Saturday, July 08, 2006

Archival rescue 68 ~ Iraq

A dog ate our tag.

Kovco mix-up: they missed the name tag
Cynthia Banham Defence Reporter
July 8, 2006 Sydney Morning Herald

THE botched repatriation of the body of Private Jake Kovco could have been avoided if anyone had bothered to check the cardboard tag attached to the corpse and presented to the Australian Army for identification.

On that tag was written the name "Juso Sinanovic" - the Bosnian whose body was flown to Australia by mistake - and Sinanovic's passport number.

The Australian Defence Force yesterday released the final seven-page executive summary, findings and recommendations of an inquiry by Brigadier Elizabeth Cosson into the mix-up, which followed Private Kovco's death from a gunshot wound to the head in Baghdad on April 21.

Brigadier Cosson found the army had tried to get the body home too quickly to meet the wishes of Private Kovco's family, so used a commercial mortuary and aircraft rather than military ones. The Americans take eight days; the Australians were trying to do it in four.

It was also out of practice in repatriating bodies, because so few Defence Force members have died in recent years, and its doctrine covering the use of foreign mortuaries was out of date.

The brigadier found the incorrect body was placed before Private Kovco's platoon sergeant by mortuary workers, who then wrongly identified it for a number of reasons, including poor lighting and crowding. The platoon sergeant also had too close a relationship with Private Kovco, and was not in the right "state of mind" to be doing the task.

However, she said: "Against these factors, it is unfortunate that no one examined the body with sufficient care to notice a cardboard tag attached to the hand bearing the name Juso Sinanovic and his passport number."

The Chief of Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, said he had accepted all of Brigadier Cosson's 28 recommendations, and would implement them alongside changes already made in repatriation procedures.

He said he had not recommended disciplinary action against either the platoon sergeant - whose name he asked not be published, because the man had "suffered enough" - or the brigadier. The sergeant should not have been put in such a difficult position, and "if we had our time over again we would obviously use a different individual".

Of Brigadier Cosson - who mislaid her report in an airport in May, with its early contents then being broadcast on radio - the chief said he had referred her case to a senior army officer, who would "decide what action to take".

He said he was "totally confident she has got a career in the army. I see this as a human error, I see this as something she has apologised for. She is really upset about the fact this happened".

The Defence Force does not plan to release the full report until after the completion of a military board of inquiry into Private Kovco's death.


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