Thursday, September 23, 2004

The Navy has rejected an appeal from the Pentagon inspector general to award a Purple Heart to a Navy intelligence officer who was injured by a laser during a 1997 encounter with a Russian merchant ship spying on a U.S. submarine.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark, with the agreement of Navy Secretary Gordon England, rejected the recommendation that retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly receive a Purple Heart for injuries that he sustained when he was hit in the eyes by a laser from the Russian merchant ship Kapitan Man.

An Aug. 10 memorandum from the office of the Navy assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs stated that a “substantial review” of the case led Adm. Clark to conclude that Cmdr. Daly’s injuries did not meet the eligibility requirements for the medal.

“In summary, even assuming that the injuries were indeed caused by a laser aimed from the Russian-flagged merchant vessel Kapitan Man, there is no basis to declare that ship a hostile force or the incident a terrorist act,” the memo stated.

The memo said that awarding a medal “would be a significant departure from standards and criteria” of Navy regulations.

“Accordingly, while we regret any injuries Lt. Cmdr. Daly sustained while in service to his country, the facts of this case do not support an award of the Purple Heart …,” the memo said.

Cmdr. Daly and Canadian helicopter pilot Capt. Pat Barnes say they suffered eye injuries when on a surveillance mission to photograph the ship, which was shadowing the ballistic-missile submarine USS Ohio in Washington state’s Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Cmdr. Daly, who retired last year, said he continues to experience eye pain and deteriorating vision from the incident. The Navy’s decision will deny him disability compensation, he said.

The Navy memo also stated that reviewers for the medal consulted Navy intelligence, which in the past had sought to cover up the laser incident, according to U.S. officials.

Inspector General Joseph E. Schmitz reviewed the case last year and had recommended that the Navy award Cmdr. Daly a medal.

Mr. Schmitz, in a Aug. 4, 2003, letter, said the Navy should determine that Cmdr. Daly’s “eye injuries were caused by ‘an act of any hostile foreign force’” and consider him for a Purple Heart.

Noting that an earlier Navy inspector general probe had found that the Navy unfairly penalized Cmdr. Daly regarding a promotion, Mr. Schmitz stated: “Although nominations for military awards are usually processed through command channels, we consider it unlikely that command officials who reprised against Lt. Cmdr. Daly for his whistleblowing activities would be inclined to nominate him for a Purple Heart for the same incident.”

A partial search of the Russian ship that later docked at Tacoma did not lead to the discovery of a laser. However, Clinton administration officials had alerted the Russian government that the ship was to be searched, in what U.S. officials later would say was part of an effort to cover up the incident to avoid upsetting U.S.-Russian relations.

Cmdr. Daly also said the Navy released details of his medical records to CBS television for use in the drama series “JAG.” One “JAG” episode “portrayed me as a criminal trying to defraud the U.S. government of disability money by self-inflicting my wounds.”

Cmdr. Daly also lost a lawsuit against the Russian firm that owned the Kapitan Man.

“These denials of justice, compensation and recognition are unconscionable while our country is at war,” he said.

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