- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2002

The U.S. Air Force yesterday stripped Lt. Gen. T. Michael Moseley of the authority to discipline two F-16 pilots involved in a "friendly fire" incident that killed four Canadian paratroopers in Afghanistan in April.
Attorneys for the pilots complained that Gen. Moseley, the top Air Force officer in U.S. Central Command, seemed predisposed to find their clients guilty of negligence, based on a memo he sent to commanders the day after the bombing.
In the memo first disclosed by The Washington Times on July 30, the general said "it is difficult to imagine a scenario" for not holding fire in the situation Maj. Harry Schmidt and the lead pilot, Maj. William Umbach, found themselves.
Yesterday, Gen. Hal M. Homburg, Air Combat Command commander, transferred the disciplinary authority from Gen. Moseley, who was considering convening a hearing that could lead to court-martialing the Air National Guard pilots, to Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, the 8th Air Force commander.
In a statement yesterday, the Air Force cited several reasons for removing Gen. Moseley, the 9th Air Force commander, from the disciplinary investigation.
"First, the authority was transferred to prevent the perception of any conflict of interest on the part of Gen. Moseley, who, in his role as Combined Forces Air Component Commander for Operation Enduring Freedom, ultimately exercised command over the incident pilots during their mission," the statement said.
"Second, the demands of Moseley's duties as commander of air operations over Afghanistan and Operation Southern Watch over Iraq could preclude him from devoting the time and attention the case deserves." Operation Southern Watch involves surveillance of the no-fly-zone over southern Iraq.
In addition, the Air Force said, the pilots involved in the incident "are presently assigned to a unit that becomes part of the 8th Air Force when mobilized."
Majs. Schmidt and Umbach are members of the 183rd Fighter Wing of the Illinois Air National Guard and were temporarily assigned to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Group in southwest Asia when the incident occurred.
In the April 17 bombing, the two pilots were ending a mission over Afghanistan when they encountered what they believed was surface-to-air fire aimed at them. They told the air controller by radio they were attacking in self-defense.
Maj. Schmidt, aided by Maj. Umbach, dropped a 500-pound, laser-guided bomb near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan on what turned out to be Canadians involved in planned live-fire training exercises. Both pilots said they had not been informed of the exercises.
In June, a joint U.S.-Canadian investigative board blamed the two pilots for the accident. The case was then given to Gen. Moseley for further investigation to determine what type of punishment, if any, they should receive.
On July 18, The Times published a story based on a transcript it had obtained of a conversation between Maj. Schmidt and an air controller moments after the pilot dropped the bomb. "You're cleared. Self-defense," the controller told him.
Attorneys for the pilots started raising questions based on that transcript. They also became concerned about Gen. Moseley's neutrality in the case, when the high-level memo he sent shortly after the "friendly fire" incident was then reported by The Times.
In the memo, Gen. Moseley wrote: "There is a well-defined mechanism to ensure you do not engage friendly forces.
"It is difficult to imagine a scenario, other than troops in combat, whereby we will not have time to egress the threat area, regroup, deconflict, then engage in a well-thought out and coordinated plan that ensures success," the commander said.
When first told of Gen. Moseley's comments, Charles W. Gittins, Maj. Schmidt's civilian attorney, told The Times: "If true, such comments would cast grave doubt on the fairness of any decision that Gen. Moseley might make in this case as it indicates predisposition."
Mr. Gittins reiterated those concerns yesterday.
"I have to have concerns about someone who expresses someone's guilt even before he begins what is supposed to be an impartial investigation," said the lawyer, who has offices in Middletown, Va.
Mr. Gittins expressed cautious optimism now that Gen. Moseley has been replaced in the investigation of his client.
"I am always in favor of unbiased review by decision-makers who have not already made up their minds," said Mr. Gittins. "I view the transfer as a positive step, so long as the new reviewing authority actually does his own personal and official evaluation without influence from past reviewers."


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