On Thursday, the U.S. Army announced it was firing John Metzler and Thurman Higgenbotham, the civilian leadership at Arlington National Cemetery, after concluding a seven-month investigation into the improper burials of fallen American soldiers.
Many of the startling discoveries at Arlington -- from bodies buried on top of one another in the same grave, to unidentified human remains found in a landfill on the Arlington grounds -- came about because of the diligent work of a single reporter, Salon's Mark Benjamin (Read his stories on Arlington here
Surge Desk caught up with Benjamin today as he was leaving a Pentagon media briefing, and asked him a few questions about the reporting that has changed the way we look at Arlington's "hallowed ground."
1. You've been reporting on this story for nearly two years. What is the single most disturbing thing that you have uncovered during that time?
What was most disgraceful was when I came upon instances when the staff at Arlington would dig down into the ground, actually find bodies that it could not identify, and then simply cover them over with dirt and grass and walk away.
2. What frustrates you more: That it took the Pentagon to act, or that it took so long for the national media to pick up on this story?
I've been extremely frustrated that the national media hasn't seemed to want to touch this story with a 10-foot-pole. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough has been the one exception. As for the Army, though they claim they're trying to act in a spirit of transparency and with speed on this matter, these problems have been going on for years.
3. How has the Army treated you personally over the course of your investigative reporting?
They've repeatedly given me false and misleading information, perhaps knowingly.
4. Do you think that with the firing of John Metzler and Thurman Higgenbotham signals the end of Arlington's problems?
The scariest thing is the scope of this problem. There's a domino effect going on and unless the Army starts digging up a whole lot more graves, we can't be sure how many bodies are actually buried in the right place. 320,000 people are buried at Arlington. Even if, as the Army now says, 200 bodies have so far been found to be buried in the wrong spot, then who else has been displaced?