Of all the statements made last week in the wake of a Marine Corps report blaming the crew of a jet for killing 20 people in an Italian cable car, one was particularly important.
U.S. Ambassador Thomas M. Foglietta, after reverently viewing the crash site and bowing in silent prayer, apologized to the Italians on behalf of the United States and said, "Our government will be working with yours to ensure that this never happens again." The fulfillment of that promise, of course, will require a credible inquiry - particularly if the United States insists on taking jurisdiction of the case, a right it retains under NATO agreements.This sordid chapter in U.S. military history demands swift justice and credible assurances to the people of Italy. The United States cannot afford to jeopardize the friendship of an important ally in a region where volatility remains a constant possibility. So far, the military has done well in its efforts to satisfy angry Italians. But it must continue to show good faith.
How outraged are Italians because of the Feb. 3 incident? Last week, someone murdered an attorney who was defending one of the Marines linked to the accident. Whether the bloody beating with a hammer was directly related to the incident is not known. But this much is known: Many Italians feel betrayed by their longtime ally and are hoping for justice.
The report, which calls for a pretrial inquiry into the possibility of manslaughter of negligent homicide charges, was released quickly and contains strong, blunt language. It cuts right to the point. The pilot and crew of the Marine EA-6B Prowler, a surveillance jet, were flying aggressively, much lower than authorized and at speeds that far exceeded the ability to react quickly.
The Italian government had limited flights to a minimum of 2,000 feet in that region. However, the Marine crew planned its flight for 1,000 feet, then dipped to below 300 feet at one point while flying 550 nautical miles per hour. This wasn't due to any malfunctions. The plane was in good working order, the report notes. It severed the cord that held the gondola despite the cable having been marked clearly on maps.
It was an act of tragic neglect that, as the ambassador said, must never be repeated.