HONOLULU – The captain of the U.S. Navy submarine that sank a Japanese fisheries training vessel last month always intended to testify before the Navy’s just-concluded Court of Inquiry despite his earlier request for testimonial immunity, his civilian lawyer told Kyodo News on Thursday.
“He never changed his mind. He always wanted to testify,” Charles Gittins said. “My job was to let him do that in the least risky manner.”
Cmdr. Scott Waddle was denied his request for testimonial immunity Monday by Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. If Waddle had been granted the immunity, his testimony would have been inadmissible in a possible court-martial.
Waddle, however, surprised the inquiry Tuesday when he came forward with sworn testimony leading some to believe that he may have changed his mind.
The least risky outcome, according to Gittins, would have been to testify under the immunity agreement.
Although his request was ultimately denied, the element of surprise sworn testimony may have helped Waddle’s case, especially in light of the fact that the other two officers whose actions are under investigation submitted unsworn testimony Monday.
While Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer, the sub’s executive officer, submitted unsworn written testimony, Lt. j.g. Michael Coen, the officer of the deck, provided an unsworn oral statement to the court.
Waddle’s sworn testimony meant that he could be and was cross-examined by the court Tuesday.
Gittins is pleased with the way the testimony went and feels that Waddle looked like a “stand-up guy” for coming forward when others in his position might not have.
During several meetings with family members of the victims Gittins also said Waddle made his intention of testifying known to the Japanese.
The Court of Inquiry concluded Tuesday. The three admirals sitting on the court’s panel will make a recommendation of either disciplinary action or courts-martial for the three officers to Fargo. Fargo will decide their fate within 30 days of receiving the court’s recommendation.
Four teenage students of Uwajima Fisheries High School in Ehime Prefecture, two of their teachers and three crew members of the 499-ton Ehime Maru went down with ship after it was struck Feb. 9 by the 6,080-ton Greeneville during an emergency surfacing maneuver.
NEW YORK (Kyodo) Crew members of the submarine USS Greeneville should be court-martialed for the sinking of the Japanese fisheries training ship, the New York Times said Thursday.
The paper said in its editorial that the recently concluded U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry into the Feb. 9 collision between the sub and the ship “has produced enough evidence of errors and oversights by the navy crew to warrant a court-martial proceeding.”
“Such a step, the military equivalent of a criminal trial, would establish whether the submarine’s captain and other crew members should be found liable for the loss of nine passengers on the Japanese vessel,” it said.
The inquiry, which opened March 5 to look into the liabilities of the sub’s captain, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer, the sub’s executive officer, and Lt. j.g. Michael Coen, the officer of the deck at the time of the accident, concluded Tuesday, having heard 33 witnesses over 12 days.
Waddle, whose actions before the collision included cutting short or omitting entirely several safety precautions, faces possible charges ranging from dereliction of duty to negligent homicide.
U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Thomas Fargo, who convened the inquiry, will determine within about 30 days what action to take against Waddle and other crew members, which could range from non-judicial punishment such as letters of reprimand to courts-martial.
Expert observers have said all indications point to the recommendation of a court-martial for Waddle, with three admirals having expressed considerable dismay and disbelief at his multiple errors and oversights during his testimony at the inquiry.
The newspaper indicated that the advantage of a court-martial is that it affords the defendants a full chance to explain their behavior and to present mitigating evidence.
“The navy owes it to Americans, and to Japanese friends and relatives of the victims, to establish full accountability for this regrettable episode. Should criminal behavior be proved, appropriate punishment must be meted out to those found guilty,” the editorial said.
Nine Japanese — four 17-year-old students, two teachers and three Ehime Maru crew members — were lost at sea after the 6,080-ton Greeneville hit the 499-ton Ehime Maru, from Uwajima Fisheries High School in Ehime Prefecture, during a rapid surfacing maneuver conducted for 16 civilian guests who were aboard the sub for the day.
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