HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html U.S. Pilots 'Guinea Pigs,' Lawyer Says
Pubdate: Sun, 22 Dec 2002
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2002, The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Colin Freeze


The American pilots who mistakenly killed four Canadian soldiers in 
Afghanistan were drugged-up "guinea pigs" at the time of the bombing, one 
of their defence lawyers said yesterday.

"This was an Air Force science project using AF pilots as guinea pigs," 
Charles Gittins, lawyer for Major Harry Schmidt, said in an e-mail 
interview with The Globe and Mail yesterday.

This fall, a U.S. military investigation criticized the force's use of 
amphetamines, but found that the drugs used by Major Schmidt and Major Bill 
Umbach were simply "not a factor" in the pilots' fateful decision to drop a 
225-kilogram, laser-guided bomb on Canadian infantry soldiers. Eight were 
wounded and four were killed by the pilots, who mistook the ground troops 
for enemy fighters.

The U.S. pilots have been charged with four counts of involuntary 
manslaughter. Their defenders argue that blame should focus on higher-ups, 
and say that the U.S. military's use of amphetamines -- so-called "go 
pills" -- deserves serious scrutiny.

Last night, that argument was advanced to millions of North American 
viewers by the ABC News show 20/20, which looked at the bombing and 
explored the role that military-prescribed pills could have played in it. 
Such pills are routinely given to pilots on long missions.

The show also featured a chilling videotape taken from inside Major 
Schmidt's cockpit the night of the bombing.

The pilot is alarmed when he sees a small white flash appear on a sea of 
night-vision green. Thinking he is in danger, he trains his cross hairs on 
the speck below, the place where the Canadians are conducting a live-fire 
training exercise.

Announcing that he is about to act in "self-defence," Major Schmidt decides 
not to wait for clearance to drop his payload. "Bombs away," he says 
shortly before his screen explodes into a bright white. Seeing the flare he 
says, "Shack," military jargon for a perfect hit.

Soon after, a radio call indicates that "friendlies" are in the area. Only 
then does Major Schmidt begin to doubt himself. "It did not look organized 
like it would be our guys," he tells his partner. ". . . I hope that was 
the right thing to do."

Through all this there is a sense of urgency to Major Schmidt's voice, who 
had expressed fear that his partner, Major Umbach, was being fired upon.

Eight months on, "no one can say authoritatively that the drugs did not 
affect Harry's judgment or perception," Mr. Gittins said.

ABC News reported yesterday that go pills were banned by the U.S. Air Force 
in 1992, but have been reintroduced. It quoted an Air Force general as 
saying the military prescribes go pills (and no-go pills, their 
sleep-inducing counterparts) in small, tightly controlled doses. The 
network said the two pilots were told they could be found unfit to fly if 
they did not take the drugs.

Captain Richard Langlois, a spokesman for the Canadian Department of 
National Defence, said pilots here do not take any pills. "We do not 
prescribe psychostimulants for our air crews."

Medical literature indicates that the drugs may be cause for concern.

"At high doses, these drugs can create a toxic psychosis characterized by 
paranoid delusions, hallucinations, and frequently, aggressive or violent 
behaviour," a recent paper on amphetamines published by Canada's Addiction 
Research Foundation says.

The paper suggests that 60 milligrams is at the top end of what is 
considered the "therapeutic range." The pilots were well below that level.

The U.S. investigation found that Major Schmidt requested pills the day of 
the 14-hour flight, obtaining them about three hours after waking up. He 
took 10 mg of the pills while Major Umbach took five mg.

Nothing indicates that these amounts were "considered excessive or beyond 
what would typically be expected," the U.S. investigation found. ". . . The 
prescribing physicians felt that both pilots tolerated the Go/No-Go pills 
and managed their crew rest well prior to the incident."

The investigation found that Major Schmidt was "likely performing at 91 per 
cent cognitive effectiveness at the time of the incident."

The two pilots are grounded in their home state of Illinois, where they are 
regarded as heroes despite the charges they face.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens