- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2001

The senior officer on board the USS Greeneville told investigators the submarine captain and crew worked "as a team" before the sub collided with the fishing boat Ehime Maru.
"[Commanding officer] did a good job of working as a team," say notes of an investigator who interviewed Capt. Robert Brandhuber. "Impression was they knew how to operate the ship. [Officer of deck] looked like he had done this before." Excerpts from the investigator's notes were read by a Navy source to The Washington Times.
The notes indicate that Capt. Brandhuber will be an ally of the ship's captain, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, when a Navy court of inquiry convenes today at Pearl Harbor. The three-admiral court has two major tasks: find out why the accident happened Feb. 9 nine miles off the Hawaiian coast, and recommend whether any of the crew, especially Cmdr. Waddle, should be punished and possibly face criminal charges.
Adm. Thomas Fargo, the Pacific Fleet commander and the one who ordered the inquiry, has named three "parties" to the investigation: Cmdr. Waddle; his executive officer, Gerald K. Pfeifer; and Lt. j.g. Michael J. Coen, the officer of the deck.
But Capt. Brandhuber, chief of staff for the commander of the Pacific submarine force, will not escape scrutiny. Adm. Fargo has ordered the court to examine whether he should have taken any action to correct what a confidential Navy report says were a series of crew errors in the hours and minutes before the accident.
Capt. Brandhuber was aboard the Greeneville as an escort for 16 VIP civilians, for whom the crew demonstrated the emergency surfacing drill that ended in collision with the Ehime Maru. Nine of 35 Japanese passengers were killed.
Legal experts say Capt. Brandhuber has a stake in testifying that he believed the crew followed correct procedures. Testimony otherwise could leave him open to questions on why he did nothing to stop any mistakes.
His statement to investigators tends to support Cmdr. Waddle's conduct.
The confidential Navy report, first disclosed by The Washington Times, criticizes Cmdr. Waddle for a periscope scan that was too brief and not high enough minutes before executing the surfacing, or "blow."
But Capt. Brandhuber told investigators: "Got the impression of a deliberate visual search."
And, while Cmdr. Waddle was scanning the Pacific, Capt. Brandhuber "recalls no report of close [sonar] contacts when at [periscope depth]."
This point in time is crucial to the inquiry. According to the confidential report, the fire control technician had tracked what turned out to be the Ehime Maru's sonar signal to 4,000 yards and closing to 2,000 yards. But he told investigators he did not inform the captain because of the large number of VIPs crammed together on the periscope stand.
Lacking this vital information, and not seeing the white-colored Ehime Maru against 4-to-6-foot waves, Cmdr. Waddle ordered the ship to submerge deeper and then to "blow" five minutes later. By that time, the fishing boat had closed to the very spot where the Greeneville surfaced.
"Upon reflection, sense is that [commanding officer] was very confident in his own abilities and may have been pushing the [officer of the deck]," Capt. Brandhuber told investigators two days after the accident. The notes add, "When asked for impression, [Cmdr. Waddle] was comfortable in this element."
The scene is now set for a Navy inquiry of historic proportions as hundreds of reporters converge on a courtroom at Pearl Harbor.
The Navy hopes on the one hand to find out what went wrong, and on the other to assuage a saddened and angry Japanese nation. Japan has sent an observer to the inquiry.
The drama could be heightened by the appearance of Charles Gittins, Cmdr. Waddle's attorney. A Naval Academy graduate and former Marine Corps aviator, Mr. Gittins displays an aggressive courtroom style that sometimes includes attacking the generals or admirals who sit in judgment.
In 1998, he represented the Army's top enlisted man in a celebrated sexual harassment case. Mr. Gittins accused the Army of practicing a double standard by not prosecuting generals on similar charges and forced the Army to release details on how it punished its most senior officers. The Army said none of the generals' cases approached the offenses with which Mr. Gittins' client had been charged. In the end, Mr. Gittins won acquittal on all but one charge.
Adm. Fargo's order to the court of inquiry, led by Vice Adm. John B. Nathman, is broad. "The court is directed to inquire into all the facts and circumstances connected with the collision, resulting deaths and injuries to the Japanese passengers and crew of the Japanese [fishing boat] Ehime Maru, the damages resulting therefrom, and any fault, neglect or responsibility for the incident," Adm. Fargo said in a Feb. 17 letter to Adm. Nathman.
Mr. Gittins is seeking limited immunity for Cmdr. Waddle in exchange for his testimony. "Cmdr. Waddle has been personally devastated by this tragic accident," the lawyer said in a letter to Adm. Fargo. "He is heartbroken for the lives lost and the grief of the families of those presumed lost at sea."


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