POW/MIA Affairs:

Issues Related to the Identification of Human Remains From the Vietnam Conflict

NSIAD-93-7: Published: Oct 14, 1992. Publicly Released: Nov 20, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the adequacy of the management controls used to eliminate the risk of improper or unscientific identifications of human remains at the Army's Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii (CILHI).

GAO found that: (1) CILHI uses scientific identification techniques and methodologies that are consistent with or exceed those employed in other modern forensic science laboratories; (2) CILHI hired an internationally recognized forensic anthropologist as its director; (3) CILHI has added several qualified scientists and casualty data analysts to its staff; (4) CILHI has incorporated extensive review processes and procedures that make the misidentification of human remains extremely unlikely; (5) the role of the Army consultants who review CILHI-recommended identifications is unclear, in that the Army has not provided them standard guidelines that specify the types of information each consultant should review in analyzing individual cases; (6) Army consultants do not review cases involving identifications from the Korean War or from World War II; (7) CILHI has had difficulty in maintaining adequate administrative control over files; (8) CILHI does not have essential data in many of the antemortem records of personnel listed as missing; (9) there were instances in which the services' absence of physical control over remains had caused either a loss of some remains or unacceptable risks of loss; and (10) physical accountability of remains located at CILHI may be a problem.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD stated in its comments that all laboratory personnel have been directed to follow established procedures that enable them to: (1) readily locate all case files and remains; (2) determine the contents of case files; and (3) track the progress of all cases. Additionally, an internal database was established in July 1993 to locate remains and files.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Commander of CILHI to direct the laboratory director to establish procedures that enable laboratory personnel to: (1) readily locate all case files and remains; (2) determine the contents of case files; and (3) track the progress of all cases.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD stated that a Standing Operating Procedure for the scientific laboratory was completed in October 1992, which details the methods, procedures, documentation, and processing of the receipt of remains and other physical/circumstantial material received at CILHI. All laboratory personnel have been directed to comply with those procedures.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Commander of CILHI to direct laboratory personnel to follow established procedures for the receipt and documentation of remains when they enter the laboratory.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DOD, Army Regulation 638-40 will be superseded by a new Army Regulation 638-2, "Care and Disposition of Remains and Disposition of Personal Effects." Paragraph 8-15 of the new regulation, entitled, "Destruction of Remains from Vietnam Conflict," prohibits destruction of unidentified portions of remains from the Vietnam Conflict, including those designated "Central Identification Laboratory Portions."

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Assistant Secretary for Manpower and Reserve Affairs to Clarify Army Regulation 638-40 by specifically forbidding the destruction of remains recovered from the Vietnam conflict.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD's response indicated that in November 1992, a "Protocol for Independent Consultants Concerning the Care of Remains Provided by the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii, for Examination," was developed, which provides specific guidance on control of remains.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Assistant Secretary for Manpower and Reserve Affairs to strengthen procedures over the control of remains to ensure that all remains returning to CILHI after independent examinations have been completed are documented and accounted for.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army has taken the steps necessary to include all pertinent documentation leading to a recommended identification in the files given to the external consultants.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Commander of CILHI to include in the files given to external consultants for review all pertinent documentation that led to a recommended identification.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DOD, the laboratory director, as well as all members of the CILHI scientific staff, have been made aware of the presence of other forensic expertise in the scientific community, to include the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Smithsonian Institution. Additionally, state-of-the-art technology is fully supported by the Command. A video crania-facial superimposition system has been acquired, and procurement of other new applications is under way.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Commander of CILHI to encourage the laboratory director to take advantage of other forensic expertise in the scientific community, when warranted. Such expertise may include services offered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD, in its comments, stated that a standing operating procedure for contract scientific consultants was developed and was finalized on May 11, 1993. The document specifies consultants' responsibilities regarding case file review, documentation, biannual visits to the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory, Hawaii (CILHI), and other relevant matters. The DOD objective is to allow maximum academic freedom to the professional consultants with respect to their offered opinions.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Director of the Casualty and Memorial Affairs Operations Center to prepare written expectations to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the Army's consultants. These expectations should include, but not be limited to, standard guidelines or procedures that specify: (1) the types of information each consultant should review in analyzing individual cases; and (2) whether the consultants should offer professional opinions only in those aspects of the identification process within their specific disciplines.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DOD, the charter and procedures for the Armed Forces Identification Review Board have been revised and are currently being staffed for approval. The changes will equate Korean War and World War II identifications with those for the Vietnam Conflict. That will standardize identification procedures for all cases requiring board action. Approval of the revised procedures is expected by December 1994.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Assistant Secretary for Manpower and Reserve Affairs to include the formal consultants' view in the identification of remains from both the Korean War and World War II.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD stated that a database system was established in July 1993, that: (1) fully documents requests for antemortem medical dental records and the extent of the responses received; and (2) follows up on all non-responses to requests in a timely manner.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Commander of CILHI to establish a system that requires laboratory personnel to: (1) fully document requests for antemortem medical and dental records and extent of the responses received; and (2) follow up on all nonresponses to requests in a timely manner.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

 

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