LONDON (AFP) -A US pilot has told a colleague “We’re in jail dude” seconds after a friendly fire attack killed a British soldier, according to an Iraq war cockpit video leaked despite US efforts to keep it secret.
The apparently incriminating video, obtained by Britain’s daily The Sun, records the pilots repeatedly cursing, with one of them weeping, after being told they had attacked a British convoy near the start of the 2003 Iraq war.
“Im going to be sick,” one of the pilots says, according to the video of the incident on March 28, 2003, eight days after US and British led forces invaded Iraq to topple Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.
“Yeah, this sucks,” replies his colleague, according to the video aired by Sky News, while the first pilot says: “Were in jail dude.”
Lance Corporal Matty Hull, 25, was killed when the jets allegedly attacked the British convoy at the end of a two-hour mission to destroy artillery and rocket launchers from Iraq’s 6 Armour Division north of the city of Basra.
Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) had said previously that such a video did not even exist, but said later that it did not have the right to release it without US permission.
Oxfordshire assistant deputy coroner Andrew Walker last Friday adjourned an inquest into Hull’s death until March 12 while the defence ministry tries to secure authorisation for the classified material to be shown in public.
David Johnson, deputy chief of mission at the US embassy here, told BBC radio that he could not confirm whether the video was accurate, but if it was true it showed that the pilots were “sickened” by what happened.
Johnson said his government was looking at whether the tape could be declassified and that it had been working with British officials to provide them with “materials which help them understand what went on.”
Responding to The Sun’s earlier pledge to release the video, which was also made available on the newspaper’s website, the MoD said in a statement Tuesday: “A copy of the video was used as evidence by the (internal) Board of Inquiry’s investigation into the incident.”
“This recording is the property of the United States government and the MoD does not have the right to release it without their permission.”
“When the BoI findings were released to the family we did inform them that some classified material had been withheld, but we did not specify its exact nature. There has never been any intention to deliberately deceive or mislead (Lance Corporal) Hull’s family.”
Walker watched the tape last Wednesday but made clear his anger on Friday that the defence ministry had not secured the necessary permission for it to be played in public, saying it was “a matter of profound regret.”
“I just, for my part, hope that those in authority recognise that at the heart of this inquest is a grieving family,” he added.
Walker had given the defence ministry a deadline of Friday morning to secure US permission to play the tape, but was forced to adjourn the hearing when they failed to do so.
Hull’s widow Susan said it was “very disappointing” that the authorities had not made the tape available.
The Sun said six errors had been made by the US forces.
One came when they asked the forward air controller if friendly forces were around the Iraqi vehicles, not to the west. The second came when neither pilot gave the precise grid references for the British patrol to check its identity.
The third error occurred when they convinced themselves that British identification panels were really orange rocket launchers, the newspaper said.
The fourth happened when one of the pilots said he was “rolling in” without permission from the air controller. The fifth was when the pilot fired without waiting for the artillery to fire a marker round. The last was when the pilot strafed the column for a second time while still doubting its identity.