Monday, July 03, 2006

Daily Kos: Iran Air Flight 655

Daily Kos: Iran Air Flight 655
by gjohnsit
Sun Jul 02, 2006 at 07:24:03 PM PDT

"I will never apologise for the United States of America, ever. I don't care what it has done. I don't care what the facts are."
Vice-President George H. W. Bush, August 1988

18 years ago today, Iran Air Flight 655 (IR655) took off from Bandar Abbas, Iran at 10:17 am local time on its way to Dubia, UAE with 290 passengers and crew aboard. It carried 38 non-Iranians and included 66 children. It was running 27 minutes late on its 28-minute flight. The short flight distance made for a simple flight pattern: climb to 14,000 feet, level off, and then decend into Dubia. It was flying in commercial air corridor Amber 59, a twenty-mile-wide lane on a direct line to Dubai airport.

What the nearly 300 passengers of the plane didn't know was that 12,000 feet below it the U.S.S. Vincennes had drifted 4km into Iran's territorial waters while engaging small Iranian gunboats.

    gjohnsit's diary

    The Vincennes was 40 miles north of the position that that fleet headquarters had ordered it to be.

    The reason for Rogers moving the Vincennes so far away from his ordered post? The warship was purportedly off to defend its helicopter, which had been deployed--under orders from fleet headquarters--on a reconnaissance mission, to check out the group of gunboats hovering further north. Anti-aircraft rounds from one or more of the gunboats were fired, giving Rogers reason to approach; when the Vincennes arrived on the scene, lookouts reported that a few of the gunboats were headed towards the ship. It remains unclear whether this was actually the case: the gunboats likely couldn't see the Vincennes, with their low profiles and amidst the sandy haze hovering over the gulf; also, the gunboats were within Iranian territorial waters--firing on them here would be a breach of international law.

    Unfortunately, that is exactly what Rogers decided to do. It was in the midst of this gunfire that Flight 655 took off, and was (as is routine) identified initially as a hostile aircraft by the Vincennes' AEGIS monitoring system. The first person to try to establish the plane's identity was Petty Officer Andrew Anderson, who sent out the electronic query, "Identify, Friend or Foe?" The automated response from Flight 655 came back as "commair"--a commercial airliner. Anderson tried to confirm this, but in checking navy listings of scheduled flights over the Gulf, Anderson apparently missed Flight 655, possibly confused by the Gulf's four different time zones. The Vincennes sent out the first of four warnings over the military emergency channel for the plane to change its course. Three subsequent warnings were sent out over the civilian emergency channel as well, although none were broadcast over air traffic control--despite the Vincennes having the capability.

    The U.S. claimed that the plane was:

    * outside of the commercial jet flight corridor
    * flying at 7,000 feet
    * on a decent towards the Vincennes
    * the Airbus was using a Mode II IFF squawk, identifying it as an Iranian military aircraft (commercial aircraft respond with Mode III squawks)

    One month later, the American government conceeded that all of these claims were untrue.
    The Vincennes tried to warn the aircraft 10 times before it fired.

    "Throughout its final flight IR655 was in radio contact with various air traffic control services using standard civil aviation frequencies, and had spoken in English to Bandar Abbas Approach Control seconds before the Vincennes launched its missiles."
    The first missle broke the aircraft in two. No one aboard had a chance.

    What happened that day was a tragedy. What happened in the days following was a cover-up.
    The official naval report was never fully unclassified. Parts of it that were given to the public were misleading, if not outright fabrications.

