The United States shoots down civilian airliners: Case of Iran-Air 655

AviacionavionEarlier this year, acting as judge and jury, the Obama, Harper and allied regimes launched a hysterical offensive without any evidence to indict the Russian Federation and its president, Vladimir Putin, as part of their warmongering. Within just one day of the destruction of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014 over the war zone in Eastern Ukraine, they alleged it was responsible directly or indirectly for this crime. The central assumption was that the United States alone is the single state in the world that does not kill innocent civilians, is not at war with anyone, answers to a higher law above international law and the United Nations, and hence has the moral authority to accuse everyone else of criminal activity. But this disinformation remains silent on the criminal record of the US in destroying civil airliners and even heaping the highest honours on those who pulled the trigger, as it did with those who shot the missiles on July 3, 1988 that downed Iran-Air flight 655 inside Iranian territory, killing 290 innocent people.

By TONY SEED

A300B2-203 Iran Air EP-IBT at Mehrabad International Airport, Tehran | Khashayar Talebzadeh

A300B2-203 Iran Air EP-IBT at Mehrabad International Airport, Tehran | Khashayar Talebzadeh

On July 3, 1988 the USS Vincennes (CG 49), a Ticonderoga class cruiser and the most advanced warship in the US Navy at the time, on patrol in the Straits of Hormuz and equipped with the most sophisticated radar systems, fired two guided missiles at the scheduled Iran-Air flight 655 (IR655), which had taken off from Bandar Abbas International Airport seven minutes before, in authorized airspace (corridor) enroute to Dubai, UAE, and still inside Iranian territory.

The first missile cut the civilian airliner, an Airbus 300, in half. All defenceless 290 passengers and crew, including 38 non-Iranians and 66 children, aboard the Airbus A300 were killed. Thirteen of the passengers were from the United Arab Emirates, ten from India, six from Yugoslavia, and one from Italy.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati demanded that the United Nations Security Council  (UNSC) condemn the United States, saying the U.S. attack “could not have been a mistake” and was a “criminal act”, an “atrocity” and a “massacre.” 

Locater map depicting Iran Air 655's origination point, destination and approximate location of the shootdown. (The air corridor is not necessarily a direct path.) | CIA

Locater map depicting Iran Air 655’s origination point, destination and approximate location of the shootdown. (The air corridor is not necessarily a direct path.) | CIA

In the face of Iranian and world outrage, the United States government, with all its pretensions about human rights and against terrorism, abjectly apologized for “a terrible mistake” and averred that the target had been confused with a hostile combat aircraft. But William Rogers, the captain of the USS Vincennes, was never court-martialed. In fact, US President Ronald Reagan tried to justify the crime as “proper defensive action” or “meritorious defence” (see text of letter below). A memorable quote resulting from the act of terror came from former CIA director George H.W. Bush, who was then Ronald Reagan’s vice president: “I will never apologize for the United States of America. I don’t care what the facts are,” said Bush on August 2, 1988 in response to the atrocity. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher weighed in to support the USA. The destruction of the passenger plane, she said, was “understandable.” Thirteen delegates who spoke at the UNSC meeting supported the US position.

The page-one splash

The manipulation by the monopoly media, both within the United States and internationally, was immediate and direct, though miniscule compared to the hysteria generated around the downed Malaysian airliner. Noam Chomsky remembers that:

There was little reaction at the time: no outrage, no desperate search for victims, no passionate denunciations of those responsible, no eloquent laments by the U.S. Ambassador to the UN about the “immense and heart-wrenching loss” when the airliner was downed. Iranian condemnations were occasionally noted, but dismissed as “boilerplate attacks on the United States” (Philip Shenon, New York Times).  ‘Outrage,’ Z Magazine August 24, 2014

The acclaimed journalist Robert Fisk, now at the London Independent, explained that he left The Times after interference with his reporting on the Middle East:

‘The end came for me when I flew to Dubai in 1988 after the USS Vincennes [a US Navy guided missile cruiser] had shot down an Iranian passenger airliner over the Gulf. Within 24 hours, I had spoken to the British air traffic controllers at Dubai, discovered that US ships had routinely been threatening British Airways airliners, and that the crew of the Vincennes appeared to have panicked. The foreign desk told me the report was up for the page-one splash. I warned them that American ‘leaks’ that the IranAir pilot was trying to suicide-crash his aircraft on to the Vincennes were rubbish. They agreed.

