Iraq: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Did the Pentagon deliberately hide evidence of a friendly fire incident in Iraq from British courts?

It’s not just in the U.S. Senate that inquiry into the Iraq debacle is being suppressed. British courts are finding their investigations being hog-tied, and the political fallout could be immense. The UK media is abuzz with allegations that the Pentagon pressured the UK government to hide evidence of a fatal friendly fire incident to protect two American pilots.

On March 8, 2003, 25-year-old Lance Cpl. Matty Hull, a member of the British Army’s Household Cavalry Regiment, was killed in a friendly fire incident in Iraq when two A-10 “Warthog” tankbuster planes strafed his convoy. After a lengthy campaign by Hull’s family, and those of four other soldiers seriously injured in the attack, a public inquiry is finally being held in the UK. Oxfordshire County Assistant Deputy Coroner Andrew Walker heard that there was no cockpit recording of the incident, and the whole thing was about to be written off as a “fog of war” accident.

This week, The Sun, Britain’s leading tabloid newspaper, somehow got hold of the tape that, supposedly, didn’t exist. What became clear was that the pilots – two reservists with no combat experience – made multiple violations of standing orders and attacked fellow members of the “coalition of the willing.” The Sun handed the tape to the coroner, but the British Ministry of Defence and the Pentagon had refused to have it released into evidence.

What does this mean? The British are livid. There’s been a creeping consensus that Tony Blair has slavishly followed George Bush’s policy in Iraq and that British soldiers are being used as cannon fodder. Ever since an A-10 pilot killed nine squaddies during the first Gulf War, British faith in American battlefield accuracy has been low, and this just confirms the belief. There’s already been diplomatic wranglings over the fact that the U.S. refuses to let American service personnel give evidence before British courts over such incidents. Plus, The Sun may be somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan on many issues of diplomacy, but it will always back ordinary soldiers – especially when they think they’re being pointlessly endangered by their superiors. It has a huge audience, a loud voice, and a history of single-minded campaigning.

Don’t get Chronic wrong – friendly fire is an inevitable byproduct of any war (read Backfire, Geoffrey Regan’s excellent account of the epic history of “blue-on-blue” fatalities, for more on the subject.) But covering it up – that’s an act of will.

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