- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2001

The commander of the USS Greeneville when it collided with a fishing boat has labeled as "unfounded" testimony that he rushed safety procedures before the submarine executed an emergency surfacing drill.

In Cmdr. Scott Waddle's first reaction to testimony at a court of inquiry, the officer also said he can justify his periscope search that failed to detect the oncoming Ehime Maru fishing boat. And he can explain the placement of civilian guests inside the nuclear attack submarine's cramped working space.

Cmdr. Waddle's version of events is contained in a letter from his attorney, Charles Gittins, to Adm. Thomas Fargo, Pacific Fleet commander. Mr. Gittins urged Adm. Fargo to grant his client limited immunity so the officer can testify at the ongoing court of inquiry at Pearl Harbor.

The attorney argued that only Cmdr. Waddle can provide the court a full picture of what went on inside the control room on Feb. 9 when the Greeneville surfaced and rammed the Ehime Maru. Nine of 36 Japanese passengers and crew on the fishing boat were killed.

"Without his testimony there will be a number of facts that the Court of Inquiry can reach only by surmise or speculation, double, triple and in some cases, quadruple hearsay, and by drawing conclusions based on this non-firsthand and largely unreliable information," Mr. Gittins wrote in a letter obtained by The Washington Times.

Adm. Fargo appointed three admirals to conduct the court of inquiry. As the "convening authority" in the investigation, he is weighing a request from Cmdr. Waddle to grant him limited immunity. Under such a deal, the officer's testimony could not be used against him at court-martial, if Adm. Fargo decides to convene one.

Rear Adm. Charles Griffiths Jr., who conducted the Navy's first investigation into the accident, testified that Cmdr. Waddle was behind schedule in showing 16 VIP civilians how the Greeneville operated. This prompted him to rush his periscope scan, the admiral said.

But Cmdr. Waddle would testify he did not rush.

"The court now has heard entirely speculative testimony that some real or artificial time constraint may have informed Cmdr. Waddle actions," Mr. Gittins wrote. "Cmdr. Waddle is prepared to address this issue and provide his firsthand testimony concerning this unfounded speculation by prior witnesses. Only Cmdr. Waddle is in a position to provide probative evidence on this issue."

Adm. Griffiths also testified that Cmdr. Waddle's periscope search was too brief and not high enough to spot the fishing boat. The boat was likely only 2,000 yards away at the time, but perhaps camouflaged by 6- to 8-foot seas.

"Cmdr. Waddle desires to address the court directly on the quality of the periscope search he conducted," Mr. Gittins said. "The manner in which it was performed; the depth at which it was performed and why, and whether he directed his search on the bearings of the reported [sonar] contacts and at what optical powers his search was conducted."

Besides the periscope search, another key question is why the Ehime Maru's sonar bearing was not passed on to Cmdr. Waddle by a fire-control technician. The technician told investigators he was inhibited by the relatively large group of VIPs and crew huddled on the periscope platform where Cmdr. Waddle worked.

Mr. Gittins tells Adm. Fargo his client has more to add.

"His testimony would cogently, accurately and succinctly convey his understanding of the contact picture and his actions in sonar and at the fire control station," the lawyer said.

Mr. Gittins also cited the fact that the families of those killed in the collision want Cmdr. Waddle to tell his story.

The letter concludes by saying that evidence to date does not justify a court-martial.

"Such a drastic remedy is one that potentially could strip my client of his retirement benefits, require my client to serve a term of confinement and substantially destroy the future of my client's family," Mr. Gittins wrote. "While such remedies remain to address the conduct of my client… . I cannot permit him to testify in this court of inquiry absent such a grant because of the potential substantial prejudice to his future."

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