‘Next day, my report appeared with all criticism of the Americans deleted, with all my sources ignored. The Times even carried an editorial suggesting the pilot was indeed a suicider. A subsequent US official report and accounts by US naval officers subsequently proved my dispatch correct. Except that Times readers were not allowed to see it.’

Fisk said that he believed that the owner, Robert Murdoch of News Corp, did not personally intervene. However:

‘He didn’t need to. He had turned The Times into a tame, pro-Tory, pro-Israeli paper shorn of all editorial independence.’

The heroization of criminal behaviour

Captain (CAPT) Will C. Rogers III, commanding officer of the guided missile cruiser USS VIincennes (CG 49), speaks during the welcome home ceremony held for the crew of the VIincennes.

Instead of being punished, Captain Will Rogers, commanding officer of the guided missile cruiser USS VIncennes (CG 49), is given the podium during an official welcome home ceremony staged for the VIncennes by the US Navy in San Diego, as well as the US’s highest peacetime honour.

In his book, The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East, Fisk reports that the crew of the USS Vincennes were given a heroes’ welcome when they returned to its home port of San Diego by the U.S. Navy, and were “awarded combat action ribbons.” 

The Los Angeles Times reported at the time:

The officers and crew of the Vincennes, the U.S. warship that mistakenly shot down an Iranian airliner in the Persian Gulf last July, got a boisterous, flag-waving welcome Monday. . . .

As the Vincennes pulled into a pier at the 32nd Street Naval Station on Monday morning, its loudspeakers blared the theme from the movie “Chariots of Fire” and nearby Navy ships saluted with gunfire. The reception, complete with balloons and a Navy band playing upbeat songs, was organized by Navy officials who did not want the Vincennes “to sneak into port,” a public affairs officer said. (Jane Fritsch and Ralph Frammolino, “Vincennes Crew Gets Upbeat Welcome Home,” Los Angeles Times, October 25, 1988, p. 1.)

The citizens of Vincennes, Indiania, Fisk notes, were incited to raise money for a monument – not for the dead Iranian victims, but for the warship that destroyed their lives.

Regardless of the conscience of the world, George Bush, by this time president, two years later awarded both the Commander and the officer in charge of anti-air warfare that murdered the 290 Iranian passenger with the Legion of Merit for the “calm and professional atmosphere” under their command during the period of the destruction of the Iranian airliner. In a letter of appreciation Bush lauded Captain Will Rogers III for his “exceptional merit” as commanding officer of the Vincennes and stated: “The wartime decisions by Captain Rogers are compatible with the highest military traditions of the US Navy.” Far from being an “understandable accident,” the American leadership referred to Rogers’ action as “a wartime decision.” Bush continued: “My understanding is that the crew intended to show the capability of the Aegis electronic battle management system.” What is of value is to test the capability of the Aegis Missile System by which it killed 290 innocent people, leaving thousands of family members in grief, as people are without value – and the response of the Iranian defence systems. The air-warfare coordinator was given the Navy’s Commendation Medal for “heroic achievement” and “ability to maintain his poise and confidence under fire,” which enabled him to “quickly and precisely complete the firing procedure.”

Hubris is a big rock that the US ruling elite drops on its feet day after day. In law, the commendation of Capt Rogers and the ratification of his actions indicated that (1) the crew of the Vincennes, its Commanding Officer, Captain Will Rogers, and his superiors were acting directly under the authority of the United States; and (2) thus, the State itself is responsible and in violation of international law, as Capt Rogers was acting as its agent. In  other words, a State acts through its representatives and agents who are natural persons.

The US case crumbles

Moreover, the shooting down of Iran-Air 655 was an intentional act for which the United States bears responsibility within the meaning of Article 1 of the Montreal Convention. Evidence of the United States “intent” was provided by the record of actions on board the Vincennes before it fired and the fact that permission to fire was sought from the United States Middle East Task Force. (Defénse Department Report, p. E-9.)

