When Friends Don’t Cop to ‘Friendly Fire’

A classified video of a friendly-fire incident in Iraq surfaces, with unfortunate consequences.

'œAccidents happen,' said the London Independent in an editorial. In any war, some soldiers will be killed mistakenly by their own side. And after such a tragedy, 'œthe relevant military bodies' have a moral, as well as legal, duty to 'œbe honest with the bereaved family.' The U.S. and British governments have failed to do so. In the first weeks of the Iraq war, Lance Cpl. Matty Hull of the Household Cavalry Regiment was killed when a U.S. aircraft mistakenly fired on his tank. Yet for four years, the U.S. refused to release the cockpit video of its pilots, and Britain didn't press it. It was only after someone leaked the video to the London Sun, which has been running it relentlessly on its Web site since last week, that the Americans conceded. And now that we've all seen the video, it's obvious that the U.S. was 'œciting legality and national security to cloak what looks rather more like national embarrassment.'

The video documents stereotypical U.S. arrogance, said theLondon Daily Telegraph. 'œThe decision to attack the British convoy was taken with frightening casualness,' the two pilots gleeful in their location of a target and perfunctory in their inquiries about possible 'œfriendlies' in the area. And then it was bombs away. Granted, the pilots were immediately appalled by their mistake: One began to weep, while the other actually vomited. But the incident only bolsters the prevailing British view that, 'œwhile the U.S. has the best kit, it does not necessarily have the best training.'

Who are you to pass judgment on these soldiers? asked Magnus Linklater in the London Times. None of us should have seen this footage. The British press has been nearly unanimous in scolding the Americans for withholding the tape, mocking their national security considerations. But how can we be so sure that releasing the video doesn't harm U.S. security? It certainly shows 'œpilot-to-pilot exchanges, the identification of targets, operational details of the A-10 tankbuster communications system, and evidence of what it can deliver at 12,000 feet.' I'm sure the enemy is happy to know those things. Cavalierly posting such information for the world to see 'œbreaks all the rules that govern exchanges of intelligence between British and American forces.' The Sun may have scored one by embarrassing the Americans, but it may also have 'œput lives at risk.'

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Simon Jenkins

London Guardian

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