A Sordid Tale Of Two Governments

According to the US Defense Department it was classified; the British Ministry of Defence said it never existed. Either way it turned up today in the hands of a British national newspaper.

The cockpit videos from an attack on British troops by two US A10 ‘tankbuster’ aircraft in 2003, just north of Basra were finally displayed to the world four years after the incident that killed Lance Corporal of Horse Matty Hull, 25, and seriously injured four other serving members of the British Household Cavalry Regiment.

The quality of training given to US troops has long been of concern to the military of other nations. Despite US rhetoric lauding their military as the best in the world, American gung-ho tactics create disquiet among soldiers, sailors and airmen of other nations forced to serve in the same arena.

The pilots involved is this particular debacle were Air National Guardsmen from Idaho with no previous combat experience. Yet they were let loose over the front lines of a major war with obviously little training in the recognition of friendly forces. They did, however, have the sense to initially check back with their base, and were emphatically informed no coalition troops were in the area, before one pilot decided the orange recognition squares on the British vehicles were actually ‘orange rocket launchers’ and proceeded to attack.

Orange rocket launchers? What the Hell were they on?

“Great idea! Hey guys, let’s camouflage our rocket launchers by painting them orange!”

It was their first combat mission. Pills or no pills, they were tanked on adrenalin. A military hearing in the US found them blameless. Apparently, no-one else was charged with negligence – certainly not the base commander responsible for knowing where coalition troops were, but didn’t.

The fog of war.

The incident lay obscured for four years, until under British law it became legally necessary to hold an inquest into the death of Lance Corporal of Horse Matty Hull. The coroner had repeatedly asked the British Ministry of Defence to obtain copies of the cockpit videos from the A10’s. The MoD had hedged, made excuses; they even told Hull’s widow the tapes didn’t exist.

The US Defense Department happily admitted they were available, but not for viewing. They were “classified”. They had even given copies to the British MoD, but with instructions they were not to be shown at the inquest as they “might contain security secrets of benefit to an enemy”.

We’ve heard that many times before from the Bush administration, when documents or videos that might cause embarrassment to government have rapidly been made unavailable. It is, of course, utter rubbish.

The coroner adjourned the inquest until the matter was resolved. It now has been. Some enterprising hero with access to the MoD obviously decided to do the decent thing and purloin the tapes, sending them to the newspaper.

Now, not only the coroner and Hull’s immediate family know the full truth of what happened, but everyone else on the planet with access to a television set.

Following this viewing to the world, the US government has made the magnanimous gesture of allowing the tapes to be shown at the inquest on condition they were only seen by the coroner and the Hull family under supervision by an MoD official, and that the press were not present.

Well, who gives a damn – they’re on YOU TUBE!

The fog of war can at times be dense indeed. It’s doubtful a war has ever been fought without allies occasionally killing each other. What stinks about this incident is the cover-up. A grieving family has been left four years without knowing how their husband and father died. Why he died.

It’s hard to decide which is most to blame – the US government, or the British. Likely, it can be shared out equally, for both are from the same lousy mold.

For all their smarmy, prayer-toting hypocrisy before the cameras, neither Bush nor Blair feels the slightest regret for those who die so politicians can play their oversized and deadly games of chess.

For that’s what it is – a game that boys play. Boys who like to pretend they are men. Whether in the halls of government or on the battlefields of Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Lebanon, the game is played till someone wins and someone loses.

In this specific case the losers were Lance Corporal of Horse Matty Hull, his family, and the two American pilots who will always live with the responsibility for his death.

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