The trial of Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly: What’s at stake?

By Jane Chastain

There is no higher calling than to put on the uniform of the United States military and pledge your very life, if necessary, to the defense of this country here and abroad.

Conversely, our government has no greater responsibility than to support and defend the men and women who accept this assignment and see that not one drop of their blood is spilled or one injury sustained, needlessly.

Injuries do occur as a result of negligence, friendly fire and breakdowns in security. However, when they do occur, they should be dealt with in a proper, timely manner and any breakdown in procedure or security promptly addressed. That is the very least our military men and women should expect from the country they serve. That is the very least the citizens of these United States should expect from those charged with running and regulating our armed services, from the people in the Pentagon who are in charge of daily operations, to our elected representatives in Congress who make the laws governing military policy and exercise oversight, to the president, who is the commander-in-chief.

Watching the trial of Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly versus the Far Eastern Shipping Company – which is primarily owned by the Russian government and claimed “offshore entities” – has been sickening to me as a citizen.

It is chilling that Judicial Watch had to step in to represent Daly in civil court after the Navy abandoned him over an incident that happened on April 4, 1997. When one of our officers, on a photographic surveillance mission of a Russian-flagged ship over the Strait of Juan de Fuca is lased, it is either an unfortunate accident or an act of war. At the very least, it should have been treated as the latter until the facts were thoroughly investigated and fully known.

Under the Clinton administration, this incident was treated as little more than an inconvenience. In his videotaped testimony, Raymond Elliott, director of Corporate Planning for the Office of Naval intelligence, explained it like this: “It was not considered a serious event at the time.”

A highly decorated Naval officer’s eyes were permanently damaged, along with the eyes of his Canadian pilot Capt. Pat Barnes, triggering episodes of excruciating pain in their bodies on a daily basis and it was not considered serious by our government!

Elliott’s testimony and the other evidence presented at this trial indicates that either our military is the gang that can’t shoot straight, or this incident was swept deliberately under the rug to appease the Clinton administration. This is shameful! Even more shameful is that it appears that the current administration either is disinterested or is determined to keep it under the rug.

President Bush has been extremely busy with his war on terrorism. However, this is a matter that not only involves a career serviceman, but a security breach in one of the most sensitive areas on the U.S. West Coast, the area around Puget Sound which is home to the Pacific Fleet’s nuclear-powered, ballistic-missile submarines.

Certainly, Mr. Bush has people in the Pentagon who could have made it their business to do a real investigation of such an important matter, but that never happened. Instead, it appears the Bush appointees simply have chosen to run in place with those who had gone before them.

As a result, it is not simply the Far Eastern Shipping Company that is on trial here, but the Navy, Congress and the president himself.

On one side of the courtroom, you have Daly and his Judicial Watch lawyers supported by the contributions of average Americans. On the other side of the courtroom you have the lawyers for FESCO and representatives of the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Navy.

The question the jury must be asking and, indeed, must be on the lips of every American who is paying attention is this: “Why would our government go to such extremes to cover up this incident?”

The answer is simple: If we admit that it happened, we also must admit that in 1992, we made a mistake in giving Russia access to our commercial ports in Puget Sound and allowing its vessels to rub noses with our nuclear subs as they make their way in and out of the narrow Strait of Juan de Fuca. We must reverse this policy!

Confrontation is hard. It is much easier to turn your back on one loyal sailor than it is to confront the truth and have to break a deal with another government.


Related columns:

The sailor we left behind

Does Pearl Harbor snafu have present-day parallel?

Won’t give up the ship


Related story:

Trial begins in Russian-laser case