Even US military experts rejected the lying claims:

“Controllers of civilian Air Traffic are mostly able to spot airplanes through their size and distinguish them from each other, but it is not yet known how come an Airbus with a length of 175 feet has been mistaken for an F-14 jetfighter which is almost less than half of it.” (Washington Post)

On the other hand, US military experts have described the USS Vincennes missile system as the following:

“The ground-to-air missile system which shot down an Iranian passenger airliner is the most advanced combat system of the Navy in the world and it is very impossible for it to misidentify targets. The system is capable of tracking down over 200 targets at the range of 400 kilometers, determining their speed and direction. The system can also hit 15 to 20 targets simultaneously.”

“…a conscious decision that had even been announced beforehand to the fleet.”

David R. Carlson, the Commander of the U.S. escort frigate U.S.S. Sides, in the vicinity of the Vincennes at the time of the attack, publicly denounced the official apologias as founded on lies, remarking that it was taken as a conscious decision that had even been announced beforehand to the fleet:

When the decision was made to shoot down the Airbus, the airliner was climbing, not diving; it was showing the proper identification friend or foe – I.F.F. (Mode III); and it was in the correct flight corridor from Bandar Abbas to Dubai. . . . My experience was that the conduct of Iranian military forces in the month preceding the incident was pointedly nonthreatening. . . . .

Having watched the performance of the Vincennes for a month before the incident, my impression was clearly that an atmosphere of restraint was not her long suit. Her actions appeared to be consistently aggressive, and had become a topic of wardroom conversation. “Who’s driving the problem in Vincennes?” was a question asked on numerous occasions prior to 3 July. “Robo Cruiser” was the unamusing nickname that someone jokingly came up with for her, and it stuck. My guess was that the crew of the Vincennes felt a need to prove the viability of Aegis [its missile system] in the Persian Gulf, and that they hankered for an opportunity to show their stuff. . . . During the incident, the Sides was less than 20 nautical miles from the Vincennes and under the Vincennes’s tactical command. . . . The Vincennes announced her intentions to take TN 4131 [the Iran Air plane] with missiles at 20 miles. I wondered aloud in disbelief. (David R. Carlson, “‘Fog of War’ Was a Cop-Out for Vincennes,” Op-Ed, Los Angeles Times, September 3, 1989, part V, p. 5 ).

This description is not from a Hollywood film script: it is the straightforward opinion of the one man perhaps best placed to put the Vincennes’ actions in their proper perspective. No doubt the U.S. Navy did “hanker” for a chance to experiment with its new weapons and to test the Iranian defencesTo do so against a civilian airliner thereby murdering 290 innocent people was not only irresponsible and illegal; it was unconscionable.

Flight 655 was transmitting signals which clearly identified it as civilian; rather than descending as if to attack, it was ascending away from the Vincennes. Electronic records from the ship showed that this is exactly what the crew witnessed just prior to the attack detected.

Contrary to the accounts of various USS Vincennes  crewmembers, the airliner was transmitting the correct transponder “squawk” code typical of a civilian aircraft, and maintained English-speaking radio contact with appropriate air traffic control facilities.

The Vincennes’ shipboard Aegis Combat System recorded that the Iranian airliner was climbing at the time and its radio transmitter was “squawking” on the Mode III civilian code only, rather than on military Mode II.

A 53-page Pentagon report issued almost two months after the incident, while not directly stating the point, found that almost all of the immediate details given of the shooting-down were erroneous, yet absolved the officers and crew. (Fred Kaplan, ‘Everyone seems to have forgotten the time the U.S. shot down a passenger jet, killing 290, and then tried to cover it up,’ National Post, 24 July 2014.)

The gunboat policy

1983.12.23.Saddam_rumsfeld

In December 1983 President Reagan despatched a special envoy, Donald Rumsfeld, to meet Saddam Hussein and open the U.S. embassy, at a time when Iraq was already using gas against the Iranians.

