CBC In Depth
Friendly fire case: the legal saga
CBC News Online | June 6, 2005

On April 18, 2002, an American F-16 fighter jet dropped a laser-guided 225-kilogram bomb near Kandahar, accidentally killing four Canadian soldiers and injuring eight others.

The accident sent Canadians into mourning. Nearly two weeks later, the official mourning came to an end with an emotional memorial service in Edmonton.

Of the eight Canadian soldiers injured in the bombing, six returned to Canada the following week. The two others were treated for minor injuries and remained with their unit in Afghanistan. The unit, the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, has since returned to Canada.

In May 2005, the four soldiers were honoured with a granite memorial in Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the 187th Infantry Regiment, the American unit the PPCLI fought beside in Afghanistan. The soldiers' names were also engraved on a memorial wall in Fort Campbell, the first time the names of non-U.S. soldiers were included on the wall.

U.S. air force Maj. Harry Schmidt, one of the pilots involved in the "friendly fire" incident that killed four Canadians in Afghanistan, was found guilty of dereliction of duty on July 6, 2004, in what the U.S. military calls a "non-judicial hearing" before a senior officer. The maximum penalty he had faced was 30 days of house arrest.

He was reprimanded and forfeited more than $5,000 US in pay. The air force agreed to allow Schmidt to remain in the Illinois Air National Guard, but not as a pilot. Schmidt later appealed the verdict, but the appeal was rejected. He also filed a lawsuit against the air force, saying it released his letter of reprimand to the media, in violation of his privacy.

Schmidt had made a deal in June 2004 so he could avoid a full court martial.

Legal wrangling had delayed the case again and again. In late March 2004, the U.S. Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals refused to supply classified information to Schmidt's legal team, who had argued the data was crucial to the defence.

In a statement released by Gittins in the summer of 2003, Schmidt said: "It is clear that I cannot and will not receive a full and fair hearing" in a non-judicial proceeding which is heard by a senior U. S. Air Force officer.

Schmidt faced two counts of dereliction of duty for not making sure he was dropping a bomb on the enemy and for disobeying air controllers' instructions to "standby" while information was verified. The formal counts allege that he "failed to comply with the applicable rules of engagement" and "willfully failed to exercise appropriate flight discipline over his aircraft."

Schmidt was originally charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter and eight counts of assault. Schmidt's wingman, Maj. William Umbach was originally charged with four counts of aiding and abetting manslaughter, and eight counts of aiding and abetting assault.

Umbach agreed to accept a reprimand and retire from the Air Force.

When it decided to proceed with the dereliction of duty charges on June 30, 2003, the Air Force dropped the original charges of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault against Schmidt.

On June 19, 2003, Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the U.S. 8th Air Force, who reviewed the case, decided that both pilots should receive non-judicial punishment. That meant the Air Force had decided not to court martial the two National Guard pilots who were charged in the incident outside Kandahar, Afghanistan on April 18, 2002. As well as the four Canadian soldiers who were killed, eight others were wounded when Schmidt dropped a 250-kilogram laser-guided bomb from his F-16 on the night-time live-fire military exercise.

Schmidt maintains he was not briefed on the Canadian exercise before the flight. He says he was told in the briefing that the Taliban was active in the area.

The ruling came after an Air Force "Article 32" hearing - the equivalent of a preliminary hearing in Canada - was held at Barksdale Air Force Base near Bossier, La., in January 2003.

If Schmidt had faced the manslaughter charges, he could have received up to 64 years in prison. The dereliction of duty charge means Schmidt could face up to six months in jail.


THE VERDICT: Text of USAF decision Harry Schmidt
THE HEARING: The friendly fire hearing Statements issued by Majors William Umbach and Harry Schmidt Transcripts of the friendly fire incident radio communications (pdf)
THE SOLDIERS: Who they were The Fog of War: Casualties of friendly fire
THE INVESTIGATION: Final reports from the Canadian and U.S. board of inquiries Go-pills, bombs & friendly fire The Board of Inquiry Maurice Baril
KEY RESOURCES: Media CBC News Archive Links Photogallery: Send-off for Canadian forces
VIEWPOINT: Reaction Military wife diary
RELATED: Witness: Friendly Fire

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