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Airline atrocities? Let’s talk about Iran Air 655

Iran Air Flight 655 was shot down, in an accident of war, by US navy personnel more highly-trained, and in more inexcusable circumstances than the Ukrainian rebels who downed MH17.

The Federal Police must be earning a heap of overtime these days. Not so many weeks back, Abbott had a bunch of them rushed to Christmas Island in anticipation of 157 pathetic Tamil asylum seekers being, perhaps, landed there. In the event, Scott Morrison decided to incarcerate the asylum seekers aboard a customs vessel headed for Sri Lanka, or maybe India, a dumb and nasty plan aborted by the likelihood of defeat in the High Court, and the asylum seekers are now on the Australian mainland, awaiting developments.

Ah well, I guess rushing the Feds, pointlessly, to Christmas Island, was in the wash-up a benign and unintended economic stimulus to the airline industry, and the cops could use the OT.

The same can’t be said of Abbott’s preposterously bellicose response to the MH17 shoot-down. With a great beating of drums, the Feds get rushed to Ukraine. Precisely what role our cops – pathetically armed with pistols – and a protection detail of ADF personnel with rifles – might usefully play there, other than to promote Abbott’s career, is difficult to imagine.

Even more preposterously, some commentators – who resembles nothing so much as those monkeys that live by picking through elephant dung to find an edible seed or two – are arguing that Abbott and Bishop have acted in a world-class, statesman-like, manner.

The MH17 crash site is surrounded by a raging civil war that isn’t going to go away – in fact, it’s more likely to escalate. Our guys and girls will likely never get closer to it than Kiev. By now, virtually all the bodies that could be found will have been found. There will already be any number of forensic pathologists on hand to pronounce that the victims died violently. The black box has been handed over. It will likely reveal nothing more than that one moment the crew were chatting about what might have happened to MH370 and the next moment somebody said “Shi …” and all systems stopped functioning.

This time, there is no great mystery to be investigated. This is an accident of war for Christ’s sake. Horrible tragedies happen to civilians in wars and this time, Australians are unfortunately among the dead. Malaysian Airlines, in order to save fuel, irresponsibly overflew a war zone where several Ukrainian military aircraft had been shot down in preceding weeks. On the ground, a rebel soldier – probably ill-trained – sitting at the controls of a SAM missile, mistakenly decided MH17 was a Ukrainian military intruder and pushed the button. There is no controversy about that.

So let’s talk about the last time the yanks shot down a civilian airliner. Let’s talk about Iran Air flight 655.

On 3 July 1988, the US Navy’s high-tech guider missile cruiser Vincennes, operating illegally in Iranian territorial waters, shot down IR655, an Airbus A300, killing all 290 souls aboard. This followed a risible incident between an Iranian patrol boat and a US Navy helicopter in which there were no casualties.

IR655 was flying at about 14,000 feet on a scheduled flight from Bandar Abbas in Iran to Dubai. The airliner was transmitting the correct civilian identification code and maintaining radio contact – in English – with the appropriate air traffic control facilities. The highly-trained US Navy fire control personnel lied, outrageously claiming that the airliner’s transponder had been transmitting in military mode, a claim that was easily disproved.

George Bush the Elder, at the time vice president  in Ronald Regan’s administration, defended the US at the United Nations by arguing that the attack had been a wartime incident and that the crew of the Vincennes had acted “appropriately” in the situation, which was, of course, a lie, and George W. Bush knew it, as he spoke. The Russians are no more likely to give up their missile operators to international “justice” now than the yanks were willing to give up their sailors back then.

The US government never formally apologised to Iran or admitted legal liability. But eight years after the shoot-down, the US and Iran reached a settlement at the International Court of Justice which included the statement “…the United States recognized the aerial incident of 3 July 1988 as a terrible human tragedy and expressed deep regret over the loss of lives caused by the incident…”. As part of the settlement, the United States agreed to pay on an ex gratia basis US$61.8 million, amounting to $213,000 per passenger, in compensation to the families of the Iranian victims.

Iran Air still uses flight number IR655 on the Tehran–Dubai route as a memorial.