Iraq invaded the Islamic Republic Iran in September, 1980 in the wake of its 1979 anti-imperialist revolution. Under the mask of neutrality, the United States blocked UNSCR’s efforts to condemn the invasion; removed Iraq from its list of nations supporting terrorism (1982); tolerated Soviet export of heavy arms to Iraq; and enabled transfers of advanced weaponry, satellite and other intelligence-training, as well as well as financial backing for the Iraqi leadership. Iraq was supported by Saudi Arabia, Joran and the Gulf Emirates. No UNSCR resolution was ever passed to condemn or curtail Iraq’s invasion of Iran and a war that ultimately cost over one million lives.

By 3 July 1988, the United States had amassed a large fleet of warships in the Persian Gulf and the northern Gulf of Oman. According to the United States, the purpose of this show of force was to protect neutral shipping in the Persian Gulf and to escort reflagged Kuwaiti tankers – an operation that commenced in 1987 and involved more than 40 warships totalling 500,000 tons and being able to double that figure at any time by bringing into the Persian Gulf its warships stationed in the Gulf of Oman. In reality, the aim of the United States was quite different, and the fleet was frequently used to provoke and intimidate the Islamic Republic and to aid Iraq and its supporters in the war that had been imposed upon the Islamic Republic by Iraq in 1980. It was this hostile and provocative attitude that directly contributed to the downing of IR 655.

This policy was combined with the United States’ embargo on all goods of Iranian origin and an almost total restriction on all trade relations with the Islamic Republic that was in operation from 1980 onwards. The United States had also put into effect “Operation Staunch,” which was designed to prevent the Islamic Republic purchasing arms from anywhere in the world. It was accompanied by a near blockade of Iranian ports together with comprehensive monitoring and surveillance of vessels going to and from such ports. No such steps were taken against Iraq.

it is significant that the US Defense Report states that it was Iraq which initiated attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf in 1983 when it acquired French Exocet missiles. According to the Defense Department, these missiles provided Iraq with “a credible ship attack capability”, and anti-shipping strikes by Iraq commenced in 1984. It was only afterwards that the Islamic Republic was forced to have recourse to the internationally recognized rights of visit and search of suspect vessels “to prevent war supplies from reaching lraq” (Defense Department Report, p. E-10). The United States acknowledged that in visiting and searching vessels, the Islamic Republic had “exercised a ‘traditional right’” of a belligerent “to prevent war supplies £rom being shipped to an enemy” (New York Times, 13 January 1986).

The US Defense Report then goes on to state that the Persian Gulf war intensified in 1987 :

“… when Iraq used its Air Force to conduct an aggressive campaign against Iranian oil facilities and shipping. The campaign was centered in the central Persian Gulf (CPG) and intensified in May 1987. These expanded operations culminated in the 17 May 1987 erroneous attack on USS STARK”.

The USS Stark was hit by two French Exocet missiles fired from Iraqi air force planes on that day. Thirty-seven U.S. crewmen died in the incident and the vessel sustained substantial damage. Iran noted that when Iraq attacked the USS Stark, United States found Iraq legally responsible on the grounds that the Iraqi pilot “knew or should have known” that he was attacking a U.S. warship but took no military response.

Despite these indications of Iraq’s aggression and its responsibility for escalating the hostilities in the Persian Gulf, the United States maintained that its warships were required thousands of miles fom its shores just off (and often even within) the Islamic Republic’s territorial sea, “to counter Iran’s reckless behavior toward neutral ships engaged in lawful commerce,” as stated by then Vice-President Bush before the Security Council on 14 July 1988. From 1984 onwards the Reagan Administration publicly anounced that the United States had informed various friendly nations in the Persian Gulf that the Islamic Republic’s defeat of Iraq would be “contrary to U.S interests” and that steps would be taken to prevent this result. In April 1984, it was revealed that President Reagan had signed two national security decision directives to set the stage for the U.S. Government to take a more confrontational stance against the Islamic Republic.

These are clear admissions of partiality. Moreover, while professing its neutrality, the United States  continued to act to the contrary. As General Burpee acknowledged before the U.S. House of Representatives Hearings after the USS Stark incident:

“The Iraqis are our friends or at least friendlyand Iran is the one that is more hostile.”

