A question for Troppodillians: does anyone have a record of the Australian Government’s response to 1988’s accidental US shootdown of Iran Air Flight 655?
I ask because the parallels with the MH17 shootdown are so clear.
At a political level the government’s response has so far been well-judged. There are few negatives in getting upset about the deaths of Australians overseas, particularly at the hands of a group aligned with a nation whose policies we rightly dislike, whose statements we quite sensibly distrust, and with whom we have few important links.
But at a moral level, it seems to me difficult to judge this episode more reprehensible than the Flight 655 shootdown. MH17 was shot down by untrained yahoos informally but closely connected to the Russsian government, probably by mistake. Flight 655 was shot down by the USS Vincennes on the orders of a formally trained US warship commander, fairly certainly by mistake.
The US, remarkably, never apologised to Iran or anyone else over the shootdown.
And my dim recollection is that the Australian Government responded that it was all a regrettable accident. Hansard’s online search doesn’t return anything from 1988. Does anyone have more detail?
A reminder of the response to Flight 655, from the careful-with-the-facts for Age journo Tim Colebatch (who was a foreign correspondent in Washington at the time):
… The initial US response in 1988 was to try to blame the victims. The then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William Crowe, told the world that flight 655 was flying outside the civilian flight corridor, was emitting military transponder signals, had ignored radio warnings, was flying low and was descending on the USS Vincennes at a rapid 450 knots when the captain ordered that it be shot down. All these claims were false, even if Crowe believed them at the time. It was only two days later, under intense questioning from journalists, that the Pentagon admitted the evidence showed that flight 655 was in fact a routine scheduled flight, emitting civilian transponder signals, flying in its proper corridor, climbing to a 4000 metre altitude, at normal speed. The US sailors clearly got much wrong. Similarly, the Russian rebels clearly mistook MH17 for a military jet and seemed unaware that commercial airlines routinely fly 10 kilometres above their land.
The US military admitted its mistakes. But President Reagan never publicly apologised to the victims’ families. The inquiry cleared the Vincennes commander, and he was later awarded the Legion of Merit. And US public opinion overwhelmingly blamed the victims. As UK Prime Minister David Cameron puts it, Russia is facing ”a defining moment” in its history. The US offers both good and bad examples for it to follow.
If you want more detail, the Flight 655 Wikipedia article seems pretty accurate.
Right now the Australian media is enjoying piling onto Putin – and really, who wouldn’t enjoy that?
But at some stage, someone should ask Tony Abbott what he believes the Hawke Government should have said about Flight 655, and whether the US should have apologised.
Update: I note that the PM has gone so far as to call this an “atrocity”, while the Foreign Minister has called it “barbaric”. This language seems over-strong for what appears likely to have been an accidental downing of a plane flying over a war zone. I do not recall any remotely similar language being used by Australian political leaders over the Flight 655 downing.