Thirty years ago, on July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes, a guided-missile cruiser sailingin the Iranian territorial waters fired two missiles downing Iran Air Flight 655 en route from Tehran to Dubai. A total of 290 people, including 66 children, were killed. Washington called this terrorist attack – and there is no other word to describe such barbarous actions of the U.S. military – "a tragic and regrettable accident."
USS Vincennes was part of U.S. naval group that protected trade vessels and oil tankers from the Iranian Navy. The United States wishing to support Iraq in the protracted eight-year military conflict between Iran and Iraq sent its ships to the Persian Gulf areain mid-1988. The Vincennes was among them.
According to the U.S. governmental report, the Vincennes misidentified the Airbus for an attacking F-14 Tomcat of the Iranian Air Force. Trying to justify themselves the crew said that the airliner did not respond to multiple requests to change the flight line. The U.S. side preferred to say nothing about the Vincennes trying to establish communication with Flight 655 - on military radio frequencies that the latter did not use.
Then U.S. President Ronald Reagan called the accident "our inherent right of self-defense" and Vice President George Bush Sr. said, "I will never apologize for the United States - I don't care what the facts are..."
In general, the U.S. administration considered the Flight 655 downing as a military incident and said that the crew of the USS Vincennes acted in accordance with the circumstances. None of the Vincennes crewmembers was held liable or was punished for the downed passenger airplane. Moreover, the cruiser's crewmembers were distinguished for the proper and accurate accomplishment of the combat mission, while its captain William Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit that is bestowed for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements. It looks like the Pentagon considered the downing of the passenger airplane and killing of 290 absolutely innocent people as exceptional merit of Capt. Rogers.
Although 30 years have passed, the U.S. still does not recognize any violations by the USS Vincennes crew, citing a complicated military situation in the Persian Gulf, when the U.S. and Iran we almost on the brink of war...
Yes, the White House then expressed condolences over the downed Flight 655. But that was all. Later, in 1996, the U.S. agreed to pay a $62-million compensation to the families of those killed in exchange to Iran's revoking its lawsuit against the U.S. from the UN International Court of Justice. Washington definitely considered the compensation to be ex gratia, as it did not accept the responsibility for the tragedy.
The Iranian side believes that even if there had been an identification error, which Tehran doubts, the downing of a passenger airplane in neutral waters is nothing else but an international crime.
However, as they say, the one who has more rightsis ‘more right’. In this case this can easily be applied to the U.S.
Let's recall the downing of the Korean Air Lines Flight 007 by the USSR. On September 1, 1983, the Boeing 747 flying from New York to Seoul via Anchorage went off the course by more than 500 kilometers and violated the USSR border twice, exactly where Soviet military facilities were located. Several jets were scrambled to intercept the 747, and one of the jets fired warning shots. The 747 did not react, and the Russian military decided to down the airplane mistaking it for a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft. The airplane fell off the Sakhalin coast. All 269 people onboard died.
U.S. President Ronald Reagan then said that the incident was "crime against humanity [that] must never be forgotten" and labeled the Soviet Union as "the Evil Empire". Five years after, commenting on the Iran Air tragedy Reagan explained the actions of the Vincennes "inherent right of self-defense" and shifted responsibility to Iran. What is it if not dual standards on behalf of Washington?
Especially, keeping in mind that no real accusations against the USSR were made and no sanctions were introduced. Yes, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration closed the Airway R-20 for civil aircraft, but re-opened it one month later under the pressure from airlines that had lost one of the shortest airways between Alaska and Eastern Asia.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) conducted two investigations – one immediately after the air crash and the other 10 years later when Russia gave copies of all records from the flight records to ICAO. The international commission concluded that the incompetence and negligence of the Korean crew that violated the Soviet airspace is to be blamed for the tragedy.
So, even such a distinguished international organization as ICAO did not recognize Russia's guilt in downing the Korean airliner in September 1983. And statements that Reagan made at that time can be called nothing but another manifestation of anti-Soviet hysteria and groundless accusations against Moscow...
As to the downed Flight 655 in July 1988, experts believe that the U.S. deliberately did it to show Iran that it would have downed any aircraft, even civil, if it had considered them as a threat to its sea vessels. Naturally, this was one of the ways Washington's applying pressure on Tehran.
Noteworthy, the U.S. has yet to recognize its guilt for the Iran Air disaster and have yet to apologize for it. It seems that "the Goof Empire," which rephrasing Reagan's words the U.S. is, bears no responsibility for such barbaric actions.
Nine months after the Flight 655 tragedy an improvised explosive device blew up a car of USS Vincennes captain Rogers. Rogers's wife who was driving it, escaped uninjured. Investigators thought it could be a revenge for the Flight 655 downing, but further inquiry yielded no results and the case was never solved.