NEW ORLEANS – A U.S. fighter pilot who mistakenly bombed Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan (search) in 2002, killing four, was found guilty Tuesday of dereliction of duty and was reprimanded and docked a month's pay, or nearly $5,700.
Maj. Harry Schmidt, 38, "acted shamefully" during the episode, "exhibiting arrogance and a lack of flight discipline," Air Force Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson wrote in the reprimand.
Schmidt, a former instructor at the Navy's "Top Gun" fighter pilot school, had blamed the bombing on the "fog of war," saying he mistook the Canadians' gunfire for an attack by Taliban (search) forces. He said his superiors never told him that the Canadians would be conducting live-fire exercises near Kandahar airport that night.
He was originally charged with manslaughter and aggravated assault, but the charges were reduced last year to dereliction of duty.
Carlson said Schmidt had become impatient waiting for permission from air controllers to attack what he believed was Taliban artillery. He was warned to "make sure it's not friendlies" before firing.
The reprimand said Schmidt should have taken evasive action rather than attack and accused him of lying about his motivation for the bombing, using "the inherent right of self-defense as an excuse to wage your own war."
Charles Gittins, Schmidt's civilian lawyer, said he is considering an appeal and repeated his claim that Schmidt was made a scapegoat for his commanders' poor planning. He said the reprimand amounted to an unfair conviction for murder.
"If what Gen. Carlson claimed were true -- that Harry used self defense as a pretext and recklessly released ordnance without legal justification -- that constitutes unpremeditated murder," Gittins said in a prepared statement.
Gittins also has said an Air Force-issued amphetamine given to pilots to help them stay awake on long missions might have impaired the pilot's judgment. However, Col. Richard Harding, a judge advocate general with the Air Force (search), said Gittins presented no evidence regarding the pills in last week's hearing.
Schmidt's mission commander, Maj. William Umbach, who was in a second F-16, also was charged with assault and manslaughter. Those charges were dismissed last summer, and he was reprimanded for "leadership failures" and allowed to retire.
The case against the two Illinois National Guardsmen has been closely watched in Canada, where many were outraged by the bombing and the two days it took President Bush to publicly apologize.
The four soldiers who died were the first Canadians killed in combat since the Korean War. Eight others were wounded.
Maureen Decaire, mother of one of the Canadians injured in the bombing, said she understands that Schmidt did not intend to cause harm, but the decision still leaves her unsatisfied.
"I would like to see him accept responsibility, which I don't think has happened," she said from Winnipeg.
Schmidt was found guilty after a closed, non-judicial hearing held last week at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The Air Force had announced last month that it would not court-martial Schmidt; he could have gotten up to six months in prison if convicted at a court-martial.
Schmidt remains in the Air National Guard but has agreed never to fly Air Force jets again.
In videotape of the mission taken from Schmidt's F-16, he can be heard telling air controllers that he and his mission commander were under attack and requesting permission to open fire with his 20 mm cannon.
"Hold fire," an air controller responded.
Four seconds later, Schmidt said: "It looks like a piece of artillery firing at us. I'm rolling in, in self-defense."
He released a 500-pound, laser-guided bomb 39 seconds after the "hold fire" order.