U.S. Pilots 'Guinea Pigs,' Lawyer Says

U.S. Pilots 'Guinea Pigs,' Lawyer Says
Posted by CN Staff on December 23, 2002 at 08:06:45 PT
By Colin Freeze
Source: Globe and Mail 
The American pilots who mistakenly killed four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan were drugged-up "guinea pigs" at the time of the bombing, one of their defence lawyers said yesterday."This was an Air Force science project using AF pilots as guinea pigs," Charles Gittins, lawyer for Major Harry Schmidt, said in an e-mail interview with The Globe and Mail yesterday.
This fall, a U.S. military investigation criticized the force's use of amphetamines, but found that the drugs used by Major Schmidt and Major Bill Umbach were simply "not a factor" in the pilots' fateful decision to drop a 225-kilogram, laser-guided bomb on Canadian infantry soldiers. Eight were wounded and four were killed by the pilots, who mistook the ground troops for enemy fighters.The U.S. pilots have been charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. Their defenders argue that blame should focus on higher-ups, and say that the U.S. military's use of amphetamines -- so-called "go pills" -- deserves serious scrutiny.Last night, that argument was advanced to millions of North American viewers by the ABC News show 20/20, which looked at the bombing and explored the role that military-prescribed pills could have played in it. Such pills are routinely given to pilots on long missions.The show also featured a chilling videotape taken from inside Major Schmidt's cockpit the night of the bombing.The pilot is alarmed when he sees a small white flash appear on a sea of night-vision green. Thinking he is in danger, he trains his cross hairs on the speck below, the place where the Canadians are conducting a live-fire training exercise.Announcing that he is about to act in "self-defence," Major Schmidt decides not to wait for clearance to drop his payload. "Bombs away," he says shortly before his screen explodes into a bright white. Seeing the flare he says, "Shack," military jargon for a perfect hit.Soon after, a radio call indicates that "friendlies" are in the area. Only then does Major Schmidt begin to doubt himself. "It did not look organized like it would be our guys," he tells his partner. ". . . I hope that was the right thing to do."Through all this there is a sense of urgency to Major Schmidt's voice, who had expressed fear that his partner, Major Umbach, was being fired upon.Eight months on, "no one can say authoritatively that the drugs did not affect Harry's judgment or perception," Mr. Gittins said.ABC News reported yesterday that go pills were banned by the U.S. Air Force in 1992, but have been reintroduced. It quoted an Air Force general as saying the military prescribes go pills (and no-go pills, their sleep-inducing counterparts) in small, tightly controlled doses. The network said the two pilots were told they could be found unfit to fly if they did not take the drugs.Captain Richard Langlois, a spokesman for the Canadian Department of National Defence, said pilots here do not take any pills. "We do not prescribe psychostimulants for our air crews."Medical literature indicates that the drugs may be cause for concern."At high doses, these drugs can create a toxic psychosis characterized by paranoid delusions, hallucinations, and frequently, aggressive or violent behaviour," a recent paper on amphetamines published by Canada's Addiction Research Foundation says.The paper suggests that 60 milligrams is at the top end of what is considered the "therapeutic range." The pilots were well below that level.The U.S. investigation found that Major Schmidt requested pills the day of the 14-hour flight, obtaining them about three hours after waking up. He took 10 mg of the pills while Major Umbach took five mg.Nothing indicates that these amounts were "considered excessive or beyond what would typically be expected," the U.S. investigation found. ". . . The prescribing physicians felt that both pilots tolerated the Go/No-Go pills and managed their crew rest well prior to the incident."The investigation found that Major Schmidt was "likely performing at 91 per cent cognitive effectiveness at the time of the incident."The two pilots are grounded in their home state of Illinois, where they are regarded as heroes despite the charges they face.Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)Author:  Colin FreezePublished: Saturday, December 21, 2002  Print Edition, Page A3Copyright: 2002 The Globe and Mail CompanyContact: letters globeandmail.caWebsite: Articles:Need for Speed'Go Pills' Tied To Bombing Looks To Drugs for Battle Readiness
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Comment #2 posted by Justgetnby on December 24, 2002 at 18:08:22 PT
The US Military has a long history of feeding their hero's to the lions. They ask them to obey orders without questions then they hang them out to dry. SHAMEFULL!!!
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Comment #1 posted by Sam Adams on December 23, 2002 at 09:34:58 PT
What do you guys think?
I say there's no way these two should go to jail for this. They're scapegoats for the shortcomings of our frenzied, militaristic policy. When you spend $400 billion on weapons every year, people are going to get blown up. And somewhere along the line, the wrong people will get blown up. Factor in the obsessive military paranoia over loss of life and the resulting non-committal of any US ground forces in Afganistan, and this was all but guaranteed.Notice how there was no court-martial for the 150 Afghan friendlies blown up in the wedding incident - oh yeah, I forgot, they weren't white!
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