was -- it -- basically in cardboard.
GEN. ABIZAID: Right.
Q: So I mean, obviously, that instance is troubling, but how did you make the leap from that to no cremations?
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, there's a new crematorium that was built there at Dover. And that crematorium -- there have been times when families have asked for the -- their fallen family member, the personal -- the person that's authorized to direct disposition, to be cremated at that facility. And we think that it's a bad idea for the Department of Defense to be in the cremation business, especially at such a quick point in the notification process to families, and that families make that decision once the body has been turned over to them for their disposition. Because sometimes a mother may want the body cremated, a father may not -- I mean, these are filled with all sorts of difficult sorts of issues for the family. So we think it best only use them -- only use that crematorium absolutely when necessary.
Q: That was crematorium right after the allegations that there were animal remains in this, right? But was it -- so it's relatively new. Is that the one you're referring to?
GEN. ABIZAID: It's a brand new one, yeah.
Q: There's a couple things on page E-4.
GEN. ABIZAID: We'll come back to you, Craig, because I can -- I can see --
Q: Yeah, I mean, there's a whole bunch stuff here, like, the investigation found that two civilian bodies were used to test the new crematorium at --
GEN. ABIZAID: Were used in what?
Q: That were used to test -- T-E-S-T -- the new crematorium at AFMAO. That's seems odd. Civilian bodies were used to test the crematorium?
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, I don't know exactly how that -- how that transpired. I would say that there are probably agreements between -- between mortuary services people that are out there.
I don't know that that was a government decision. I don't know that they were used to test without the knowledge or permission of the families. I think that they had full knowledge and permission of whoever was authorized to make disposition of that particular set of remains.
Q: The other thing was that --
GEN. ABIZAID: But we don't think it's a good idea.
Q: Can I just follow up on it? There's other parts here.
GEN. ABIZAID: Sure.
Q: When the Air Force released its initial investigation, most of it was focused in the last couple of years. But if you look through these records you have here, problems at the mortuary go way back to things that we didn't know about. I mean, there's a lot here --
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, I don't know that you don't know about them. I can't say that. I can only say that we included this because we thought that the timeline was important for understanding of what went on there. And the timeline goes back pretty far.
Q: But like on September 26th, 2005 there was an investigation that found that human remains were misrouted in a fashion constituting dereliction of duty.
GEN. ABIZAID: Right.
Q: Do you know anything about that?
GEN. ABIZAID: Look, I'm going to tell you once again what we did and what we didn't do, OK? What we didn't do is go back and look detailed through the records to try to determine whether or not something had gone wrong there. We knew that something had gone wrong. Our charge was to look at what was going on now, figure out how to move it forward and fix it. There's no doubt that you are correct. There are many things that were going wrong there because of lack of command and technical oversight and policy oversight and coordination.
So Craig, you get the last question.
Q: Thank you, sir.
I appreciate that.
GEN. ABIZAID: You're welcome.
Q: I guess I'm going after the same question Elizabeth had. I guess I still don't understand that -- you're saying you are looking forward, but not back, but your Appendix E, these are all events, incidents, investigations, allegations of fraud, the settlement to the spouse of a Marine for mental anguish of $25,000 -- these have not been made public. So, you know, naturally, reporters --
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, I don't know that they haven't been made public.
Q: I can tell you they haven't been made public.
GEN. ABIZAID: OK.
Q: And we'd like to know more information about them because they seem like matters of public --
GEN. ABIZAID: Well, go talk to my panel, because it's not our --
Q: Your panel has records of it, because it's in your report.
GEN. ABIZAID: We have records that we received from the Air Force that we published there.
Q: Are you refusing to release these records outlined in your appendix?
GEN. ABIZAID: The report has been released.
Q: I'm asking for these memos and -- (inaudible) --
GEN. ABIZAID: I have no authority to release anything. You will have to go to the Air Force to ask about those particular questions.
Q: Thank you.
GEN. ABIZAID: But I'm telling you, in conclusion, that you need to focus on these recommendations about whether or not they will strengthen accountability at AFMAO and throughout the entire mortuary affairs system. I think they will. I think they will strengthen command oversight, they'll strengthen technical oversight, they'll strengthen training, they'll strengthen accountability and coordination between organizations, and they will lay the groundwork that this will never happen again, and will adopt the policy of zero defects.
Historically, Craig, which is not my mission -- historically, you'll have to ask the question elsewhere. I can only say historically that there were significant problems there.
Q: Could I just --
GEN. ABIZAID: Yes, David.
Q: I mean, as a -- as an obviously experienced military officer, are -- were you shocked by the fact --
GEN. ABIZAID: No.
Q: -- that this happened, in what the department already said was a -- was a top priority, to treat the fallen with --
GEN. ABIZAID: David --
Q: I mean, how could it have happened?
GEN. ABIZAID: David, I am not shocked.
I've been in the Armed forces of the United States for a long time. I've seen just about anything that can be seen. So I'm not shocked. But are these sorts of revelations -- that you consider to be revelations -- are they completely explainable? I think they probably are.
And I would say of the vast number of cases that come through the port mortuary, there are people doing the right thing 99 percent of the time. We're talking about the one percent of the time when things didn't go right. And because there was no proper command oversight, we didn't really have the ability to get down and look at the organization and figure out how to fix it.
I think what my panel did was provide a guide path for the Secretary of Defense to fix those things that are wrong. And I think that my panel did a very good job in doing that.
I appreciate the fact that you may regard some of these things as being revelatory. I did not. I regarded them as issues that happened in an organization that didn't have the proper mechanisms necessary to correct them, and they happened too many times. That's why we're making these recommendations here.
So I've very much enjoyed that. (Laughter.) I -- (chuckles) -- I don't think you will see me again. But I do appreciate the fact that this is a very important issue for the country.
Look, it's about confidence, right? Confidence has been lost in the ability of these organizations to care properly for our fallen. We must restore that confidence. The people that are out there that are doing the work are good people, honest people, hard-working, patriotic people who don't mean to do the wrong thing. They are constantly trying to do the right thing. But it takes more than them at the mortuary to fix it. It takes oversight from above that flows all the way through the chain of command. And that's what's weak and that's what has to be fixed.