THEWEEK

Military

Charges laid over Canadian friendly fire deaths

September 23 2002
THEWEEK

Military

Charges laid over Canadian friendly fire deaths

September 23 2002

Military

THEWEEK

Charges laid over Canadian friendly fire deaths

It was the early hours of April 18 near Kandahar when the soldiers from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry ventured out into the clear night on a training exercise involving live fire. From the cockpit of his F-16, 23,000 ft. above the Canadians, U.S. airman Maj. William Umbach noticed the gunfire and radioed air controllers for permission to pinpoint where it was coming from. While the controllers were asking Umbach for more information, his wingman, Maj. Harry Schmidt, declared that Umbach was under attack and released a 500-lb. laser-guided bomb, killing four Princess Patricia’s on the ground and injuring another eight. Canadians were outraged, and last week the U.S. Air Force took action against the two pilots.

Criminal charges against Umbach and Schmidt, both members of the Illinois Air National Guard, were brought by a joint U.S.-Canadian investigation board. In its final report recommending the rare charges for a friendly fire incident, the board used the word “reckless.” Both Schmidt and Umbach were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, eight counts of aggravated assault and one count of dereliction of duty. The case is being reviewed by U.S. Lt.-Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the 8th Air Force, which oversees the pilots’ unit. He could prosecute the men in a general court martial, or dismiss the charges outright—a conclusion that would again enrage Canadians over needless deaths in the Afghan desert.

Switzerland joins the world

After more than 50 years of determinedly standing alone, Switzerland, the world's most famously neutral country, was welcomed into the United Nations. The Swiss decided to join the UN by a narrow margin in a referendum earlier this year. With recently independent East Timor expected to become the organization’s 191st member later this month, only the Vatican and the Palestinian Authority will be without full UN status. “The people realized that they are no longer an island,” said Kaspar Villiger, Switzerland’s president and finance minister. “We can be neutral—and be a good member of the UN.”

Superman’s struggle

Christopher Reeve, who played the role of Superman in four feature films before a 1995 equestrian accident left him a quadriplegic, can now wiggle his toes and raise some of his fingers. The 49-year-old actor still can’t feed himself or breathe for long periods on his own. But doctors say very few patients ever regain movement and sensation after a severe spinal injury. They credited his commitment to strenuous physiotherapy for the improvement. “This is all way beyond our expectations,” said his doctor, John McDonald. “I really can’t say what might be possible.”

Open ice in the NHL

NHL officials announced they will crack down on illegal clutch-and-grab defensive tactics that clog up the game. Some observers are skeptical—the league has tried before to penalize obstruction and interference, only to back off because teams complained the extra penalties disrupted the flow of games. But NHL executives insist they will not waver in their current bid to give skilled players freer rein. Last season, only Jarome Iginla scored more than 50 goals, but if the rules are enforced, says Pittsburgh’s Mario Lemieux, “you’re going to see guys scoring 70 to 80 goals now. And that’s what people want to see.” Goalies beware.

Raring to rock

Industry Minister Allan Rock appealed to Jean Chrétien to lift his ban on cabinet ministers actively campaigning for the leadership of the party. But Liberal insiders say Chrétien, who has said he will step

down in February, 2004, refused Rock’s demand. Rock could quit the cabinet, which would allow him to openly campaign against former finance minister Paul Martin, but sources denied he is considering that. Martin, meanwhile, revealed that he raised more than $110,000 in recent donations to his campaign. The list of donors included the Earnscliffe Strategy Group, which contributed $27,000. Some Earnscliffe executives are key Martin strategists and the firm received a number of lucrative contracts while Martin was finance minister.

Voting, Florida-style

In an echo of the 2000 presidential election, officials in Florida are busy recounting votes after the Democratic primary for governor almost ended in a draw. Bill McBride, 57, a Tampa lawyer, got 44.5 per cent of the vote and Janet Reno, 64, the former U.S. attorney general, received 43.9 per cent. McBride claimed victory, but Reno refused to concede, citing serious voting irregularities. At week’s end election officials in Miami-Dade county were recounting ballots, and had until Sept. 17 to certify the results. The primary was marked by

problems, including malfunctioning voting machines and a number of polling stations that closed early after workers went home, claiming they were tired.

Dirty waters

Thirty years after Canada and the United States agreed to clean up the Great Lakes, much of the water remains too polluted to allow unrestricted fishing and swimming. According to a report released by the International Joint Commission, progress in cleaning up the lakes is going too slowly, and a great many challenges remain, among them ridding the waters of invasive species such as zebra mussels and getting rid of chemical contaminants in lake sediments.

Georgia on their mind

Russia and one of its southern neighbours edged closer to war after Georgia failed to take action against hundreds of Chechen militants who Moscow claims are hiding in a remote, mountainous region of the country. Russian President Vladimir

Putin sent letters to a number of world leaders, including George W. Bush, asserting Russia’s right to launch an attack in self-defence. Russia has vehemently opposed any unilateral U.S. action against Iraq, and it was unclear whether the Kremlin would abandon its objections if Washington gave tacit approval for an attack by Russian forces in Georgia.

Fatal phone call

Richard Schewe was driving the family pickup truck on May 7,2001, when he put his cellphone up against his 2 V2-year-old daughter Mikaela’s ear so she could talk to her mother. Moments later, both died when the vehicle slammed into a speeding train. The last thing Amanda Schewe heard was her husband saying, “big bump,” then “oh,” followed by silence. The phone call was part of the evidence being considered by a coroner’s inquest to investigate the link between cellphone use and a fatal accident. The inquest comes as Ontario politicians are considering whether to ban the use of cellphones while driving.