CNN AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN
Interview with Dave Beck, Scott Silliman
Aired December 23, 2002 - 07:15 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The family of a soldier killed in a firefight in Afghanistan over the weekend is asking for privacy today. Sergeant Steven Checo became the 17th American killed in combat since the war on terror began.
And two American pilots are about to face a military court in connection with a deadly incident of friendly fire in Afghanistan. But the pilots claim that amphetamines supplied by the military played a role in the tragedy. Four Canadian soldiers were killed last April in Afghanistan, eight others were wounded. And the military says the pilots and not the pills are to blame.
Colonel Dave Beck, a retired Marine, represents one of the defendants, Major William Umbach. He joins us now from Atlanta.
Good morning, sir -- thanks for being with us.
DAVE BECK, ATTORNEY FOR MAJOR WILLIAM UMBACH: Good morning, Paula. Thank you for having me.
ZAHN: How do you plan to counter the military's argument that the go pills are not what caused this tragedy?
BECK: Well, you can't focus on just one cause of the tragedy. The tragedy was caused by a number of contributing factors. The go pills are one of those factors that needs to be investigated.
We counter it by saying they're not approved by the FDA for such use. They haven't been scientifically studied or proved. Imminent doctors around the world, including Dr. DuPonte (ph), say you can't rule out that that was a factor. And the manufacturers of these go pills, Paula, which are dexamphetamines, all warned against using these pills and then engaging in potentially hazardous activity, operating heavy equipment, because the manufacturers warned they can impair judgment, perception and reaction time.
ZAHN: So, Colonel, why did the pilot you're representing take the amphetamines?
BECK: The Air Force before they went over -- two days before they went over gave them a so-called test. They told them to go home, take the pill and report any adverse effects that they had. When they got over it, they had to sign what were called informed consents to take the pills. They were told that to go on these long missions -- the missions were 10 hours, missions that nobody ever dreamed of flying in a single-seat tactical jet. And they were told that they were to take them as needed, because these missions were so incredibly long.
And they were also told that if they did not sign the consent forms, they could be deemed unfit to fly with obvious ramifications on their career and the war effort.
ZAHN: So, you're basically saying...
BECK: And the credit...
ZAHN: ... your client, you're accusing the Air Force of forcing him to take these amphetamines, and you have proof of that.
BECK: Absolutely. Look at the informed consent forms, and that's not some defense tactic. It's in the informed consent form, the things that I just said.
Also absent from that informed consent form is warnings of the side effects that the manufacturers say the reasons that you don't use the pills when engaging in dangerous activity. That's why truck drivers on the highways are arrested and prosecuted for using these Schedule II drugs.
ZAHN: Well, what impact has Major Umbach said the amphetamines had on his ability to fly?
BECK: The problem is, Paula, with drugs such as these and the reason that they are Schedule II and the reason that these warnings are on them is that you don't know the effect that they have on perception and judgment. As Dr. DuPonte (ph) has said, you don't know and that's why you don't use them, but you can't rule it out.
But the other factors that are -- and this is just one of them -- that the most significant contributing factor that has been ignored, downplayed or covered up by the Air Force board, the coalition board, is that incredibly when we're sending pilots out on a 10-hour mission in hostile territory with enemy below, we're allowing a live fire training exercise to be conducted at night by friendly forces in an area where pilots are going to be flying combat missions, and we don't tell the pilots. That information was not made known.
And one month before this happened there was a symposium, because squadron commanders, aviation commanders, were concerned that accidents were going to happen, because there was not a sufficient flow of information from the ground to the intelligence sources to the pilots. And incredibly, nobody from the Air Force command center bothered to come to that symposium where these very kinds of things were discussed.
ZAHN: Sir, let me quickly put up on the screen a statement that the Air Force gave us in relationship to this case. They said the program is strictly voluntary, pilots are not forced to take the medication, amphetamine dosage is 10 milligrams, pilots are checked for medication reaction prior to actual flights, and that amphetamines are used as a last resort.
Unfortunately, we just have 10 seconds for you to react to that, and we've got to move along.
BECK: In 10 seconds. That is not correct. Pilots -- the information I gave you on the informed consent forms is accurate. They had no choice but to take them. And the Air Force didn't study the effects. They never have.
ZAHN: Lieutenant Colonel Dave Beck, we really appreciate your dropping by. Thanks so much for your time this morning.
So could such a defense be accepted in military court?
Professor Scott Silliman, an expert on military justice at Duke University Law School, joins us now from Durham, North Carolina. Welcome to you as well sir.
You just heard a little bit of what Lieutenant Dave Beck (ph) had to argue. He said he has the informed consent forms, and that these pilots were ordered to take amphetamines. How is that going to play in military court?
SCOTT SILLIMAN, PROFESSOR, DUKE UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: Well, Paula, first of all, when you look a little further in the same form that Dave Beck referred to, you will also see the statement in very bold print that use of these particular pills is strictly voluntary. So that is going to be a matter that is going to have to be brought out in what is called the Article 32 investigation that is going to start on the 13th of January.
And I need to reiterate that we are not at a trial yet. The decision to go to trial on either one of these crew members has not been made. The purpose of the proceeding, which will start on the 13 of January is to put together a record and to recommend to the convening authority, General Carlson (ph) at 8th Air Force, whether a trial should, in fact, pursue on the facts as developed in this investigation. So we are fairly early in the procedure right now.
ZAHN: But, Mr. Silliman, let me ask you this, because Lieutenant Beck made it clear that not only did the pilots feel pressure to sign these informed consent forms, they were sort of led to believe that their military career would be all but over if they didn't agree to take these amphetamines, knowing that they were going to be out there on a 10 hour mission.
SILLIMAN: Well, I am not sure that I agree with that, that their military career is going to be over. This whole question of the use of amphetamines by military pilots in combat is something to be developed. I think the Air Force has made a very clear statement. It is defending the use of them, and as everything I have learned about these pills is they are to be used as a last resort.
Remember, Paula, the operative facts that are being looked at in this investigation right not are the fact that these two pilots were told to hold and to stand by, and to not deploy ordinance.
Major Schmidt (ph) did exactly that. Further, the rules of engagement that were operative in that particular mission called for them to climb away, to accelerate and climb away from a AAA threat. They did just the opposite. So, those are the facts. The use of the pills is something the defense wants to, obviously, have considered by General Carlson (ph), and that will happen on the 13th of January.
ZAHN: Don't you acknowledge, sir, that that could have clouded their judgment?
SILLIMAN: Well, I think that is to be developed. I think Dave Beck acknowledged that we don't know what the effect is, and I'm sure that other pilots on very long missions have used these pills and have very successfully completed the missions. So the effect of very low dosage of amphetamines on combat pilots to ward off fatigue as a last resort is something that needs to be developed in the investigation, and a determination made as far as whether the facts still merit going to trial.
ZAHN: We appreciate your insights this morning, love to have you come back as we track this case, and see where it goes after you have talked about some of these preliminary hearings coming up. Have a good holiday, Scott. Thanks again for your time.
SILLIMAN: Thanks, Paula.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com.