Although the government lacked evidence
Sat Aug 26, 2006 22:42
 

Although the government lacked evidence that Michael Brellenthin was

dead, its assumption that he was dead outweighed Mrs. Brellenthin's

assumption that he might be alive. "The attitude of the government on

these cases," said Sampley, "is that if you can't prove that the

remains are not of a particular individual, then they must belong to

the individual the government says they belong to."



Even if individuals are able to prove that remains can not be

positively identified as belonging to a specific person, the government

will not accept that as proof. The only opinion it values in forensic

cases is its own.



The case of Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas Hart is a specific example of

this. Hart's AC-130 aircraft was shot down in Laos in 1972 with 16 crew

members aboard. In 1985, the government told his wife, Anne Hart, that

it had found her husband's remains during a crash site excavation in

which she had participated.



Mrs. Hart was immediately skeptical, especially when the government

said it had identified 13 of the 16 crewmen. Mrs. Hart decided to have

her own analysis done on the seven tiny fragments of bone, which could

be held in one hand, the government said constituted the remains of her

husband.



Dr. Michael Charney of Colorado State University, who has nearly 50

years of experience in anthropology, analyzed the bone fragments. "It

is impossible," Charney wrote in his report, "to determine whether

these fragments are from LTC Hart or any other individual, whether they

are from one individual or several, or whether they are even from any

of the crew members of the aircraft in question."



Mrs. Hart refused to accept the remains and sued the government,

challenging its identification procedures. Mrs. Hart's challenge

produced additional criticism of the Army's Central Identification

Laboratory (CIL) in Hawaii and the the techniques it uses in

identifying remains.



Some scientists, including Charney, charged that CIL deliberately

misinterpreted evidence in order to identify remains. They said that

the Army consistently drew unwarranted conclusions about height,

weight, sex and age from tiny bone fragments. "These are conclusions

just totally beyond the means of normal identification, our normal

limits and even our abnormal limits," said Dr. William Maples, curator

of physical anthropology at Florida State Museum.



Among the egregious errors cited by Charney was a piece of a pelvic

bone that the laboratory mistakenly said was part of a skull bone and

was used to identify Chief Master Sgt. James Ray Fuller, who was on the

same AC-130 aircraft as Hart. Procedures at CIL were revamped shortly

after that, but there continues to be concern about the accuracy of its

work.



There are recurring charges that the U.S. government, in an effort

hastily account for as many missing men as possible, is stretching the

bounds of credibility when it comes to identifying remains.



One such case involves Sgt. Richard Fitts. Fitts was a passenger on a

Vietnamese Air Force CH-34 helicopter near Tchepone, Laos, on Nov. 30,

1968.



The crew of the helicopter was Vietnamese. The American passengers were

part of a team assigned to Command and Control North, MACV-SOG, U.S.

Army Special Forces. The mission was classified then and remains

classified.



Other Americans aboard the aircraft included Sgt. Arthur E. Bader, Cpl.

Gary R. LaBohn, SSgt. Klaus D. Scholz, Major Samuel K. Toomey, Cpl.

Michael H. Mein and 1st Lt. Raymond C. Stacks.



The helicopter was hit by 37mm anti-aircraft fire and crashed in flames

near a stream in heavy jungle. No ground search was initiated because

it was in a denied area. No survivors were seen.



In March, 1988, the crash site was excavated by a joint Lao/U.S.

technical team and human remains consisting of 17 teeth and 145 bone

fragments, none measuring over two inches, were recovered.



On Jan. 3, 1990, the U.S. government announced that the remains of

Fitts had been identified and returned to his parents. That

identification was determined by the government's conclusion that two

of the 17 teeth belonged to Fitts. They were buried in a separate

casket in Boston, Mass.



The remaining 15 teeth and 145 bone fragments were said to be

unidentifiable. But on Feb. 8, 1990, the Pentagon announced the

remaining Americans had been identified and would be buried, along with

the Vietnamese crew, in a mass grave in Arlington, Va.



Fitts' name was included on that tombstone along with the other

Americans because the Pentagon believed some of the bone fragments

belonged to Fitts. "What it amounts to is a mass burial, sort of like

what Stalin did," said Sampley. "If you can't prove it's a particular

individual, just say the remains are unidentified. Don't just stick a

name on it."



But that's exactly what the government did in the case of Master Sgt.

Frank Parrish in 1973. According to Faires, it was decided that the

remains belonged to Parrish because they were of a Caucasian of about

the same age and medical equipment was found nearby. "There was nothing

forensically (proving) it wasn't Parrish," said Faires.



Parrish had been accompanied on the fatal patrol by another Special

Forces team member, Sgt. 1st Class Earl R. Biggs. The Pentagon says his

remains were returned earlier. But the family of Sgt. Biggs must now be

wondering, just as Johnnie Parrish wondered 17 years ago about his

brother Frank, whether it was actually Sgt. Biggs it buried.



As for the remains that were interred in Sgt. Parrish's grave, what

little is known about them, according to government documents, is that

they belonged to an individual who was held prisoner for several years

before being executed.



Was that Biggs? Was it Parrish? Or, was it one of the more than 2,000

men still unaccounted for in Southeast Asia?



The government says it doesn't know and has sent the remains back to

Hawaii for further identification. Who knows what unsuspecting family

they will be sent to next for burial?



Sgt. Frank Parrish was buried for the second time in Rose Hill Cemetery

in January, 1990 in a simple ceremony. There was no honor guard this

time to salute him, no grieving widow to accept the flag that covered

the coffin.



The Army says Sgt. Parrish's widow, who has since remarried, refuses to

comment on the mixup, but that is an excuse the government conveniently

hides behind when it is trying to avoid publicity about an embarrassing

incident.



The families of Biggs and Parrish bore their grief 17 years ago when

they were told their men had died. Now, that grief has been compounded

by inexcusable Army inefficiency.



The families will forever be burdened with the question of whether or

not the remains they buried actually were those of their loved ones.

Paul Warren is a veteran journalist who has covered the POW/MIA issue

extensively.
==================================

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http://www.apfn.org/apfn/lynch.htm
 

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