- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 2, 2002

The two American pilots charged in the friendly fire deaths of four Canadians received a death threat from a Canadian citizen via e-mail to the Illinois governor, who is helping the accused raise legal defense funds.
Canadian feelings toward the Americans are intense after a joint Canadian-U.S. investigation that blamed them for the mistaken bombing in April in Afghanistan that killed four Canadians conducting live-fire training.
The Oct. 23 e-mail message to the governor's office said, "If the pilots are not convicted and court marshalled funeral homes will have two more customers."
There are also intense feelings of support among U.S. military aviators. They believe that the two Illinois Air National Guard pilots, Majs. Harry Schmidt and William Umbach, are the victims of a political prosecution to placate a neighbor and ally: Canada.
An Air Force investigator has charged the two with involuntary manslaughter. A pretrial hearing, called an Article 32 procedure, is scheduled to start Jan. 13 at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, has become one of the pilots' most visible supporters. He held a legal defense fund-raiser at the governor's mansion in Springfield on Oct. 23.
"These two brave Illinois pilots need our help," Mr. Ryan said. "Prosecuting these two men for this tragedy will only serve to hurt the morale of our nation's fighting forces.
"This was a terrible tragedy, and my heart goes out to the families of the Canadian soldiers, as do so many others' here in Illinois. But as a nation at war we must find out what went wrong and try to correct it."
Proceeds of $20,000 from the $50-per-ticket event went to the 183rd Pilots Defense Fund, established by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10302 in Springfield.
Dennis Culloton, Mr. Ryan's press secretary, said the pilots have received support from some Canadians. He cited a letter from a resident of Nova Scotia, which also contained a $50 check.
"Let us not compound the tragic deaths of our Canadian soldiers by destroying the lives of two other soldiers and their families," the man wrote.
"Governor Ryan feels responsible for them," Mr. Culloton said. "He is what you would consider their commander in chief in the National Guard. He believes what took place is certainly tragic, but it was the type of accident that can happen in wartime, and he does not think they should face criminal charges."
The two pilots' military and civilian defense lawyers will cite a number of factors to show that they were justified in dropping a bomb on the training range near Kandahar.
The area had been the site of enemy anti-aircraft fire in the past. More important, the two argue, neither the pilots nor the crew of the AWACS, or airborne warning and control system plane, were told that the Canadians were conducting live-ammunition training that night.

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