SNOWE RECEIVES ARMY IG REPORT ON DEATH OF CHRISTOPHER COFFIN; PRESSES GENERAL MEYERS, HEAD OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF, TO GET ANSWERS
Contact: Antonia Ferrier/ (202) 224-5344
Monday, August 16, 2004
WASHINGTON, D.C. – After receiving the final 30-page Army Inspector General report today on the circumstances surrounding the death of 1st Sergeant Christopher Coffin in Iraq over a year ago, U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) today said she believes that outstanding questions remain unresolved in determining how Christopher Coffin died.
“Over a year after his death in Iraq, I was hopeful that the Army would once and for all adequately explain the circumstances surrounding the death of Christopher Coffin. “But today, I have been presented with a report from the Army Inspector General that does not conclusively answer these two critical questions: how and what were the circumstances surrounding Sergeant Coffin’s death,” said Snowe. “A full year and several Army investigations later, we are no further ahead than we were during the weekend of the 4th of July, 2003 when my staff and I worked throughout the weekend getting Betsy Coffin the results of the Army’s preliminary accident scene investigations. I remain committed to uncovering the truth for the memory of Sergeant Coffin and the ultimate sacrifice he made for his nation and his entire family. I will not rest until I am satisfied that we have achieved that goal. ”
Concerned that other military families may also have gone through the difficult process of learning the truth of their loved ones deaths, Snowe today pressed General Richard Meyers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Peter Schoomaker, the Army Chief of Staff, to fully examine the circumstances of Sergeant Coffin’s death.
“I respectfully request that your offices review this matter to determine if in fact the Army IG’s investigation into the First Sergeant’s death was thorough, and whether they interviewed all of the witnesses and gave their testimony equal weight. More importantly, I also ask that you review this case so that no other spouse, parent or child will have to endure what Mrs. Coffin has as she has pursued a certain answer to the circumstances of her husband’s death,” Snowe wrote in a letter today to Generals Meyers and Schoomaker.
Snowe sent the entire report to Christopher Coffin’s family this evening. This past Thursday, Snowe received a summary of the IG report examining Sergeant Coffin’s death. Snowe pressed the Army to open an investigation into his death on July 15, 2003. Later, on October 30, 2003, requested an official investigation by the Army’s Office of the Inspector General - this is the report Snowe received today.
Since first speaking to Betsy Coffin to offer her condolences on July 2, 2003, Senator Snowe and her staff have been in weekly contact with her and her family, working to exhaust all of the channels within the Army to determine the facts surrounding Chris’s tragic death.
Earlier this month, Senator Snowe met with Betsy while in Maine for more than an hour to further explore Betsy’s concerns and plan for next steps should the Army’s long delayed report result in no new answers to the outstanding questions. Following this meeting, Snowe called Acting Secretary Brownlee again to seek his assurances that the report would be a full and thorough accounting of the questions raised by Betsy throughout the past 13 months and received a commitment that resulted in the IG summary and the final investigatory report being released today.
The letter to Generals Meyers and Schoomaker is below:
Dear General Myers and General Schoomaker,
I am writing to call your attention to the experience of Mrs. Betsy Coffin, widow of First Sergeant Christopher Coffin, formerly a member of the 352nd Civil Affairs Command, who was killed in Iraq on July 1, 2003.
Over the past 13 months, I have witnessed Mrs. Coffin’s excruciating effort to learn the full circumstances of her husband’s death. Today I received the report completed by the Department of the Army’s Office of the Inspector General, a report that I requested last September in order to seek answers to a number unresolved questions into the death of the First Sergeant. Unfortunately, the report leaves many of these questions unanswered.
Tragically, the original confusion about the manner in which the First Sergeant died was created by the military, with Central Command’s Headquarters releasing a news report on July 2, 2003 (release number 03-07-05) that “a U.S. Army 352nd Civil Affairs Command soldier died of wounds received on July 1, when his convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device in Baghdad. The soldier had been transported to the 28th Combat Support Hospital where he received treatment but died despite efforts to save him.” First Sergeant Coffin was the only solider of the 352nd to die that day, and thus the family was led at those most devastating initial moments to believe that their loved one died as a result of a hostile action. However, the DoD’s official announcement (479-03) released on July 2, 2003 stated that, “1st Sgt. Christopher D. Coffin died on July 1 on Highway 8 in Iraq. Coffin’s vehicle ran into a ditch while trying to avoid a civilian vehicle.” One can see that there has been much misinformation given to the family about the circumstances of Chris’ death from the very onset.
Now that the Army IG’s report is done, many questions remain. These include:
• The Army IG’s report noted that “one witness reported hearing the distinct sound of an AK-47 assault rifle being fired at the scene of the accident. There was no evidence to support the media claims that the convoy was attacked by hostile fire before, during or after the accident.” This raises the question whether or not the witness’ account of hearing the discharge of an AK-47 was simply dismissed or if in fact the scene was as originally reported – hostile.
• The question about whether the scene was hostile is furthered by the fact that the second vehicle in the convoy (a HMMWV) was set on fire by Iraqi civilians on scene once the soldiers in that vehicle went to the aid of the 1st Sgt. and his driver. The second vehicle being set afire is clearly a hostile act, and had not the second convoy of engineers appeared, the First Sgt’s convoy would have been stranded without a radio or any other form of communication.
I respectfully request that your offices review this matter to determine if in fact the Army IG’s investigation into the First Sergeant’s death was thorough, and whether they interviewed all of the witnesses and gave their testimony equal weight. More importantly, I also ask that you review this case so that no other spouse, parent or child will have to endure what Mrs. Coffin has as she has pursued a certain answer to the circumstances of her husband’s death.
I appreciate your assistance and look forward to your response.
OLYMPIA J. SNOWE
United States Senator