January 06, 2003



In his latest self-serving statement released by his lawers, and repeated as with all the others completely uncritically by his in-Canada mouthpiece, Glen Macgregor of the Ottawa Citizen, Maj. Harry Schmidt states, among other things, that he believed he was being fired on by a BM-21 rocket launcher when he killed 4 Canadians last April.

The request was denied, but Maj. Schmidt thought he was still being fired at with a BM-21, a rocket-launched anti-aircraft weapon. The rounds appeared to be burning out around 10,000 feet -- well below the pilots' estimated altitude of 15,000 feet to 18,000 feet -- but he believed it was still a threat to both him and Maj. Umbach because of the projectiles' speed and height.

This is a BM-21. It is a 40-year old Russian surface-to-surface rocket artillery system. It has NO capability against aircraft whatsover. Its rounds do not "burn out": they land on the ground 20 km away and explode. Schmidt claims he mistook two or three Canadian light machine gun teams firing slow rate on the Kandahar MG range for this.

For that to be a rational thought, one must conclude it was rational to believe that the Taliban had driven one of their last remaining rocket trucks through Allied surveillance to just outside the front gate of the Kandahar airbase, only a few thousand metres away, and were inexplicably trying to use it to engage aircraft, in the dark, far above any altitude they could possibly hit with ANY weapon let alone this one, and the ground forces in Kandahar were completely unaware of this. Suggestions Schmidt was overly medicated begin to take on a new legitimacy... To me, though, Schmidt's initial statement on being questioned (which this was) sounds eerily similar to O.J. Simpson's first statement on being interviewed, which also makes no sense to the rational mind when you read it, as Vincent Bugliosi and others have pointed out... the Schmidt transcript, when released will likely bear out the belief that he's just basically making shit up at this point, as he begins to realize how much trouble he's in.

...at least 2,000 Taliban were in the area southeast of Kandahar

Not southeast. Next door. Literally around the corner from the main gate. Six months after Kabul fell. Uh huh.

Maj. Schmidt requested permission to fire his machine-gun "long enough for my flight lead and I to egress successfully," he wrote.

Schmidt is recorded requesting this: it's just nonsensical. He's at 20,000 feet-plus at this point: he's immune to all forms of fire. It'll take him several minutes just to descend to an altitude and firing position where he can engage with that choice of weapon. Doing so will bring him, for the first time, into actual SAM range, if there are any SAMs left in Afghanistan. It is simply not the request of a pilot who really thinks there's anything on the ground that can hurt him at that point. That request alone is damning as to his true state of mind. Damning. But you'll never see that in the papers.

As well, Schmidt believes he's seeing rounds "burning out" at 10,000 feet. Remember, this is 5.56 and/or 7.62mm tracer ammo, fired horizontally... it's never more than 50 feet off the ground, tops. It certainly looks nothing like artillery rockets being fired. It's a massive error in perception, one that can only have been the result of preconceptions. He saw what he wanted to see.

"Friendlies executing live fire in a hostile zone and in the vicinity of friendly airplanes is unsatisfactory, adding to the fog of war," he wrote. "I did not possibly believe they could be friendlies. Otherwise, I certainly would have come off and held the weapon."

Well, no kidding. The "hostile zone" was, again, within the surveillance perimeter of the major American coalition base in the region, with a brightly lit airfield unmistakeable from the air. But let's just say Kandahar was fighting off an attack at the time Schmidt flew by. Even if he did believe that, what steps did Schmidt take to drop his weapon on the actual enemy, as opposed to the base defenders? The answer is, of course, none. He dropped his bomb almost instantly, 90 seconds after calling in a report of surface-to-air fire, giving no one any time to figure out what he was looking at. Not even his wingman Umbach, who never confirms seeing what Schmidt saw (he thought Schmidt was aiming at some people on a bridge.)

"not knowing where friendlies are, not knowing of their operations, ending up in the middle of a perceived firefight and trying to sort it out in a short amount of time while airborne, receiving fire."

But he wasn't "receiving fire." There was nothing, NOTHING the Taliban could conceivably have had, that could have hurt them at their 23,000 foot cruising altitude. Even if the entire Taliban army had been trying to kill them that night, they were entirely immune by definition. The only reason that Schmidt had a "short amount of time" is that, having been turned down once, he didn't want to hear his second request to engage the same target turned down, as well, just like all the other requests he and his squadron mates had called in to the AWACS planes through the course of their tour thus far. It's that simple.

Meanwhile, in the Canadian Press version of the same story, we see Schmidt blame the Canadians' parking for his mistake:

"seeing vehicles parked randomly on the side of the road with people standing around weapons while they fired on American forces is typical of what I have seen in other tapes of al-Qaida standard operations."

UPDATE: The same CP story talks about how 4 minutes passed between Schmidt seeing the fire and engaging, and saying he had asked for target identification from the supporting AWACS plane, but the plane did not respond. Once again, an uncritical Canadian journalist (and there are a number of them on this story, McGregor's just the most gullible) isn't even bothering to check the defense lawyers' latest stories against the established facts. For the record: Schmidt might (according to his own statements) seen ground fire in the area of Kandahar 4 minutes before he launched his weapon, but if so he then waited 2.5 minutes before asking AWACS for permission to engage. AWACS said standby, so Schmidt, according to the radio logs, then gave them exactly 90 seconds to figure out the coordinates he had supplied them were incorrect and thus where he actually was and what he was looking at, before he decided to take the decision back onto his own shoulders. Ninety seconds.

