The body of a Marine who committed suicide in Greece, which was returned to Pennsylvania mysteriously missing its heart, threatens to embroil President Obama’s choice to head the State Department's intelligence division, Stars and Stripes reported Tuesday
Daniel Bennett Smith, a former U.S. ambassador to Greece who is awaiting Senate confirmation to become assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, was recently asked by Sen. Patrick Toomey R-Pa., about his role in the illegal autopsy of Marine Sergeant Brian LaLoup in Athens in 2012.
Smith responded to Toomey in an email obtained by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"I remain deeply saddened by the tragic death of Sgt. LaLoup, and the subsequent events regarding his heart. From the outset, this matter was a high priority for me. I personally raised the issue at the most senior levels of the Greek government, pressing for a full investigation and accounting as well as the return of Sgt. LaLoup's heart," Smith wrote.
The parents buried their son without being told his heart was missing.
"Instead of being honest and up front with the family and taking the appropriate action to have the heart returned, [the U.S. military] decided to lie and conceal this fact," the family's lawsuit says.
Greek officials later tried to pass off another heart as their son's, but the DNA didn't match. Last month, the Coatesville residents sued the U.S. and Greek governments, charging a government-run hospital in Athens removed their son's heart in an illegal autopsy.
Smith said he personally demanded an "immediate and thorough" investigation when he learned that LaLoup's heart had vanished, and continued to demand answers from the chief officers in the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs until his last day as ambassador in August.
Service members who are killed abroad are sent back to the U.S. for postmortem investigations.
"As a father of three sons, including one serving in the U.S. Army, I have the greatest sympathy for Mr. and Mrs. LaLoup and what they have gone through," Smith said in his response to Toomey.
Christos Failadis, a spokesman for the Greek Embassy in Washington, has said LaLoup's heart was removed for toxicology testing, but he did not say what happened to it.
Aaron J. Freiwald, the LaLoup family's attorney in their suit against the United States and Greece, said, "This was really the first significant confirmation that the State Department believes that what happened was unlawful," he said. "But it seems hard to believe that if the U.S. ambassador says he wants to know something, he would get no answer."
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