CALGARY – A military prosecutor says a Calgary reservist turned a blind eye to safety standards and abdicated his duty as a leader during a training exercise in Afghanistan that saw one soldier killed and four others wounded.
“Command has to mean something,” argued military prosecutor Maj. Tony Tamburro during final arguments at the court martial of Maj. Darryl Watts. “It’s not about wearing stripes or going to the officers club. It means being responsible to those under your command.
“It was his duty to stop the range. He followed his troops to an area of danger. He should have led his troops to an area of safety.”
Watts, 44, faces six charges, including manslaughter, unlawfully causing bodily harm, breach of duty and negligent performance of duty in the Feb. 12, 2010 accident on a training range four kilometres north of Kandahar city.
Cpl. Josh Baker, 24, died when a Claymore anti-personnel mine, packed with 700 steel balls, peppered a platoon of Canadian troops working on the range.
Baker was struck four times and one of the steel balls penetrated his chest. Four other soldiers were seriously injured.
While the prosecution argued that Watts was the leader that day and could have prevented the accident, the defence argued that punishing Watts criminally would be wrong.
“This court martial is not an opportunity to right past wrongs. Nothing will account for the tragic loss of Cpl. Baker. This court martial is a court of law,” said lawyer Balfour Der.
“Darryl Watts is a man of character. He’s the type of man who should be leading troops.
“This accident has already cost us one good soldier. Don’t make it two.”
The defence argued Watts wasn’t trained on the use of the C19 Claymore. He was the platoon commander, but he handed over responsibility for safety on the range to his second-in-command, Warrant Officer Paul Ravensdale, who was an expert on the weapon.
Watts’s commanding officer, Maj. Chris Lunney, was aware of his lack of training and had vouched for Ravensdale’s qualifications, the defence said.
Der noted there were five other men on the range, including Lunney, who had superior knowledge of the C19.
“Not one of them raised a single word about safety.”
Not good enough, said the prosecution.
“You don’t just show up,” Tamburro argued. “You are in command. You can appoint range staff, but accountability stays with command.
“If a range goes well, it is listed as an accomplishment. When a range goes horribly, horribly wrong, it’s all the warrant officer’s fault.”
The platoon, which was stationed at Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar city, usually visited the Kan Kala firing range about once a month.
The day of the accident it was divided into four training sections.
The first two tests of the anti-personnel mine went off without a hitch. But when the second firing occurred the ball bearings somehow fired backwards, hitting Baker and four others.
Videos of the accident show several soldiers, including Watts, standing around watching the test. They were not inside armoured vehicles or standing behind them under cover, as set out in Canadian Forces safety guidelines.
The prosecution said all evidence of what caused the Claymore to malfunction was destroyed in the blast, but if the rules had been enforced by Watts no one would have died or been injured.
Tamburro said the safety of Canadian soldiers must be guaranteed, especially when it comes to training exercises.
“If the ranges aren’t safe, who the hell will want to go out to a range,” he said. “Commanders need to be responsible.”
But Der said his client is not criminally responsible.
“If you don’t train him, if you don’t tell him he’s in charge, you don’t get to charge him with criminal charges after the fact,” said Der.
“It’s hard to picture anything more unfair.”
The military judge overseeing the court martial, Cmdr. Peter Lamont, said he needed a couple of days to prepare and would charge the jury on Saturday.