Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 27, 2001

'Stonewalling' in sub case a 'fiasco'

 •  Previous stories
 •  A Tribute to the Missing

By John Omicinski
Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy's "stonewalling" in the aftermath of the submarine USS Greeneville's Feb. 9 collision with the Japanese trawler Ehine Maru was a "public relations fiasco" built on the Navy's apparent mistrust of Americans, says a 37-year veteran in one of the service's respected journals.

"We have not looked this bad since Tailhook," retired Capt. John Byron writes in the April edition of Proceedings, published by the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis.

The handling of the Greeneville incident, he writes, has "done much damage to our Navy's bond with the American people." Moreover, he added, the case "hints that we do not know why our Navy exists or how this country works."

Gannett News Service was given an advance copy of Byron's article.

The Navy, he said, could have gone public with more details earlier.

It possessed the Greeneville's deck log and had questioned civilian witnesses who were on a visitor's day aboard the submarine. The Navy had "enough specifics to justify sacking the Greeneville's skipper" Cdr. Scott Waddle within a day, said Byron. That alone meant there were few reasons to dribble out information, which made the service look worse as the days went by, he added.

" ... We lost the game in the early innings for our failure to say as much as we could as soon as we could about what really happened in the minutes leading to the collision," he concluded in the Proceedings article.

During his long career, Byron commanded both submarines and surface ships. He now lives in Brevard County, Fla.

Byron surmised that the Navy stonewalled because "we wanted to protect legal proceedings or we plain do not trust the public." But he added that "the idea that we must be wary of the people we protect is chilling ...

"First, contrary to what Jack Nicholson's movie character says in 'A Few Good Men,' the American public can handle the truth. Americans are patriotic, they are pretty smart, and they live with a lot of technology in their daily lives. Average citizens can grasp explanations about sonars, periscopes, optics, physics, and track geometry, can understand the basics of submarine operation, and have the background necessary to avoid rash judgement.

"Given the facts," Byron said, "the public will reach a fair conclusion."

Second, he wrote, "the citizens have an absolute right to know."

He concluded that the Navy's "ham-handling of this affair says that we do not properly embrace accountability or fully appreciate to whom we are accountable."

The Navy has concluded its court of inquiry into the Greeneville mishap and the three-admiral panel is preparing the report that will decide Waddle's fate.

The Navy's handling of information in mishap cases such as the Greeneville-Ehine Maru collision will be the subject of an April 25 seminar at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. One speaker will be Rear Adm. Stephen Pietropaoli, chief spokesman for the Navy.