Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Senate Armed Services Conference Letter
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
December 6, 2011
The Honorable Carl Levin
Chairman Senate Armed Services Committee
The Honorable John McCain
The Honorable Buck McKeon
Chairman House Armed Services Committee
The Honorable Adam Smith
Dear Chairman and Ranking Members Levin, McKeon, McCain and Smith:
Our purpose in writing is to urge you to include a provision in the conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA) that will provide for the exhumation, identification, and transfer of the remains of 13 U.S. Navy Sailors who died fighting the Barbary Pirates in Tripoli, Libya, in 1804. Such language was included in the House-passed version of this legislation.
After the USS Intrepid exploded, the bodies of the deceased sailors on board washed ashore. Their remains were subsequently dragged through the streets of Tripoli, fed to wild dogs, and buried in mass graves. The Navy held a formal memorial ceremony at Tripoli’s American Cemetery in 1949 to commemorate their loss. Since then, however, the Department of Defense did not regularly tend or honor these graves until U.S. – Libyan relations improved in the last decade. Today, the future of our relations with Libya is uncertain. For this reason, the restoration and preservation of the American Cemetery and its graves for the Navy’s sailors are problematic.
Additionally, the American Battlefield Monuments Commission (ABMC) formally stated that the American Cemetery in Tripoli does not fall under its jurisdiction. Its maintenance is left to the discretion of the Libyan government, but Libyans have left the graves untended and in squalor for most of the last two centuries. Libya commenced a lon-overdue restoration of the cemetery in 2010, but it was interrupted by this year’s revolution and faces an uncertain future. In fact, the unguarded cemetery where many of the men are buried today is in danger of falling into the sea. There is no comparison between the pristine U.S. cemeteries maintained by the ABMC in Normandy and other overseas locations with a poorly restored and Libyan-owned cemetery in Tripoli.
That is why we supported Amendment 1138 to the NDAA (S. 1837). This bipartisan effort to exhume, identify, and to repatriate the 13 U.S. Navy Sailors is supported by two families of the 13 sailors who perished under fire in Tripoli, along with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. Both the Wadsworth and Somers families have asked the Navy unsuccessfully for generations for their ancestors to be returned to the United States.
The Congressional Budget Office scored this proposal and found it would cost between $85,000 and $100,000. Finally, the amendment directs that no action would be taken to repatriate the remains of the men until the Defense Department determined that it was safe to enter Libya and complete the mission safely and thoroughly.
We strongly support this effort to exhume, identify, and repatriate these 13 U.S. Navy Sailors from Tripoli by including the House-passed provision in the final conference agreement.
Frank S. Lautenberg