WASHINGTON – Members of Congress on Friday questioned why nobody has been prosecuted as part of a criminal investigation of mismanagement at Arlington National Cemetery, nearly three years after reports of problems that included misidentified graves first surfaced in the press.
"We are years into this and to my knowledge not a single person has been punished in any way" for one of the worst scandals in the nearly 150-year history of the cemetery, said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., at Friday's hearing.
Following published reports in 2009 of misidentified graves and a scathing Army audit in 2010, the cemetery's two top officials, Superintendent John Metzler and deputy Thurman Higginbotham, were forced out. The new management team, under Executive Director Kathryn Condon and Superintendent Patrick Hallinan, is in the midst of a painstaking, grave-by-grave review of the nearly 260,000 sites and markers to ensure that the dead are properly accounted for.
Thus far, the review has turned up no further problems of misidentified graves. But it has identified potentially thousands of relatively minor problems, like misspelled names or spouses who were not properly recognized on grave stones because of historical peculiarities in how the cemetery accounted for people over its long history.
The Army's inspector general, Lt. Gen. Peter Vangjel, said the Army's Criminal Investigations Division has completed its probe of the mismanagement at Arlington, and said a decision now rests with the Department of Justice on whether anyone should be prosecuted.
A spokesman for CID, though, said Friday evening that the agency's investigation remains "open and ongoing."
Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, which has jurisdiction over Arlington, declined to comment Friday. It is not uncommon for federal grand jury investigations to take multiple years.
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., called the lack of any prosecution thus far "difficult to believe and unacceptable."
"All of us feel like a significant amount of time has passed where these investigations should have reached their conclusions," he said.
A call to Higginbotham's home went unanswered. Metzler referred calls to his attorney, who declined comment.