NATO showed videos of the bombing of a passenger train on a bridge in Yugoslavia last spring at three times the normal speed, bolstering the impression that the fatal attack was unavoidable, a newspaper reported Thursday.
The two videos were made from cameras in the heads of guided missiles as they bore down on the railway bridge near the Serb town of Grdelicka on April 12, the Frankfurter Rundschau said.
It was one of the worst accidents of the war in Kosovo -- an American plane bombed a bridge at exactly the moment a passenger train crossed over it. When NATO commander Wes Clark replayed the cockpit video, it all happened so fast. It didn't seem the pilot had time to do anything about it.
"Look very intently at the aim point, concentrate right there, and you can see how, if you were focused right on your job as a pilot, suddenly that train appeared. It was really unfortunate," Clark explained.
Now, it turns out the tape was played at nearly three times normal speed, reports CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin. The effect was to bolster Clark's contention that the pilot didn't have time. The video had been compressed when it was transferred from the cockpit to a computer, and in the rush to counter Serb claims NATO was wantonly killing civilians, officials neglected to slow it down before showing it.
"This was not speeded up on purpose," said Pentagon spokesman P.J. Crowley. "There is a normal acceleration that goes on through this process of converting the gun camera footage."
Even after NATO realized its error, it kept running the fast forward version on its web site. And officials continue to argue there is no need to correct the record
"This in no way changes the basic facts that they were not able to divert the missile before the train came into their field of vision," Crowley said.
Lt. Col. Mike Philips, a spokesman for NATO's military headquarters in southern Belgium, said NATO became aware of the problem with the videos for the first time in October and started a detailed check.
"At that time we researched the allegation of the video being too fast and discovered it was correct," he said. "This was due to a technical error in the software of the computer system used by intelligence analysts."
After the mistake was discovered, the Air Force saw "no reason" to make it public, the unidentified spokesman for U.S. Air Force Europe told the Rundschau.
"The pilot acted in good faith and was unable to divert his weapon when the train appeared on his video screen," Philips said.
Critics have asked a U.N. war crimes tribunal to investigate the bridge bombing and to prosecute the pilot.
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