That's a known fact. What we're seeing here from McGregor and others is, due to the necessary official silence from the American and Canadian military justice systems, a completely skewed retelling of the "facts," as the defense tries (and effectively, I'd add) to switch the venue to a more amenable-to their-clients trial-by-media. You'd think even basic objectivity would lead to a writer on this subject being familiar with the official reports, or at least calling an independent expert on the other side to check what the lawyers say. But that simply isn't happening here.

Posted by BruceR at 05:16 PM



Jonah Micah's red hot these days. My favourite recent quote:

Indeed, broadly speaking, the evolution of White House Iraq policy might be described fairly as a slow process of overruling Dick Cheney.

Posted by BruceR at 02:08 PM



I see where Den Beste is coming from in the latest screed(s) about never closing off any of your options when it comes to making war, but I think he neglects one key thing that soldiers in Western countries came to realize in the last century or so. It's all well and good as a nation to say that no cruelty is off the table (yes, we will torture... if we have to to win; yes, we will even mass-rape, if we have to), but at the soldier-level, the idea of withholding any proportional response goes out the window. Den Beste hints at this problem in his dismissal of mass-rape as a particularly useful tactic, but fails to apply the logic to other forms of atrocity, such as torture and mutilation of prisoners.

If all soldiers were robotic automata, susceptible to instant and complete modifications of their rules of engagement as circumstances warranted, Den Beste's idea would work. But they're not. For soldiers to be effective at all, they need extensive preindoctrination in the rules of behaviour on the battlefield, starting months or years before it comes time to make decisions. For an officer to say, "Thou shalt not rape... unless our country changes our mind about the whole rape thing" introduces a level of uncertainty into matters of military discipline, and the obeying of orders, that can only erode the system from within in quick order. That's why most Western nations, including Canada, have no problems with taking certain kinds of atrocious behaviour by their soldiers right off the table, long before the shooting starts, and make as sure as possible the soldiers follow an ethical code that their country has predefined, and will stand behind in the long run. Vietnam is a classic example of where (largely due to the use of draftee soldiers and poor military training techniques) large elements of the American forces, whether at My Lai or Kent State, never had a firm sense of ground rules, and frequently acted independently, to the detriment of the nation-wide effort.

National control becomes easier the more impersonal the warfare, of course: it was easier for Harry Truman to set limits on the use of the first nuclear weapons, than it was for him to control the behaviour of American troops on Okinawa, just because of the number of intermediate links in the chain. With strategic weapons systems, such as centrally-controlled weapons of mass destruction, it is possible for a country to exert its national will in the kind of graduated fashion Den Beste expects with relative ease. But on the individual soldier, highly personal level, departures under wartime pressure from clearly established pre-war guidelines, or failure to communicate those guidelines in the first place, would seem to be almost always counterproductive to military performance.

As Grossman once insightfully outlined, the only alternative is to demarcate your rules of engagement on an opponent-basis, as the SS and the Japanese did: saying everything was on the table, but only for some specific identifiable subtypes of people (Jews, Russians, Chinese, Allied soldiers who surrender). You still get that clarity that soldiers need, through the dehumanization of some or all potential opponents. ("Human" being defined as anyone for whom some ethical groundrules still apply in that construct.) It would seem, however, that this is in the long term a less effective form of the Laws of War, as those societies that tend to practice it have been on a bit of a losing streak the past few hundred years. Grossman suggests it's because once the opponent has been completely dehumanized, there's no exit strategy left to you, short of total genocidal victory, that your soldiers can reliably execute... That's the antithesis of the whole idea of war as "diplomacy by other means." That path seems inevitably to lead instead to "war for war's sake," which, if nothing else, makes your cultural system a visible threat to nearly everybody else on the planet who wasn't previously convinced, and leaves you vulnerable to your own overreaching, to boot.

Posted by BruceR at 01:01 PM



No, I lied. For as much as I may believe Maj. Harry Schmidt, based on the evidence available, needs to be tried and convicted for his actions over Afghanistan, I have no truck with calling his spouse a "plump blonde wifelet" or saying his kids are faking their Christianity. And regardless of what he did, he's still twice the human being Heather Mallick ever will be.

Posted by BruceR at 11:50 AM

SLOPPY, SLOPPY From the Globe,


From the Globe, today:

VANCOUVER -- People at a funeral service in a Burnaby, B.C. cemetery scrambled for cover during a tense standoff Saturday between an RCMP response team and teenagers carrying a fake machine gun. Police were called to the scene after two teenage boys were seen swaggering around the Vancouver suburb, dressed in army fatigues and brandishing what appeared to be an MP5 assault rifle.

Wow: two errors of fact, in two sentences. For the record, if this particular pellet gun looked like an MP5, then it resembled a submachine gun. Not a machine gun, and not an assault rifle. The genres are distinct and entirely separable. A primer for the copy editor:

*A machine gun is an automatic weapon, firing rifle bullets, capable of high-volume sustained fire, generally meaning it's belt or box fed;
*An "assault rifle" or automatic rifle, is an auto- (or semiauto) weapon, firing rifle bullets from a magazine;
*A submachine gun is any automatic weapon that fires pistol bullets.

The differences between rifle and pistol ammunition are significant, both in accuracy and the damage they do to a target. An MP5 fires 9mm rounds, and is by any definition a submachine gun, not a machine gun or or assault rifle. To those who work with guns, they are as different from each other as fork, knife and spoon.

If I was reading a story about cabinet minister Herb Dhaliwal's two SUVs and their contribution to the Kyoto problem, if the writer in the lede and second sentence called those two vehicles first convertibles and then motorcycles, my faith in the paper's ability to grasp the issue would be fundamentally diminished. See why Western Canadians, and gun owners in general, feel poorly served by the media in the current debate on gun registration, yet?

Posted by BruceR at 11:30 AM