- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 25, 2003

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A fighter pilot who mistakenly bombed Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan last year, killing four, refused the Air Force’s offer of lesser charges yesterday and could now face a court-martial on charges including homicide.

The Air Force offered Maj. Harry Schmidt the option of avoiding a military trial by instead facing a disciplinary-administrative hearing.

He turned that offer down yesterday, leaving the Air Force a range of options, including prosecuting him on criminal charges, giving him a letter of reprimand or doing nothing.

Maj. Schmidt’s lawyer, Charles W. Gittins, said in an e-mailed statement that the pilot believed he could not get a fair administrative hearing. The hearing would have been overseen by Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, who Mr. Gittins said has already determined Maj. Schmidt is guilty.

On Tuesday, Gen. Carlson refused to recuse himself from the case.

If convicted at court-martial on the most serious possible charges — aggravated assault, involuntary manslaughter and dereliction of duty — Maj. Schmidt could get 64 years in prison. The maximum penalty in an administrative hearing would be the loss of a month’s pay, 60 days in restriction or 30 days arrest in quarters, and a reprimand.

“Imposition of punishment in my case is a foregone conclusion,” Maj. Schmidt wrote in his response to the Air Force’s offer. He cited a June 16 memo from the 8th Air Force to Air Force headquarters that refers to Maj. Schmidt’s “lack of judgment … and his violation of flying regulations and procedures.”

Gen. Carlson last week recommended the administrative hearing for Maj. Schmidt. At the same time, he recommended dropping charges against Maj. Schmidt’s partner in the mission, Maj. William Umbach, and allowing Maj. Umbach to retire.

The two Illinois National Guard pilots had been the first Air Force pilots to face the possibility of homicide charges as a result of friendly fire during combat.

Maj. Schmidt, 37, has maintained he did nothing wrong, saying the Air Force gave him no warning that allies would be performing live-fire exercises the night of April 17, 2002, when he dropped the laser-guided bomb. He said he mistook the Canadians for Taliban fighters.

The bombing near Kandahar killed Sgt. Marc Leger, Pvt. Richard Green, Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer and Pvt. Nathan Smith and wounded eight other Canadians. They were the first Canadians to die in combat since the Korean War.

Relatives of the Canadian soldiers were disappointed when Gen. Carlson last week recommended that Maj. Schmidt be punished for lesser offenses, including failure to ensure that the troops he attacked were not allies and to obey when air controllers told him to “stand by” before he dropped the bomb.

Gen. Carlson also recommended that an evaluation board determine whether Maj. Schmidt should be allowed to fly for the Air Force again.

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