Newly released Pentagon documents show that US Air Force officers debated briefly about burial at sea before concluding that 1,321 unidentifiable fragments of remains from the September 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon should be treated as medical waste and incinerated.
A string of emails running from August 5 through August 7, 2002, reveal that an unidentified Air Force colonel suggested scattering the already-cremated remains at sea. A second official, a civilian, said it might be appropriate also to have witnesses and a chaplain present.
Their arguments that the 9/11 remains were not just normal waste were rejected by others who concluded the material was medical waste and should not be treated like human remains.
The e-mails were among nearly 2,000 pages of documents released by the Pentagon on Friday detailing operations at the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, investigations into problems and mishandling of war dead and other remains there, and records about the disposal of body fragments.
The release came hours after senior Pentagon officials met with the families of some of the victims of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon to provide greater details about the incineration and dumping of small amounts of residual remains, potentially of their loved ones, in a landfill.
Last month's disclosure that incinerated 9/11 remains were sent to a landfill triggered outrage and demands for additional information about the practice, which was ended in June 2008. Since then the Air Force has put remnants in urns and disposed of them at sea from Navy or Coast Guard ships.
The e-mails, however, back up claims that there was a debate in the months after 9/11 over how best to treat small body fragments from the Pentagon rubble that could not be individually identified, and were often mixed with other material such as dirt and concrete.