Lawyer Says Maj. Schmidt Needs More Time To Think
Major Harry Schmidt
(USAF) knows more than anyone that war is hell. Since he mistakenly
opened fire on a group of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, Schmidt
has been living in the belly of the beast. What he says he needs
now is time to think.
Schmidt and his wingman, Maj. William Umbach, were both F-16
pilots for the Illinois National Guard when President Bush invaded
Afghanistan. They were sent overseas and began routine combat
patrols over a country with no measurable air force. Deep in the
night on April 17, 2002, they spotted ground near Kandahar in
southern Afghanistan. Here's where the story becomes more difficult
to decipher. Schmidt, believing Umbach was under fire, dropped a
500 pound laser-guided bomb on the forces below. But the shooters
weren't Taliban fighters. They were Canadian soldiers practicing on
an established shooting range. Canadian Forces Sgt. Marc Leger,
Pvt. Richard Green, Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer and Pvt. Nathan Smith
became the first Canadian combat casualties since the Korean
The incident raised an incredible stink between Ottawa and
Washington (ANN: "Pilots' Mistake Responsible For Canadians'
Deaths" - June 20, 2002). At first, Schmidt and Umbach
were investigated by the military's equivalent of a grand jury.
Then, they were charged with manslaughter and aggravated
In a January hearing, Schmidt blamed "the fog of war,"
apologized to the victims' families and said he dropped the bomb
because he believed he was under a Taliban attack.
In June, Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the
Louisiana-based 8th Air Force (where legal action against Schmidt
is underway), recommended in June that Schmidt face possible
administrative punishment instead of court-martial on the more
serious charges. In doing so, Carlson dismissed the manslaughter
and assault charges.
Instead, Schmidt was
accused of dereliction of duty. The charges allege that Schmidt
"failed to comply with the applicable rules of engagement" and
"willfully failed to exercise appropriate flight discipline over
The dereliction of duty charge carries a maximum penalty of six
months in prison. That's a whole lot better than the 64 years he
faced under the manslaughter and assault charges. Still, Schmidt
rejected the offer, saying he would try to clear his name at a
Umbach, on the other hand, retired with a letter of reprimand in
Schmidt's lawyer says the 38-year old officer needs more time to
decide whether he wants a jury trial or will allow the judge to
hear the case alone. Making that decision now, the lawyer said,
could preclude his attempts to have Schmidt's "fog of war"
statement suppressed. The presiding officer in the proceedings,
Col. Mary Boone, set October 16th as the trial date.