-- The military hearing into the accidental bombing of Canadian troops could end two days earlier than expected because the Air Force has scaled back its witness list, said a lawyer for one of the pilots charged in the case.
David Beck, Maj. William Umbach's lawyer, said today that the Air Force has decided not to use several of its planned witnesses. The hearing could end Wednesday instead of Friday, he said.
The Air Force has said it will not comment on the case.
Beck and Charles Gittins, Maj. Harry Schmidt's defense lawyer, will call witnesses and present evidence when the government finishes with its case.
Schmidt and Umbach were charged with involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and dereliction of duty after an Air Force investigation found the pilots had disobeyed orders and acted recklessly in dropping a 500-pound guided bomb on Canadian troops near Kandahar, Afghanistan, on April 17, 2002. Four Canadians were killed and eight were wounded.
The hearing will determine whether the pilots should be court-martialed. If convicted of all charges in a court martial, they would face a maximum of 64 years in military prison.
Defense lawyers have suggested the pilots thought they were under fire from enemy forces.
Testimony is scheduled to resume Monday.
On Saturday, the aviators' former squadron commander testified that information on allied troop locations in Afghanistan was "basically nonexistent" for U.S. pilots last spring.
Col. David Nichols said he told his superiors before the April 17 bombing that he was concerned his fighter pilots were ill-informed about coalition troop locations.
"My concern was that my guys . . . needed to know where [allied ground troops] were," he said. "One of the biggest concerns in any mission is where the friendlies are and where the enemy is."
An Air Force investigation found that Schmidt, who dropped the bomb, and Umbach, who commanded the mission, recklessly attacked unidentified troops instead of waiting to determine if they were allies.
Earlier Saturday, Lt. Col. Richard Anderson II, who was in charge of all coalition pilots' combat orders, said Schmidt and Umbach were in no danger of small-arms fire and were under "extremely tight" restrictions on weapons use.