    "One thing is clear, and that is that the USS Vincennes acted in self-defense. This tragic accident occurred against a backdrop of repeated, unjustified, unprovoked and unlawful Iranian attacks against U.S. merchant shipping and armed forces.
    "And it occurred in the midst of a naval attack initiated by Iranian vessels against a neutral vessel and subsequently against the Vincennes when she came to the aid of the innocent ship in distress." -George H.W. Bush, [July 14, 1988]

    "The ship was, at the time of the incident, in international waters." -Richard S. Williamson, [July 13, 1988]

    "The suspect aircraft was outside the prescribed commercial air corridor. More importantly, the aircraft headed directly for Vincennes, on a constant bearing, at high speed, approximately 450 knots. Decreasing in altitude as it neared the ship." -William J. Crowe Jr. (Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral, U.S. Navy): [July 3, 1988]

    "On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes and the USS Elmer Montgomery were operating in international waters of the Persian Gulf, near the Strait of Hormuz.." - Ronald Reagan, Monday, July 4 1988

    The Vincennes was indeed being fired upon by Iranian gunboats, gunboats so small they couldn't cause any real damage on the cruiser. But more importantly, the action was happening three miles inside of Iranian waters. The USS Elmer Montgomery was even further inside Iran's territorial waters.

    William M. Fogarty (Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy, Director of Policy and Plans, U.S. Central Command, head of the investigative team): During the early morning of three July, a Pakistani merchant was also harassed.
    She also issued a distress call.
    Soon thereafter, explosions were heard in the vicinity of a Liberian merchant, where numerous Iranian gunboats were gathered.

    It turns out that the Liberian merchant ship, Stoval, never existed - except as some radio signals.
    "It was a decoy which had been organized by U.S. forces in the Gulf to lure out the Iranian gunboats from the islands in the Strait of Hormuz, so that these gunboats would come south to attack this helpless Liberian tanker and would instead find themselves confronted by U.S. warships and armed U.S. helicopters."

    18 U.S.C. § 1001(a). False Statements/Omissions:

    " (a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully --

    (1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;

    (2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or

    (3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;

    shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both. "

    18 U.S.C. § 1515(a)(3)(B). Misleading Conduct:

    " (3) the term "misleading conduct" means -- ...

    (B) intentionally omitting information from a statement and thereby causing a portion of such statement to be misleading, or intentionally concealing a material fact, and thereby creating a false impression by such statement ... "

    18 U.S.C. § 2. Principals

    " (a) Whoever commits an offense...or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal. "

    18 U.S.C. § 371. Conspiracy:

    " If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. "

    The Vincennes was operating under a much more aggressive code of conduct than earlier in the decade. The reason was because on May 17, 1987, the U.S.S. Stark was attacked by an Iraqi Mirage 1 that cost 37 sailors their lives. You would expect the president to be angry over this incident, and he was.

    "Mark this point well. The use of the vital sea lanes of the Persian Gulf will not be dictated by the Iranians." -President Ronald Reagan, May 29, 1987

    Huh? Iranian? Not Iraq?

    "Ironically, it probably brought us closer to Iraq, because after that Iraq allowed American teams to come in and talk about deconfliction and to share intelligence information and this sort of thing." -James H. Webb Jr. (U.S. Secretary of the Navy, 1987-1988)

    As for the fall-out from Iran Air Flight 655, in what was to be duplicated under George W. Bush's administration, medals of honor were handed out.
    The men of the Vincennes were all awarded combat-action ribbons. Commander Lustig, the air-warfare co-ordinator, even won the navy's Commendation Medal for "heroic achievement," his "ability to maintain his poise and confidence under fire" having enabled him to "quickly and precisely complete the firing procedure." The Legion of Merit was presented to Captain Rogers and Lieutenant Commander Lustig on 3 July 1988.
    The Reagan Administration later issued notes of regret over the loss of innocent lives, but never admitted any wrong-doing or responsibility.
    Eight years later, during the Clinton Administration, the United States agreed to pay Iran US$ 61.8 million in compensation ($300,000 per wage-earning victim, $150,000 per non-wage-earner) for the 248 Iranians killed in the shootdown. This was an agreed settlement to discontinue a case brought by Iran in 1989 against the U.S. in the International Court of Justice.
    The United States has not compensated Iran for the airplane itself, to date.
    On November 6, 2003, the International Court of Justice concluded that the U.S. Navy's actions in the Persian Gulf at the time had been unlawful.

    No one was even indicted, much less jailed, for the murder of 290 innocent lives, nor for the coverup that followed.

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