This took the form of actually helping Iraqi forces. For example, the 14 May 1988 Iraqi attack on several Iranian oil tankers close to the Larak Island terminal took place with the complete cooperation of the U.S. forces in the area. During this episode, the U.S. Navy, by jamming the communication network of the Iranian warships and creating a safe flight corridor for Iraqi fighter aircraft, placed its facilities at the disposal of Iraq. The United States also reflagged Kuwaiti oil tankers.

US Secretary of Defense Weinberger admitted, “(o)ur official policy was to remain neutral”, but, he went on, “we managed to have official United States statements and actions convey that we ‘tilted’ towards Iraq.” This is an understatement, but it reveals that the professed “neutrality” of the United States in the Iran-Iraq war was a hoax and that the United States’ actions in the Persian Gulf were a breach of the laws of neutrality. This great power attitude of US as world policeman, which considers all the seas, oceans and waterways as its lake, inspired the Iran-Air 655 crime.

The sacrificial lamb

In the face of the fierce and uncompromising stand of Iran and in the context of the shift in power within the US from the Bush to the Clinton presidency, the US case quickly began to crumble and the US media began to offer on its behalf theories to shift the blame, e.g., a rogue commander. The facts detailed by Commander Carlson, as quoted above and published in the specialized journal of the US Navy, personalized the attack as the action of an individual. Internationally, the Soviet Union also played a self-serving role, characterizing Capt Rogers as “trigger happy.”

However, there is only one conclusion that can be drawn from the facts detailed by Commander Carlson: well before the crew of the Vincennes allegedly “misread” the data recorded by its AEGIS system and fired the missiles which downed the plane, it is clear that the Vincennes was looking for an opportunity to use its force. It had been predisposed to treat the Islamic Republic as hostile and was ordered to station itself and hover in or just outside the Islamic Republic’s territorial waters. Not only was this provocative, it was also in violation of the Islamic Republic’s sovereignty since the U.S. warships did not obtain the prior authorization of Iran required under the Executive Regulations of the 1934 Act concerning the passage of warships in Iranian waters. Moreover, it transgressed the rules relating to innocent passage under international law, in particular Article 19, paragraphs 2(b) and (e) of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provide that passage is not innocent if a vessel exercises or practices with weapons of any kind or if it engages in the launching, landing or taking on board of any aircraft. In so acting, the United States was clearly looking for a chance to use force against the Islamic Republic. It was this attitude which led to the southbound track out of Bandar Abbas on the morning of 3 July 1988 of IR 655 being labelled by the crew of the Vincennes from the moment of take-off as “Unknown-Assumed Enemy.” (In the Name of God, Case Concerning the Aerial Incident of 3 July 1988, Islamic Republic of Iran v the United States of America, International Court of Justice, Volume 1, 24 July 1990)

Four years after the incident, Newsweek, which had previously parroted the government line, reported the long-known facts. In 1992, a joint Nightline/Newsweek investigation showed that the U.S. Navy had been lying about the location of the Vincennes at the time as well as the claim that it was acting in defence of a (nonexistent) tanker. The Vincennes had illegally crossed into Iranian territorial waters and had initiated hostilities. (John Barry and Roger Charles, “Sea of Lies,” Newsweek, July 13, 1992, p. 29.)

The Iranian view and demand for full reparations for the crime

A 45 rial postage stamp released by Iran on 11 August 1988 titled Disastrous U.S. missile attack against Iranian air liner

A 45 rial postage stamp released by Iran on 11 August 1988 titled Disastrous U.S. missile attack against Iranian air liner

The attack on the Iranian airbus over the Persian Gulf occurred at the very moment when Iranian forces were preparing an offensive against Iraqi defences on the Western front.

