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Arlington Cemetery inquiry results come today

By William H. McMichael - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Jun 10, 2010 15:20:43 EDT

The results of an Army investigation into revelations of improperly marked graves, faulty records-keeping and other management failures at the hallowed Arlington National Cemetery will be unveiled this afternoon, officials say. And top officials could be facing disciplinary action as a result.

Army Secretary John McHugh launched the Inspector General inquiry last November after an internal Army finding that cemetery workers in 2003 discovered a casket without a headstone and confirmed a news report that cremated remains contained in an urn were buried two years ago over an unmarked but occupied grave site.

Progress has also lagged on testing and implementing a new burial records management system as well as a planned “triple validation” of all burial records, grave cards and burial maps.

The IG findings have been closely held but are expected to address a wide range of concerns at Arlington, including previous findings and allegations into personnel issues at the cemetery. In announcing the probe, the Army said the inquiry would also “make overall recommendations on how better to operate the facility, including possible changes in policy, procedures and regulations.”

Said McHugh in a November statement, “A thorough investigation and transparency in its results can help correct whatever may be wrong and ensure America’s confidence in the operation of its most hallowed ground. We will take appropriate action as the facts dictate.”

According to an Army Criminal Investigative Command investigation completed in May 2009 and prompted by a complaint filed by former Arlington public affairs officer Gina Gray, who was fired after 2½ months on the job, deputy superintendent Thurman Higginbotham “made false and misleading statements to agents … regarding access to Ms. Gray’s e-mail account and government computer.”

The findings were forwarded to the Eastern District of Virginia, but the assistant U.S. attorney for the district declined to prosecute, according to the CID’s investigative summary, which Gray’s attorney, Mark Zaid, provided to Military Times.

A Department of Defense Inspector General investigation also completed that month into whether Gray was fired for whistle-blowing has not been publicly released. Gray also charged that Higginbotham was trying to persuade service members’ families to deny permission for media coverage of funerals at Arlington. Higginbotham denied the charge in a 2008 interview with Military Times.

The cemetery is led by longtime superintendent John Metzler, who told in May that he would retire July 2. Despite that announcement, he still could face disciplinary action today, an Army official said.

Asked about the charges McHugh asked investigators to look into, Metzler said, “Nobody here is doing anything malicious. ... Sure, mistakes get made. ... Does anyone run a perfect organization?”

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Related: Army secretary orders Arlington Cemetery probe

PDF document related to investigation

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