Friendly fire victim's family sues U.S.
Date: Friday, February 14 2003
Topic: Canadian Politics
In Halifax the family of one of four Canadian soldiers killed in an accidental bombing in Afghanistan last April has filed a wrongful-death claim against the U.S. government in what is believed to be the first case of its kind in both countries.
Lawyers for the mother of Pte. Richard Green filed notice yesterday, citing the "inexplicable, unjustified and reckless actions" of the two U.S. pilots who dropped a bomb on Canadian troops at their training ground near Kandahar.
Dick Murtha, who represents Green's mother Doreen Coolen and his friend Michael MacDonald, said the claim is based on the pilots' alleged negligence in deploying a 225-kg bomb on friendly forces.
"What we're trying to do is have the United States government recognize that a travesty occurred," Murtha said from his Halifax law office. "Nobody's arguing that it didn't. So, let's get the matter resolved, let's prevent it from happening again and compensate those who lost loved ones."
Murtha, who has a co-counsel in Connecticut, filed the notice of intention with officials at the Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, Louisiana. Maj. Harry Schmidt and Maj. William Umbach, the two pilots implicated in the claim, were attached to the base when they were flying missions over Afghanistan last year.
Capt. Denise Kerr said yesterday that officials at Barksdale had not received the notice and could not comment until they had all of the documents. The lawyers are hoping the matter can be resolved outside court, but added that it will proceed to a lawsuit if a settlement satisfactory to the family isn't offered within six months.
Murtha refused to reveal how much any future lawsuit could be worth, but said "it will be a large number," likely in the millions.
The case alleges that the two veteran pilots acted negligently when they mistook the Canadian soldiers on live-fire exercises for enemy forces operating just 4.5 km from an allied base.
The pilots faced a special hearing last month in Louisiana to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to a court martial. Critical parts of their defence were that they were not told of the live-fire exercises and that they had the right in a time of war to defend themselves if they thought they were being targeted. A decision on a court martial is still pending.
But Murtha argues that the accident did not happen during a combat period since the Canadians were training and there was no intelligence indicating there were hostile forces in the area, which had been secured by allied troops two months earlier.
The issue could be a key distinction in any potential lawsuit since there are questions about whether the U.S. military can be found liable for wrongful death during a time of war.
Green's other relatives have expressed a reluctance and even displeasure at the claim, calling it a patent attempt to reap large financial gain from the death.
None of the other families of the dead or the injured have filed action against the U.S. military.