U.S. PILOTS TO BE CHARGED
Date: Friday, September 13 2002
Topic: International News
Legalities in friendly fire deaths coming today
By SUN NEWS SERVICES
The U.S. air force is now recommending criminal charges against two pilots for the fatal bombing of four Edmonton-based soldiers in Afghanistan.
But that fails to ensure a similar tragedy won't happen again, say family of the victims.
The charges are to be announced today at the Pentagon after the U.S. Central Command and the Canadian government release additional details from a joint investigation of the April 18 tragedy.
The senior U.S. defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the air force will recommend F-16 pilot Maj. Harry Schmidt be charged with involuntary manslaughter. He dropped a 225-kilogram bomb on Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry soldiers, mistaking them for enemy forces. The air force is also recommending Schmidt be charged with failure to exercise appropriate flight discipline.
The bombing killed Sgt. Marc D. Leger, 29, Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer, 25, Pte. Richard A. Green, 22, and Pte. Nathan Smith, 27. Eight others were wounded.
Joyce Clooney, Green's grandmother, said sending either pilot to jail won't bring the dead back.
"I'd like to see Schmidt lose his position, but I don't know about sending the man to prison. That's not going to solve anything," said Clooney last night from her Bridgewater, N.S. home.
"I certainly hope he doesn't continue to fly a plane and have bombs. I wouldn't want to see it again. I'd like to see something done so it doesn't happen again."
Maj. William Umbach, the lead pilot, would face charges of aiding and abetting Schmidt in the involuntary manslaughter, the official said. As lead pilot, he should have more forcefully intervened to stop Schmidt from dropping the bomb until confirmation of the target was received, the air force said.
Mary-Anne Perry, the mother of wounded soldier Cpl. Brett Perry, agrees laying charges is the right thing to do but wants assurance a similar tragedy can't happen again.
If you don't carry out instructions in an accurate and timely manner, then you shouldn't be flying that plane, said Perry last night from her Winnipeg home.
Because Schmidt and Umbach are members of the Illinois Air National Guard and are no longer mobilized under U.S. federal authority, they would have to be recalled to active duty to face the charges. It was unclear yesterday whether the recommended charges against them will be considered under Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice or will be taken directly to a court martial.
The joint U.S.-Canadian investigation faulted both pilots for failure to follow established procedures to ensure that they attacked a legitimate target. Central Command publicly released the basic findings of the investigation in June but did not release details. It said it needed more time to remove classified information from the report.
Schmidt spotted flashes on the ground as he was flying over the Canadians, who were conducting a nighttime live-fire exercise. He thought the fire was from hostile forces but was told by a U.S. air controller to hold fire until further inquiry could clarify the situation, the investigation report said. Schmidt nonetheless declared he was "rolling in in self-defence" and dropped the bomb.
The inquiry that was completed in June determined Schmidt and Umbach were largely to blame for the mistaken attack, although it also found undisclosed problems in the pilots' command structure.