Sub Inquiry Leaves Unanswered Questions ; Critics Say Navy Hasn't Examined Role of Civilians on Board and Is Being Too Lenient on Cmdr. Waddle

By Brad Knickerbocker writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, April 25, 2001 | Go to article overview

Sub Inquiry Leaves Unanswered Questions ; Critics Say Navy Hasn't Examined Role of Civilians on Board and Is Being Too Lenient on Cmdr. Waddle


Brad Knickerbocker writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


As far as the United States Navy is concerned, the case involving one of its submarines and a Japanese fishing trawler is closed. The accident has been investigated, the punishment meted out, the apologies formally given.

But to many military officers and legal experts, the full story behind the collision of the USS Greeneville and the Ehime Maru in February has not been told.

The role of the 16 civilian VIPs on board at the time has not been fully explored, critics say. The "command climate" created by officers higher up the chain of command hasn't been acknowledged as a possible reason for the accident. And the severity of the sub skipper's punishment - especially when compared with the way enlisted men often are treated - raises questions about the equity of the military justice system.

There has been no criticism of the way Cmdr. Scott Waddle, the former commanding officer of the nuclear attack sub Greeneville, has conducted himself since the accident that took nine lives in the waters off Hawaii. He has apologized, accepted responsibility, shown sensitivity to the families of the Japanese victims, and acknowledged that his naval career is over.

"Waddle stood up like a man and took his medicine, and he should have because he's the guy," says Larry Seaquist, a retired Navy captain who commanded four warships, including the USS Iowa. "But he wasn't the only one who should have been standing up there in the dock."

There are other questions that need to be asked, says Captain Seaquist. "How did those [civilians] get on board? Why did he feel it was important to get them back to port quickly, that they were so important that he would take his ship to sea on a day [when] he didn't have any training, that he would take his ship to sea without his whole crew, that they would man the watch stations without all the qualified crew in the right places?"

Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Thomas Fargo noted such failings when he cited Waddle for "dereliction of duty" and "negligently hazarding a vessel," serious violations under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Admiral Fargo issued Waddle a letter of reprimand and removed him from command. He ordered him to forfeit a month's pay over two months, but suspended that punishment for six months, by which time Waddle is expected to retire from the Navy with full benefits and an honorable discharge.

Fargo ordered lesser punishments for several of Waddle's subordinates and recommended that Capt. Robert Brandhuber, the chief of staff of the Pacific Fleet submarine force who was escorting the civilians, be admonished for not speaking up when he believed the submarine was preparing to surface too quickly.

It is the role of the civilians and the senior officers (active duty and retired) who organized the VIP cruise that has raised many questions. …

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