Colleagues say Waddle showed honor, arrogance
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|||Transcript of Cmdr. Scott Waddle's testimony|
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By Susan Roth
Advertiser Staff Writer
In the end, Cmdr. Scott Waddle's sense of duty demanded that he take the witness stand at the court of inquiry investigating the fatal accident caused by his ship, fellow Navy officials said yesterday.
Waddle, the captain of the USS Greeneville, initially sought an immunity deal on the advice of his attorney, refusing to testify unless his words could not be used against him. On Monday, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet rejected his request, an event that left Waddle looking ashen.
But yesterday, the last public day of the inquiry, Waddle broke with his attorney, taking the stand and exposing himself to a blistering cross-examination from the three admirals sitting as members of the court.
Attorneys attending the proceedings at Pearl Harbor said they thought his mea culpa strategy backfired.
They said Waddle did not seem prepared for the tough questions he faced about his actions Feb. 9, when the Greeneville rammed a Japanese fishery training vessel, sinking it and killing nine people. They also said his testimony was merely a public relations ploy aimed at the Japanese media.
Tradition of honor
But former and current Navy officials said Waddle was following a tradition of honor and duty inculcated in him from his first day at the Naval Academy. Although they acknowledged the possibility that his testimony could hurt his legal case, they also believed it was favorable that he finally took full responsibility for his actions.
Jay Fidell, a former Coast Guard attorney and court of inquiry investigator who has followed the trial, said he thought Waddle miscalculated the intense level of cross-examination he faced and wound up looking worse after yesterday's session.
"What got him in trouble the first time was, he was showboating and he sank a ship," Fidell said. "What got him in trouble today was, he was showboating. And he sank his own ship. He is leaving the Navy."
Waddle was arrogant with the admirals and inconsistent with his answers, dodging and weaving around questions, Fidell said, referring to the skipper's imperious style, which toned down considerably in the afternoon. Waddle admitted to his command accountability, but he also blamed some mistakes on his crew.
"I don't think the Navy likes that," Fidell said.
It would have been worse for Waddle to continue to refuse to testify, contended John Jenkins, senior associate dean of George Washington University Law School, a retired rear admiral and former judge advocate general of the Navy.
"If he didn't say anything, the court could have used that against him," Jenkins said. "The Navy expects a commanding officer to explain himself in a situation like this. The tradition clearly is that the commanding officer is responsible for everything that happens aboard his ship, even if he is sound asleep. It's not a legal responsibility, but a tradition in the service."
The fact that Waddle ultimately "stood up like a commanding officer should would be a plus for him," Jenkins said. "But if he says something incriminating, that could be a minus."
Cross-exam was tough
The line of questioning by the admirals, which attacked Waddle's overall management of the ship, "does suggest that putting him on the stand may not have been the best idea," Jenkins noted, adding that both Waddle and his legal team should have expected the tough cross-examination.
Retired submariner Capt. John Peters, who has been watching the proceedings and has backed Waddle from the beginning, said he believed Waddle made the right decision and that the admirals would react favorably to his decision to come forward.
"This shows what he was thinking and why he did what he did," Peters said. "I think he's helping his case. He won't get a court-martial."
But former submariner Lt. Michael Nahoopii wasn't so sure.
"The question for Cmdr. Waddle is, will they file criminal charges or not?" he said. "That's still hanging over his head. How will he disclose information and not worry about incriminating himself? It must be very difficult for him."
Nahoopii, who graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis a few years after Waddle, said an education in the Navy's honor system is an important part of the academy curriculum.
"We used to have honor lectures every week where we would discuss situations out in the fleet just like this one and what is the honorable thing to do," Nahoopii said. "It is ingrained in you from Day One at the academy that if you're responsible, you stand up and take responsibility, admit what happened and move on. Captains are the ultimate authority, and with the privilege of authority goes the burden of responsibility."
Neither Nahoopii nor Jenkins believed Waddle's initial request for testimonial immunity would work against him, though.
"That's the way we are today," Nahoopii said, referring to the legal climate. "Maybe 10 years ago, you would've just said, 'This is what happened, and I'm sorry.' But when they started filing criminal charges, you started thinking with a lawyer present. Society has become so litigious about things now."
The admirals presiding over the inquiry are "pretty sophisticated people," Jenkins said. "They would recognize a lawyer's ploy. I do not think they would hold it against him."
As to whether Waddle's testimony ultimately will harm his case, Jenkins and other Navy legal experts said it will be just one of many factors the court and the Pacific Fleet commander, Adm. Thomas Fargo, will weigh when deciding the next step for Waddle.
But they said they expect the court will recommend further disciplinary action.