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Waddle Gets Career-Ending Reprimand

Aired April 23, 2001 - 20:02   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Rusty Dornin is standing by in Pearl Harbor, but I believe the news conference with Admiral Fargo is about to begin. Let's go to Rusty Dornin just for a quick update.

Rusty, what are you seeing and hearing over there? Is this news conference about to begin?

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it looks like the conference will be getting under way in just about one minute. At that time, Admiral Thomas Fargo will come and give his prepared statement about the punishment that he meted out to Commander Scott Waddle.

Now we do know from Scott Waddle's statement who, the press, immediately following what known as an admiral's mast, which was that disciplinary hearing -- that Waddle will be fined one half of one month's pay for two months. But that was suspended for reasons that we aware of at this point. It was suspended until his retirement.

He was also given a letter of reprimand, which, in the Navy, is --can amount to a career-ending letter of reprimand. It is something that is put in his permanent file and it would allow him not to have any promotion of any kind. Commander Waddle has already indicated that he will retire as of October 1st.

So we're just standing by right now for Admiral Fargo to come inside and talk a little bit more. Also, we do understand that he will be addressing punishment to the other parties and other officers aboard the Greenville as well, as well as talking about the distinguished visitors program that has been under so much controversy since this incident occurred. There were 16 civilians aboard the aboard the USS Greeneville when it collided on February 9th.

So as I said, we are just waiting out -- here is Admiral Fargo with the press conference.

ADM. THOMAS FARGO, COMMANDER, U.S. PACIFIC FLEET: Good afternoon. I have a rather lengthy statement which I have handed out, and you should all have in your hands right now. I don't intend to read the entire statement. However, there are some key points that I would like to go over in some detail here, and then I'll be happy to answer your questions.

On 13 April, Vice-Admiral Nathman, in a court of inquiry, forwarded to me the court of inquiries report, the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the collision between the USS Greeneville and Japanese motor vessel, Ehime Maru.

As you know, the court was directed to look into all aspects of the collision, including the cause of the collision and the responsibility for it, the impact of civilians on board and the embarkation program, the propriety of Greeneville's assigned operating area that particular day, and role of Captain Robert Brandhuber, a senior officer embarked.

In addition, I intend to address the accountability of the commanding officer, Commander Waddle, and other members of the crew. The search-and-rescue and throughout, our actions to preclude incidents like this in the future.

The court of inquiry was unanimous in its findings and conclusions. This is a comprehensive report that we have released today in total to the public. It includes: a summary of the collision itself and a complete graphic reconstruction, and time line of the events. One hundred and nineteen page report of the court inquiry, and a memorandum which details my conclusions and actions after reviewing the report.

And then there's the more than 2000 pages of supporting documentation and testimony that will be available on our Web site. Additionally, you have the statement that I have released today.

Let me start with the collision. There were two fundamental causes for this collision. First was the inadequate acoustic and visual search conducted by USS Greeneville in preparation for surfacing on 9 February.

Second was the failure of the ship's watch team to work together and pass information to each other about the surface contact picture. As you read this report, the reason for these two causes is quite clear.

Commanding Officer USS Greeneville created an artificial sense of urgency in preparation for surfacing his ship, when prudent seamanship, the safety of his submarine, and good judgment dictated otherwise. In doing so, he marginalized key contact management and control room personnel. Cut corners on prescribed operational procedures, and inhibited the proper development of the surface picture.

Greeneville was aware of three surface sonar contacts as she prepared to surface. Managing these contacts was well within the capability of any ship. And ultimately, an adequate periscope search of the proper duration at higher elevation and with due consideration for the white, hazy background would have precluded this accident.

The collision summary I have provided you shows all of this in great detail. Let me be clear. There was no fault or neglect on the part of Ehime Maru's captain or crew. There was no equipment or system failure on board the Ehime Maru that contributed to the collision. This collision was solely the fault of USS Greeneville. This tragic accident could and should have been avoided by simply following existing Navy standards and procedures in bringing submarines to the surface.

The responsibility of the commanding officer for his ship in this regard is clearly stated in Navy regulations. It is absolute. And it starts with the safe navigation of the ship. Today I found Commander Scott Waddle, the former commanding officer of Greeneville, guilty of committing two violations of the uniform code of military justice at admiral's mast. These were article 92, dereliction of performance of duties, and article 110, negligent hazarding of a vessel.

As punishment, I issued a punitive letter of reprimand and directed him to forfeit one-half his pay for two months, and also directed that action be taken to detach Commander Waddle for cause from his previous duties as commanding officer. I suspended the forfeiture, but these actions will effectively terminate his career.

I determined that admiral's mast to be the proper and appropriate forum for accountability, because the court of inquiries report indicated that Commander Waddle's actions on 9 February represented a serious departure from the high standards expected of officers in command.

At the same time, the court's report did not produce any evidence of criminal intent or deliberate misconduct on Commander Waddle's part. I think this is an important point. Additionally, Commander Waddle upheld the principle and tradition of accountability, and took full responsibility for his actions. And prior to this accident, Commander Waddle's career and record, superior support in the service to his nation, were excellent.

Additionally, I did not refer Commander Waddle's case to a general court martial because the facts related to the cause of the collision are well understood as a result of the court of inquiry and its comprehensive report. Commander Waddle is responsible for this accidents under Navy regulations, and he has publicly accepted that responsibility.

He has been held formally accountable by both this process and my actions at admiral's mast.

BLITZER: Admiral Thomas Fargo, announcing the decision not to go forward with a court martial of Commander Scott Waddle, but to give him what is, in effect, a career-ending reprimand, for his -- in his words -- "dereliction of duties" in that emergency surfacing exercise that resulted in the collision with a Japanese vessel.

Shortly after Commander Waddle was notified of his punishment, he issued this statement.

"As the commanding officer, I was and am responsible and accountable for my actions and the actions of my crew that led to the terrible accident at sea on 9 February 2001. While I regret that my Navy career has ended in this way, I know that I am one of the lucky ones because I survived the accident. My heart aches for the losses suffered by the families of those killed aboard the M.V. Ehime Maru. To those families, I again offer my most sincere apology."

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