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Report: Air Force reconsidering blame in Saudi blast

Bombed building

February 18, 1997
Web posted at: 8:00 a.m. EST

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The U.S. Air Force may reverse its decision to exonerate the general who was in charge of the housing complex in Saudi Arabia where 19 American airmen were killed by a truck bomb, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

In December, the Air Force absolved Brig. Gen. Terryl Schwalier of blame in the June 25 blast after deciding that protective measures around the complex in Dhahran were adequate.

The action contradicted the findings of a previous Pentagon inquiry that criticized Schwalier for failing to take steps to secure the Khobar Towers apartment complex in Dhahran where the blast occurred.

According to the Times report, Deputy Defense Secretary John White sent a confidential memo to top Air Force leaders last month saying their justification for exonerating Schwalier was "not sufficient."

Khobar

The Times said the memo ordered the Air Force to review the evidence and decide if someone should be punished.

The paper said members of Congress also are pressuring the Air Force to reconsider its December decision to exonerate Schwalier.

"Schwalier took some steps, but it seems to me that he didn't go far enough," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, head of the Senate Selection Committee on Intelligence, told the paper in an interview.

White and senior aides to Defense Secretary William Cohen say they only want the Air Force to support its case better and say they are not searching for a scapegoat, the paper reported.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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