The Iman Komeini, in a speech analyzing the American reaction, pointed out:

“One of the US goals behind shooting down the Iranian passenger plane was to measure the unseen military power of Iran, which had been vague to Americans. They were sure in case of wide scale clashes the unknown military facilities of Iran in the Persian Gulf would emerge, through which they could deal military blows or at least identify them. Therefore, the Americans created make-believe crises and intended to prepare the ground in a bid to achieve their goal.” (“Unforgettable Crime of Supporters of Human Rights!” Tehran: 17:55 , 2005/07/04, Foundation for Preserving Sacred Defense Works & Values)

So what is the Iranians’ right? Nothing? US right trumps all other rights? Since the 1950s U.S. imperialism has been hostile to the Iranian people. First, they changed the democratic government of Iran and brought in the Shah, whose blood-soaked regime was finally overthrown in 1979. After the tyrant was overthrown, they unleashed Saddam Hussein and his chemical weapons on the Iranian people. When that war was over, the US government openly chanted for regime change in Iran, as it does today.

Immediately after this flagrant violation of the principles enshrined in international law such as the Chicago Convention took place, the Islamic Republic of Iran referred to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and in its final submission before the Council it sought:

1. Condemnation of the shooting down of IR 655 by the United States military forces in the Persian Gulf.

2. Explicit recognition of a crime of international character relating to the breach of international law and legal duties of [the United States as] a Contracting State of ICAO.

3. Explicit recognition of the responsibilities of the United States Government, and calling for effecting compensation for moral and financial damages.

4. Demand for the immediate termination of present obstacles, restrictions, threats, and the use of force against civilian aircraft in the region, including Council’s appeal to relevant international bodies to demand the withdrawal of all Foreign forces from the Persian Gulf.

The ICAO Council, however, pursuant to a decision of 17 March 1989, in effect dismissed all Iranian requests and limited itself to the following and a number of general platitudes not relevant to those requests:

“Deeply deplores the tragic incident which occurred as a consequence of events and errors in identification of the aircraft which resulted in the accidental destruction of an Iran Air airliner and the loss of 290 lives:” (Italics as in original).

Iran stated that the downing of the civilian aircraft had violated international law and thus demanded full reparation for the crime from the US government. Iran pointed out that in the past “the United States has steadfastly condemned the shooting down of aircraft, whether civil or military, by the armed forces of another State” and cited El Al Flight 402Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114 and Korean Air Lines Flight 007, among other incidents.

As with Reagan and Bush, the Clinton administration refused to apologize. The ICAO swallowed the US fabrications lock, stock and barrel. Iran however persevered, taking the case to the International Court of Justice. In 1996 the U.S. quietly settled out of court in order to escape a negative verdict that would have been as devastating as a recent ICJ verdict that the US had deliberately mined the harbours of Nicaragua in 1984 while presenting itself as a neutral power. The United States and Iran reached “an agreement in full and final settlement of all disputes, differences, claims, counterclaims” relating to the incident at the International Court of Justice. [Aerial Incident of 3 July 1988 (Islamic Republic of Iran v. United States of America) – Settlement Agreement, International Court of Justice, 9 February 1996.] As part of the settlement, the United States agreed to pay $61.8 million in compensation for the Iranians killed,plus the cost of the aircraft and legal expenses, amounting to $213,103.45 per passenger.It had already paid a further $40 million to the other countries whose nationals were killed. The United States did not admit responsibility or apologize to the Iranian government. Moreover, as of 2003, 15 years later, only 143 families had received some compensation from the United States for their tragic loss.

Last July Professor Paul Pillar, former U.S. National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, noted the self-serving osmosis of the media in facilitating the Obama disinformation against Russia:

The heavy coverage by U.S. media of the downing last week of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the rebellious portion of eastern Ukraine has made remarkably little reference to the prior event that most resembles it: the shooting down with a missile by the U.S. Navy cruiser Vincennes of Iran Air Flight 655 on July 3, 1988, killing all 290 persons aboard. (‘Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and Iran Air Flight 655 ,’ The National Interest 24 July 2014.)

Iran Air still uses flight number IR655 on the Tehran–Dubai route as a memorial to the victims.

Endnotes

For U.S. media coverage of the Vincennes’s attack, see for example, Richard Halloran, “The Downing of Flight 655: U.S. Downs Iran Airliner Mistaken For F-14; 290 Reported Dead; A Tragedy, Reagan Says; Action Is Defended,” New York Times, July 4, 1988, p. A1 (the original press report); Editorial, “A Verdict on the Vincennes,” New York Times, August 4, 1988, p. A24 (“the shootdown still seems the type of mishap almost impossible to avoid in the context. . . . From what is now known . . . the incident still must be seen not as a crime but as a blunder, and a tragedy”).

