Senator seeks independent probe of Army crime lab mistakes

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(U.S. Army photo)

Army forensics investigators may soon find the shoe’s on the other foot.

Sen. Chuck Grassley has called for an independent probe of the Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory after reports of mishandled evidence that cast doubt hundreds of criminal cases brought against military personnel.

A recent McClatchy Newspapers investigation detailed mistakes made by disgraced former Army analyst Phillip Mills, and how the Georgia-based lab was lax in supervising him, slow to re-examine his work and slipshod about informing defendants.

Grassley, R-Iowa, said he would ask the Defense Department’s inspector general to scrutinize Mills’ work and determine whether the military mishandled the problems at the lab.

“Was key evidence destroyed even as Army supervisors were aware of serious problems in the lab?” Grassley asked. “Did supervisors cover up the alleged problems to spare themselves embarrassment, to the benefit or detriment of criminal defendants?”

(Other times Grassley has gotten up in the Pentagon’s face: get tough on “spice”,  Pentagon waste, the Arlington cemetery fiasco, and civilian contractor deaths.)

McClatchy notes that instead of a full-blown independent audit of the lab, the military launched a narrow review its internal affairs investigation of Mills. Mills’ work was retested, but it was strictly an internal effort, conducted by the lab itself.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, added that such problems underscored the need for better oversight.

“All forensic evidence used in criminal investigations and prosecutions should be reliable and trustworthy,” Leahy told McClatchy.

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