Air Force chief takes responsibility for errors

November 10, 2011 - 12:30 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Air Force's top general told a congressional panel Thursday that he takes personal responsibility for incidents in which remains of U.S. war dead were mishandled at the Dover military mortuary in 2009.

Gen. Norton Schwartz was asked about the matter at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., who told Schwartz she was "deeply troubled" by the Air Force's revelation on Tuesday that in two cases body parts of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan went missing.

The Air Force concluded that supervisors at Dover were guilty of "gross mismanagement."

Schwartz told Ayotte there are no doubts today at Dover about the standards of performance that must be met. He said all who handle the remains of the war dead know they must treat them with dignity and reverence, and that their families must be supported and respected.

"That is our mission," he said.

So far the Air Force has disciplined — but not fired — three supervisors at the Dover mortuary: a colonel who was in command there and two civilians. Col. Robert Edmondson has since been placed in a non-command position at the Pentagon; Trevor Dean and Quinton R. Keel were moved to other, lower-paying jobs at Dover.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Thursday that she has called on Schwartz and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley to investigate the Air Force inspector general, whose office investigated the matters at Dover. She said there are questions about whether the inspector general, Lt. Gen. Marc E. Rogers, acted "with an unbiased focus on the facts."

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Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.

Robert Burns can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/robertburnsAP