‘Friendly fire’ video won’t air in open court

/ Source: The Associated Press

A British coroner reluctantly agreed Friday to a U.S. request not to show in open court a cockpit video capturing the horrified reaction of two American pilots in Iraq after they fired on British troops.

But Oxfordshire Assistant Deputy Coroner Andrew Walker made clear he was doing so only in the interest of speeding up the inquest into the death of Lance Cpl. Matty Hull, who was killed when his convoy was strafed by a U.S. warplane in southern Iraq on March 28, 2003. Four others were wounded in the attack.

"If it were not for potential delay and distress this would cause the family, I would not be willing to be bound by an agreement between the U.S. and the U.K. on the use of evidence I consider crucial," Walker said.

Walker said that, despite his own reservations, lawyers' representing Hull's family did not object to U.S. demands that the inquest only play video behind closed doors. It will be shown to the coroner, select witnesses and lawyers representing the family and Britain's Defense Ministry.

The Pentagon previously had said the video was classified and could not be shown, but changed its position last week after a copy of the video was leaked to a British newspaper and broadcast.

Lawyer reluctantly OKs
The lawyer representing Hull's family called the American conditions "unprecedented and wholly artificial," but said she accepted because a private screening would move the investigation forward.

"It's not just to avoid delay," Geraldine McCool said after the hearing. "We want to get on to the video."

The family was eager to examine the two-hour long tape in its entirety, and McCool said the previously unseen footage might provide new insight into the incident.

A widely circulated excerpt from the tape, shot from the gun camera of A-10 jet, captures the pilots' horror as they realize they had hit coalition forces. "I'm going to be sick," one says, before adding, "We're in jail, dude."

Coroner wants 'all the evidence'
Walker also asked to be supplied with additional evidence during the hearing, including the pilots' training records and an uncensored version of the U.S. military's investigation into the incident.

"The time has come where I should be entitled to see all the evidence," he said. "I just want to know, and I'm sure the family want to know, why this happened, in as much detail as possible."

McCool appealed to the United States to hand over the evidence quickly.

"If (the Americans) don't cooperate, they will give the impression there is something they wish to conceal," she said. "That's an unhelpful impression to give allies."

The inquest is due to resume on March 12.