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Pilots Not Court-Martialed for Friendly Fire Deaths

Aired June 19, 2003 - 19:23   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Two Air Force pilots who mistakenly bombed Canadian troops last year in Afghanistan will not be court- martialed. Four Canadians were killed in the incident.
Today the Air Force decided to drop charges, but the two pilots are not completely in the clear.

CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre explains more about the decision.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Check my sparkle. Check my sparkle.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No one disputes this was a mistake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got some men on a road and it looks like a piece of artillery firing at us. I am rolling in in self-defense.

MCINTYRE: It was April 2002 over Afghanistan. Air Force Major Harry Schmidt dropped a 500-pound bomb on what he thought were enemy fighters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bomb's away. Point to the left.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm fine. Laser's on. Good shot. Bossman, bossman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Copy, 51. Bossman mid-cap. Disengage. Friendlies.

MCINTYRE: The friendlies near Kandahar were Canadian troops conducting night live fire training. Four were killed and eight wounded.

An initial Air Force investigation concluded Schmidt, a former Navy top gun pilot failed, to exercise proper flight discipline and that his flight leader, Major William Umbach failed to take control of the situation.

But after a preliminary proceeding in March, an Air Force hearing officer recommended criminal charges of manslaughter, assault and dereliction of duty be dropped. And now an Air Force general has agreed.

So Umbach will be given a letter of reprimand and allowed to retire. And Schmidt has been offered punishment under an administrative procedure where the maximum penalty is loss of one month's pay, house arrest for 30 days and a reprimand, which could also effectively end his career by blocking any promotion.

In Canada, the parents of one dead soldier said they never wanted to see the American pilots go to prison, but they did want them grounded.

CLAIRE LEGER, VICTIM'S MOTHER: I was hoping that the -- that they could recognize that friendly fire is not acceptable. They keep saying it's part of war, but I don't accept that.

RICHARD LEGER, VICTIM'S FATHER: We hope the Air Force listens to whatever we're saying that the time because it's not -- it will not be acceptable to see these people fly ever again.

MCINTYRE (on camera): And that may be the outcome. Major Umbach is retiring and Major Schmidt will face a separate Air Force review to determine if he'll be allowed to fly again. This is assuming he doesn't decide to retire, too, or possibly demand a full court-martial to try to clear his name.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.


COOPER: We should note here the four victims in this case were the first Canadians killed in combat since the Korean War.

We want to talk more now to the parents of Mark Leger. Claire and Richard Leger join us now from Ottawa.

Thank you very much for being with us. I'm sorry it's under these circumstances. And we certainly send our condolences to you and the rest of your family.

Claire, your reaction to today's decision.

C. LEGER: Well, first of all, I want to tell you that there were other Canadians killed after the Korean War. There are peacekeepers that are killed all the time, but they're not recognized for what they basically do.

COOPER: I'm glad you noted that. Thank you.

C. LEGER: You're welcome.

COOPER: Your reaction?

C. LEGER: My reaction from today? I'm very disappointed but not surprised. After the decision of the investigating officer, we didn't have much hope or think that this would go any further than it did, and it didn't.

COOPER: Richard, are you -- are you angry? Are you saddened? What is the emotion today? R. LEGER: I'm not angry. What I am is disappointed and I think there's a few things that we need to go on with is to understand what happened there and I think we have a good idea.

But what we need to do is to move on with the cautionary measurements that has to be taken. Nothing has been changed or talked about and I think that's what we need to do in order for us to move on.

We need to know that the deaths of our sons and the injured has been not quantified, but at least recognized and we should be changing something in the system because it's not acceptable.

COOPER: And do you feel you've gotten that recognition from the military, from the U.S. government? Have they apologized to you? Have they spoken to you?

R. LEGER: No. None whatsoever.

COOPER: They've said nothing to you?

R. LEGER: Absolutely not. I mean, personally, they have but nothing from the generals or anything like that. Nothing to recognize that there was something there. No.

COOPER: I also understand that you had a requested a copy of the tracking video recorded in the cockpit which we showed earlier and that you were never sent it and then you saw it on television. I mean, it was playing on American broadcast stations.

Is that true? And if so, what does that tell you?

R. LEGER: No. We never requested it. You can well imagine once it was explained to us what we were looking at, we could not look at it. It was the last second of our Marc's life and that I could not bear to look at it very long. After two or three times seeing it at article 32, recognizing what I'd seen, I could not look at it. Actually I had to leave the room.

COOPER: It's truly understandable. Claire, what do you want to come out of this?

C. LEGER: Well, we basically wanted both pilots to lose their license, and make sure that this doesn't happen again, but we've seen it over and over again in Iraq. I mean, there is nothing to change what they are doing, so why should we thank that anything else would happen? I mean, you keep doing something wrong, something's going to happen again. So...

COOPER: Richard, the defense from these two pilots during the hearings were basically sort of the fog of war defense, confusing information. Do you accept that?

R. LEGER: No. Not for the war. There was nothing in that whole transcript that I'd seen that indicated fog of war. It was very clear. They went into the zones. They were not supposed to be there, first of all. They didn't follow any procedure that was set out by the coalition.

There was no fog of war there. They may have perceived it to be that way, but in my mind, and what I've read and talking to the other families and the people around us, they all agreed that there was no fog of war there whatsoever.

COOPER: Richard and Claire Leger, we appreciate you joining us. Again, I'm so sorry it's under these circumstances. And thank you very much for spending time with us tonight.

R. LEGER: You're very welcome. Thank you.


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