Admirals grill sub skipper
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
Cmdr. Scott Waddle took the witness stand yesterday and withstood nearly six hours of blistering criticism and pointed questions about the way he ran the USS Greeneville as the naval court of inquiry drew to a dramatic close.
Cmdr. Scott Waddle, captain of the Greeneville, arrived yesterday with his wife, Jill, and attorney Charles Gittins.
They accused him of knowingly flouting Navy regulations by taking civilian visitors deeper and faster than unclassified limits.
But before the admirals had their turn, the court's counsel first notified Waddle of the accusations against him:
Dereliction of duty.
Improper hazarding of a vessel.
Waddle was the one man everyone had wanted to hear testify since the court of inquiry began 2ý weeks ago. But his appearance still stunned the people who filed into the utilitarian courtroom at Pearl Harbor for what had promised to be an anticlimactic finish of closing arguments yesterday.
Charles Gittins, Waddle's civilian attorney, began the morning by calling his only witness: Waddle.
Waddle admitted that on the day of the crash, he imposed a nearly impossible standard for the Greeneville's young officer of the deck, Lt. j.g. Michael Coen, who along with Waddle and executive officer Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer, is party to the inquiry that could lead to court-martial.
Coen had a reputation as slow and methodical. But Waddle wanted Coen to bring the Greeneville up to periscope depth in five minutes even though Waddle's own standing orders required at least another three minutes to do all of the procedures properly.
Waddle testified that his five-minute deadline set in motion a series of abbreviated maneuvers that led up to the collision.
The captain also admitted that he has driven civilians beyond the unclassified 800-foot depth and 25-knot speed limits to show "our distinguished visitors what our submarines, these wonderful pieces of engineering, can do."
On the day of the crash, Waddle even ordered his torpedo man to collect water samples and put them in commemorative bottles for the visitors.
Neither Waddle nor the admirals would state the exact depth the Greeneville reached, but Waddle said "there's something special about that number."
The president of the court, Vice Adm. John Nathman, was rarely satisfied with Waddle's testimony.
"You can choose that you can violate guidelines on classified material because you feel it's important to show the DVs (distinguished visitors) ... the full envelope of a U.S. submarine?" Nathman asked sarcastically. "Another take would be that you're just giving them the double-E ride, the E ride, at Disneyland on a submarine."
Nathman seemed particularly agitated that the visitors might display their Greeneville souvenirs back home and disclose the classified information they saw.
"Then, when they have it on their coffee table and other friends come over from who knows where ... they'll tell people about the test depth capability of U.S. submarines," Nathman said. "You don't feel you should safeguard that information, captain?"
Waddle, wearing round, gold-framed glasses, studiously took notes of the admirals' questions and methodically went through his responses.
He blamed himself for many of the problems that had been chronicled aboard the Greeneville during the 12 days of testimony. But he also said his crew let him down in many instances.
A giant blow-up of the Greeneville's "watch bill" for Feb. 9, signed by Waddle, showed that nine of the 13 sailors were not at their watches.
That was unusual, Waddle said. But the sailors were really just helping each other by covering each other's watches, he said.
It might even have been an indication of "back up," Waddle said, which has become a key point during the court of inquiry.
"You call it back up," Nathman said. "I call it a scheduling oversight. ... If you have that much ad hoc watch standing on your ship, what does it say about discipline?"
Later, Waddle allowed: "Does that reflect poorly on me as a commanding officer? Sir, you bet that does. ... My crew didn't follow my order... and they didn't follow my standard. I was let down."
Waddle said he was surprised to learn that an unqualified, unsupervised sonar operator was on duty the day of the crash.
And he was even more shocked by testimony from his crew that it had been common practice on the Greeneville for years.
"I was surprised it took two years and a horrible accident to raise that to my attention," Waddle said.
Nathman answered back: "Well captain, it was on your boat. ... It was clear your sonar folks knew about it. It was clear your chief of the boat knew about it."
Rear Adm. David Stone said the unqualified sonar man "gets to the themes we've heard on Greeneville over the last 12 days. ... back up, safety, efficiency."
Rear Adm. Sullivan, a submariner, said "I've had your job, and I understand what you see on a daily basis. The fact that you can sit there and tell me that you know somebody is not fully qualified and it doesn't register on your radar. ... I'm really having a hard time with that."
Waddle began his testimony by reading a statement in which he apologized to the families of the nine victims aboard the Ehime Maru.
He took "full responsibility and accountability for the actions of the crew of the USS Greeneville on 9 February 2001."
The accident has "substantial international and diplomatic implications," Waddle said. "... I am also aware and understand the real potential that those political and diplomatic pressures might exert on the military justice system where those decisions are made at very senior levels."
Now that the testimony phase is over, the admirals begin their deliberations and will prepare a report within the next three weeks. The report goes to Adm. Thomas Fargo, the Pacific Fleet's commander, who convened the court of inquiry.
Fargo will then take an expected 30 days to decide what happens next to the three officers.
The admirals heard testimony from 33 witnesses, many of whom took the court inside the Greeneville's control room for the six hours it set sail with 16 civilian passengers on board.
Crewmen talked about a malfunctioning video display unit that would have helped identify the Ehime Maru. They said the control room was crammed with visitors, who did not hamper shipboard operations.
One-third of the crew stayed on shore for training; an unqualified and unsupervised sonar operator stood watch despite Navy regulations that he be supervised; a fire control technician who tracked the Ehime Maru inexplicably did not speak out before the collision.
And the chief of staff of the Pacific Fleet's submarine force who was escorting the civilians and visiting his son-in-law aboard the Greeneville had his own concerns about the pace of operations.
But he, too, said nothing.
Nathman closed the court's proceedings exactly as he began them March 5:
"The tragic consequences of this collision have impacted the lives of both Japanese and American families," he said. "While this inquiry cannot change what has happened, a thorough understanding of what occurred on 9 February, 2001, can serve to prevent a similar tragedy."
Correction: The commemorative bottles of seawater the crew of the USS Greeneville gave to its civilian guests Feb. 9 did not note the depth at which the water had been collected. A previous version of this story included incorrect information.