- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

One of two U.S. pilots in the Canadian “friendly fire” bombing incident has unsuccessfully demanded that a three-star Air Force general withdraw from hearing the case because he already has expressed a belief the aviator is guilty of violating regulations.

Maj. Harry M. Schmidt, an F-16 pilot in the Illinois Air National Guard, said through his attorney that Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson has prejudged his case. The general, however, turned down the major’s request yesterday.

Maj. Schmidt had cited a letter in which Gen. Carlson stated the pilot displayed a “lack of judgment” in accidently bombing Canadian soldiers conducting live-fire training in Afghanistan.

“It is obvious that Lt. Gen. Carlson has already reached a judgment that Maj. Schmidt is guilty and cannot therefore provide the full and fair hearing required,” defense attorney Charles Gittins wrote Monday to Gen. Carlson, who heads the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

Later yesterday, a spokeswoman for Gen. Carlson said he had denied Mr. Gittins’ request.

“Lt. Gen. Carlson received Mr. Gittins’ objections and his request that Lt. Gen. Carlson recuse himself. Lt. Gen. Carlson examined the objections, found them without merit and declined to recuse himself,” the spokeswoman said.

Gen. Carlson ruled last week that neither Maj. Schmidt nor his wingman, Maj. William Umbach, will face court-martial on manslaughter charges filed by the Air Force. The general disposed of the Umbach case by issuing a letter of reprimand and taking him off the promotion list for lieutenant colonel.

But Gen. Carlson plans to deal differently with Maj. Schmidt, who dropped the laser-guided bomb, by ordering him to appear before him for what is called an Article 15, or nonjudicial, punishment. After hearing evidence, Gen. Carlson could order Maj. Schmidt to forfeit a month’s pay, spend 60 days in restriction or 30 days arrested in quarters and receive a reprimand.

In a letter to Air Force headquarters June 16 asking it to evaluate Maj. Schmidt’s flying qualifications, Gen. Carlson said a panel should “evaluate [the pilots] lack of judgment … and his violation of flying regulations and procedures.”

Mr. Gittins said Gen. Carlson is displaying bias against Maj. Schmidt. “Maj. Schmidt objects to imposition of punishment by the commander, 8th Air Force, on the grounds that Lt. Gen. Carlson has already pre-judged the merits of the case against Maj. Schmidt,” he wrote in a letter asking Gen. Carlson to withdraw.

Maj. Schmidt was flying a combat patrol mission over Afghanistan in April 2002 when he and Maj. Umbach spotted ground fire near Kandahar. They had not been briefed that the Canadians were conducting live-fire training in the area that night. Maj. Umbach said the fire appeared to be coming up toward his F-16 and he attacked the group with a laser-guided bomb.

The Air Force accused him of failing to follow the rules of engagement. It said he and Maj. Umbach should have retreated from the area and tried to identify who was below.

“It certainly appears that Gen. Carlson has prejudged the case,” Mr. Gittins said in an interview. Mr. Gittins said that there have been several “friendly fire” deaths since April 2002 involving Air Force pilots, and that not one has faced criminal charges.

“Harry and Bill have been treated differently, perhaps because they are Air National Guard pilots and not regular active duty,” he said.

In a memo to Maj. Umbach taking him off the promotion list, Gen. Carlson said, “You failed to direct your wingman away from the source of the suspected surface-to-air fire until you received confirmation that the target was not friendly. Ultimately, your wingman declared self-defense and dropped a laser-guided bomb on friendly forces.”

Mr. Gittins has until today for his client to decide to accept nonjudicial punishment or ask for a court-martial.

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