Saturday, January 14, 2012

Independent Report or Whitewash?

Independent Report or Whitewash?

Rather than just conduct a normal POWMP expedition to Tripoli, identify the remains of the men of the Intrepid and repatriate them home, as they do with hundreds of American military personnel every year, the Senate-House Joint Armed Services Conference Committee instead ordered another study of the matter.

The part of the 2012 Defense Authorization Act that refers to the repatriation of Richard Somers and the men of the Intrepid is listed under Section 598 and refers to “the proposal to exhume, identify, and relocate the remains of the American sailors.”

Section 598. calls for the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Navy to conduct an “Evaluation of Issues Affecting Disposition of remains of American Sailors Killed in the Explosion of the Ketch USS INTREPID in Tripoli Harbor on September 4, 1804.”

Section (a) calls for the Sec. Defense and Navy to issue a report with their recommendations in 9 months, or next September - “(a) Evaluation required – Not later than 270 days after the date of the enactment of this act.”

Not only do they postpone the repatriation of these men for another nine months, they order the Secretary of Defense and the Navy to conduct the evaluation after they have already expressed their reluctance to do so, guaranteeing that this will not be an independent and honest report.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has already been to the Intrepid graves at the Old Protestant Cemetery and personally discussed the situation there with the Libyans, who say that they already have plans for the preservation of the cemetery graves and the conduct of regular formal ceremonies on future occasions, as well as develop it into a tourist destination.

That the military has no plans or intention to repatriate these men is clearly stated in a September, 2008 report which says, "A U.S. Naval Forces Europe delegation plans to conduct a survey of the cemetery and discuss with (then Libyan Dir. of Antiquities Dr.) Anag how best to preserve the site...(in)... hopes that the cemetery will one day become a tourist location in Tripoli for Americans wishing to pay their respects, and a place where they can learn more about the United States’ first military conflict abroad."

If this is the case, then the key person responsible for the evaluation and report - the Secretary of Defense, has already made up his mind and has developed plans for the preservation of the graves, using it as a tourist attraction, and is not considering the feasibility of the repatriation of the remains of these men. The end result, at least in regards to the cemetery remains, appears to have been already predetermined and their report will be an official whitewash.

The Secretary of Defense – Leon Panetta, and the Secretary of the Navy – Raymond Edwin “Ray” Malbus, Jr., the report says, “shall conduct an evaluation of the following issues with respect to the disposition of the remains of American sailors killed in the explosion of the Ketch USS INTREPID in Tripoli Harbor on September 4, 1804:”

That the military itself, after already determining the Tripoli cemetery "is the final resting place" for those men, is made responsible for the evaluation, research and writing of the report reflects on what can be expected to be the final recomendation, and that's the same as all of the other official military reports and recomendations, not to repatriate these remains.

The three issues that are to be included in the evaluation are “i.The feasibility of recovery of remains based on historical information, factual consideration, costs, and precedential effect.”

These issues are already well known, as the historical information has been well documented, as are the factual considerations, costs for repatriation ($100,000) and precedential effect (negligible, with few other case studies). The cost of this new study will probably be as much as it would take to just identify and repatriate these men.

The other issues are also known, before the evaluation even begins, including “ii, The ability to make identifications of the remains...and facts that would have to exist for positive scientific identification of the remains,” since the forensic sciences have evolved to create a high probably of identification of the remains of the American crew of the Intrepid from any other remains in the area, and a positive identification of the three officers through DNA analysis of the bones. This analysis of the remains in the cemetery crypts should be made a part of the evaluation and the results can be included in the final report.

As demonstrated by the positive identification of the remains of the men of the Civil War era submarine Hunley, modern forensic science techniques make it possible to identify such remains even though they are over a century old.

The third and final aspect of this report refers to, “iii. The diplomatic and inter-governmental issues that would have to be addressed in order to provide for exhuming and removing the remains consistent with the sovereignty of the Libyan Government.”

This is also not foreseen to be a problem since the previous government had already agreed to allow the excavation and repatriation. While the new government has yet to be installed, the current interim government caretakers have are apparently open to whatever the United States government wants, and have followed their requests in regards to the restoration of the cemetery.

The only problem it seems, is the reluctance of the Department of Defense and the US Navy to undertake the repatriation, and to make them responsible for the conduct of the new evaluation will only result in another determination that the final resting place for the men of the Intrepid is right where they are in Tripoli.

They should just conduct a normal forensic study of the remains in the marked crypts at Old Protestant Cemetery, locate the original grave site under Martyrs Square, excavate it and repatriate the remains home.

REPORT on US DOD Plans to use INTREPID graves at cemetery for memorial services and as a tourist attraction:

News for the DIA Community
Issue 35-08
(U) USDAO Tripoli Honors Fallen Sailors
By COL David Jesmer Jr. (Ret.)

(U) When LTC Robert “Kyle” Carnahan arrived in Tripoli, Libya, in March 2006, he had no way of knowing that he would be handed an opportunity to honor U.S. military heroes for their sacrifices on the shores of Tripoli two centuries earlier.

(U) The Department of State opened a liaison office in 2004 shortly after diplomatic relations were re-established with Libya. Newly hired Libyan guards told the regional security officer Dan Mehan about a run-down cemetery known locally as the “American Cemetery.” Curious, Mehan visited the site and found an overgrown cemetery in disrepair containing among the graves a tombstone claiming to hold the remains of “an American sailor who gave his life in the explosion of the United States Ship Intrepid in Tripoli Harbour, September 4, 1804.” Unable to do anything else at the time, Mehan locked the gate to the cemetery to keep out vandals.

(U) Shortly after Carnahan arrived as the new defense attaché, Mehan showed him the site. Carnahan promptly arranged to meet with the Libyan chairman of the Department of Archaeology Dr. Giuma Anag and hoped to obtain permission to clean the site and gain official control of the cemetery for the U.S. government. Anag confirmed that five graves contained the remains of five to nine American sailors who had washed ashore following the premature explosion of the USS Intrepid in theTripoli harbor during the First Barbary War in 1804.

(U) Anag explained that the remains were disinterred during the late 19th century by Italian workers who were building a coastal road. The Italians reburied the remains in a local Protestant cemetery instead of the Italian Catholic cemetery, presuming that the American sailors from that period were likely Protestant. Although there are five marked graves, there is confusion about the exact number of Americans who were buried there as early reports claim that the graves contain more than one set of remains.

(U) Carnahan and Operations Coordinator CWO Ernest Brown cleaned up the cemetery and arranged for a Memorial Day ceremony in 2006, and again in 2007, to honor the Americans. Carnahan continued to research the history of the graves and has requested support from the Marine Corps and Navy. The Marine Corps provided a report from 1955 that concluded the remains were not of Marines, though several Marines died during the First Barbary War. The report also indicated that U.S. service members stationed at nearby Wheelus Air Force Base, which closed following Muammar Gadaffi’s coup in 1969, used to care for the cemetery, and delegations from U.S. ships visits routinely paid their respects. This lead to the conclusion that the neglect had occurred only during the past four decades.

(U) A U.S. Naval Forces Europe delegation plans to conduct a survey of the cemetery and discuss with Anag how best to preserve the site. One wall is slowly crumbling from erosion despite the efforts of the U.S. Defense Attache Office. Carnahan hopes that the cemetery will one day become a tourist location in Tripoli for Americans wishing to pay their respects, and a place where they can learn more about the United States’ first military conflict abroad.

September, 2008

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