For the eyewitness Navy Commander’s revelations, see David R. Carlson [Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Sides], “The Vincennes Incident,” Proceedings: U.S. Naval Institute, Vol. 115, No. 9, Issue 1039, September 1989, pp. 87-92.

“U.S. disputes court’s authority in Iran case,” Chicago Tribune, March 6, 1991, zone C, p. 10 (noting that Washington rejected the World Court’s jurisdiction when Iran called on the Court to order reparations)

– Understanding Power The Indispensable Chomsky, http://www.understandingpower.com/Chapter1.htm

ICJ case — Written Pleadings, Iran and U.S. cases to the International Court of Justice


Reagan on Iran Air 655

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REAGAN ON IRAN AIR 655

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Editor’s Note: Yesterday, we published President Ronald Reagan’s speech in reaction to the downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007 by a Soviet warplane. That wasn’t the only inadvertent and tragic attack on a civilian aircraft that President Reagan had to deal with. On July 3, 1988 – during the last summer of Reagan’s presidency – the USS Vincennes was in the Persian Gulf doing battle with small armed Iranian boats when it launched two missiles at a civilian airliner – Iran Air 655 – that it mistook for an incoming F-14. Here is President Reagan’s letter about the incident to Speaker of the House of Representatives Jim Wright and Senator John C. Stennis, President pro tempore of the Senate. 

Dear Mr. Speaker: (Dear Mr. President:)

On July 3, 1988, the USS VINCENNES and USS ELMER MONTGOMERY were operating in international waters of the Persian Gulf near the Strait of Hormuz. (On July 2, the MONTGOMERY had responded to a distress signal from a Danish tanker that was under attack by Iranian small boats and had fired a warning shot, which caused the breaking off of the attack.) Having indications that approximately a dozen Iranian small boats were congregating to attack merchant shipping, the VINCENNES sent a Mark III LAMPS Helicopter on investigative patrol in international airspace to assess the situation. At about 1010 local Gulf time (2:10 a.m. EDT), when the helicopter had approached to within only four nautical miles, it was fired on by Iranian small boats (the VINCENNES was ten nautical miles from the scene at this time). The LAMPS helicopter was not damaged and returned immediately to the VINCENNES.

As the VINCENNES and MONTGOMERY were approaching the group of Iranian small boats at approximately 1042 local time, at least four of the small boats turned toward and began closing in on the American warships. At this time, both American ships opened fire on the small craft, sinking two and damaging a third. Regrettably, in the course of the U.S. response to the Iranian attack, an Iranian civilian airliner was shot down by the VINCENNES, which was firing in self defense at what it believed to be a hostile Iranian military aircraft. We deeply regret the tragic loss of life that occurred. The Defense Department will conduct a full investigation.

The actions of U.S. forces in response to being attacked by Iranian small boats were taken in accordance with our inherent right of self-defense, as recognized in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, and pursuant to my constitutional authority with respect to the conduct of foreign relations and as Commander in Chief. There has been no further hostile action by Iranian forces, and, although U.S. forces will remain prepared to take additional defensive action to protect our units and military personnel, we regard this incident as closed. U.S. forces suffered no casualties or damage.

Since March 1987, I and members of my Administration have provided to Congress letters, reports, briefings, and testimony in connection with developments in the Persian Gulf and the activities of U.S. Armed Forces in the region. In accordance with my desire that Congress continue to be fully informed in this matter, I am providing this report consistent with the War Powers Resolution. I look forward to cooperating with Congress .in pursuit of our mutual, overriding aim of peace and stability in the Persian Gulf region.

Sincerely,

RONALD REAGAN

Source: The American Presidency Project

Image Credit: White House Photographic Office

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1 Comment

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One response to “The United States shoots down civilian airliners: Case of Iran-Air 655

  1. Elsa

    July 03, 1988 flight 655 was shot down by the United States deliberately. 290 innocent people were killed. It was a crime of the United States. The US was not punished for that. USA is a war criminal.

    Like

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