Friday, April 15, 2005

Friendly Fire

It's a measure of the level of media control that it's taken over two years for this story to become public:

On a clear night two years ago during the invasion of Iraq, Specialist Jeff Coyne was sitting in his Army supply truck when a thunderous explosion shattered his windshield, throwing him like a rag doll and dislocating two discs in his back.

"How could we have gotten hit?" Specialist Coyne wondered as he staggered to safety, baffled that the Iraqis could have such fire power. The cries of wounded men punctured the desert air. "It came out of nowhere."

What he could not know then, but soon came to suspect, was that the explosion had not been caused by Iraqi mortars. His artillery unit had been hit by an American fighter jet and its signature weapon, a laser-guided 500-pound bomb. Three soldiers died and five were wounded, including Specialist Coyne, in one of the worst cases of "friendly fire" during the 2003 invasion - one that has drawn little public attention.

Friendly-fire undercuts any notion that combat can be a "glorious" experience. Medals aren't generally awarded (though Coyne did receive a Purple Heart, his superiors told him to keep quiet about suspicions as to who hit him). It hammers home the clear message that war is simply an ugly exercise in dehumanizing participants--and nowadays, anyone else unlucky enough to get caught up in the battle. Cover-ups tend to be the rule, not the exception, leaving bereaved family members either totally in the dark, or frustrated by the mistruths told to them. And subsequent investigations tend to demonstrate that, regardless of how technologically sophisticated military hardware becomes, it's still too damned easy to screw up:

According to the investigation report, a lack of critical information had caused the confusion. Hours before, a Navy F/A-18 fighter had been shot down near Karbala. American commanders at air bases in Saudi Arabia and Qatar suspected that an American Patriot missile had struck it, in part because a Patriot had mistakenly shot down a British Tornado jet about a week before. The Patriot's role was later confirmed by the military.

But that night, "information went out from Crows Nest" - a commander's perch - that no one would discuss the possibility of a Patriot accident, an officer later told investigators. As helicopters and jets were assigned to the search and rescue mission, they were allowed to believe that an Iraqi surface-to-air missile was the culprit.

One of those jets was an Air Force F-15E fighter. Earlier that night, the pilot and his weapons officer, both instructors with seven years experience flying missions over Iraq to police the no-flight zone, had seen what looked like a surface-to-air missile hit the Navy fighter. As they searched for the pilot, they saw what appeared to be missiles fired from near the crash site - and were convinced it was an Iraqi battery firing on American aircraft...

Samuel C. Oaks, whose grandson Sgt. Donald S. Oaks Jr., 20, died in the attack, did get the investigation report in late 2003. But for him it is not sufficient. Over the past year, Mr. Oaks has written to the White House, members of Congress and the Air Force demanding that someone be held accountable and that the pilot be required, at least, to apologize. He says he has yet to receive an answer.

"In court, they expect you to show remorse when you've done something wrong," said Mr. Oaks, a disabled welder from outside Erie, Pa. "There's no remorse here."

I doubt accidents like this can ever be reduced to zero--which is yet another reason why combat should ALWAYS be a last resort. And when you combine this with the very real facts--Iraqi WMD's were non-existent, the "coalition" was hardly worthy of such a name, basic equipment like body and vehicle armor was in short supply--AND the very real fact that Iraq was NOT a threat to the United States, or any adjoining country--well, it takes a high degree of, quite frankly, delusion, to come to any conclustion beyond the fact that Bush, et al, are at best incompetent bumblers, and more likely cynical criminals. Criminals for whom death--provided it's not them doing the dying--hardly causes them to bat an eyelash...

Last night I managed--with chemical assistance--to sit through a replay of Bush's appearance at the American Society of Newspaper Editors' convention. The editor of the Austin American Statesman introduced Bush--and showed a surprising degree of backbone, mentioning both Bush's decision to curtail access to government records via FOIA, and the less than unanimous support for Operation Go Cheney Ourselves, i.e., the Iraq invasion. However, the true educational experience was watching the pResident's address followed by a Q&A. Bush sweated out his speech in typical fasion--more like a grade school student trying to fudge his way through an oral presentation of a book report (that he hadn't read) than leader of the free world. His face was quite red, and he appeared to be sweating.

More important, he said NOTHING of substance--nothing about FOIA, nothing about general administration policy--nothing about anything. He mouthed a few half-hearted lies about the crisis in Social Security--but on the whole, his presentation was more like what the public saw during the election debates: bad jokes, verbal gaffes, etc.

Bush has NO answer to the very simple question of "what specifically can you point to to demonstrate Saddam Hussein's threat?" This is in contrast to the threat from bin Laden, which was clearly laid out in the August 6th PDB--he wanted to hijack planes. However, Iraq is now very much a threat, if not a promise: when the United States FINALLY pulls out, our power and credibility will be reduced throughout the region. We also have the real possibility of additional strikes--worldwide (not just against our own country).

And, we've seen people come home from this war of choice in coffins--or shattered. Some by "friendly fire." Likewise, thousands of Iraqis have been killed or maimed--and some have been abused or tortured.

The only "victory" I can see would be Victory Gin--doubleplusgood.


  1. Anonymous11:32 PM

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  2. Anonymous11:34 PM

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