In the aftermath of his son's death in a 1994 friendly fire incident over Iraq, Robert McKenna became so disgusted with the Pentagon's handling of the case that he ended his 44-year Army career.
Now the Columbus, Ga., man is asking Congress for justice for his son, Capt. Patrick McKenna, and 14 other Americans who died when two Air Force F-15s shot down two Army Black Hawk helicopters flying a mission for the United Nations.McKenna told a House judiciary panel Thursday that families of those 15 Americans deserve the same $100,000 payments the government made to families of each of the 11 foreign nationals killed in the same April 14, 1994, incident.
"Our request for your support is not about money. It's about equity," he said.
"Patrick's death has created a lasting ripple of grief and sorrow in our lives," McKenna said. "This feeling of loss is compounded by the refusal of the Defense Department to treat our loss with the same humanitarian concern displayed for the families of the foreign nationals."
Former Defense Secretary William Perry authorized the $100,000 payments as a humanitarian gesture to the families of the non-American victims. But Pentagon officials have said they are barred by law from making similar payments to Americans killed or injured during armed conflict.
Rep. Mac Collins, R-Ga., has introduced private relief legislation that would permit $100,000 payments to families of the American victims. The Defense Department has opposed it on the ground that it would create a dangerous precedent for future claims.
Collins told the Judiciary subcommittee on immigration and claims that it is "unconscionable" for the government to ignore American victims while compensating foreigners.
"It is time for us to set our priorities straight," he said.
The 1994 accident occurred when the F-15 pilots, on a routine mission enforcing a U.N. "no-fly" zone over northern Iraq, mistook the Army helicopters for Iraqi Hind aircraft. Each fighter pilot shot down one chopper, and nobody survived aboard either aircraft.
The General Accounting Office found that 130 separate mistakes by U.S. personnel contributed to the accident. Seven officers, including the F-15 pilots, received administrative punishments after an investigation, but no one was fired. An Air Force officer was court-martialed on a criminal offense and was acquitted.