Iran Air Flight 655 (1988)On 3 July 1988, as the Iran-Iraq war was drawing to a close, a US military ship, the USS Vincennes, mistook Iran Air Flight 655 for a fighter jet and launched a missile at the plane. 290 people were killed:
It is ironic that the nation which has done most in the world to further the idea of inalienable human rights should have destroyed 290 innocent lives by shooting down a civilian aircraft on the very eve of the anniversary of its foundation. There were extenuating circumstances: a warship in a zone of conflict is not a propitious environment for calm ethical debate. The killing was a mistake and not one made callously. But such is the scale of the tragedy that a thorough re-examination not only of the events themselves but of the policy that led to them is surely required. This does not mean that the protestations of the present regime in Iran have to be taken seriously in any moral sense. A government that sends 12-year-old children to an unnecessary war is not one that can plausibly claim much concern for the welfare of its citizens, even if it had not also systematically violated their rights in almost every conceivable way. The labeling of the victims as martyrs by Iranian statements demonstrates that their deaths are seen largely as a political and propaganda tool against the Americans: for martyrs are people who choose avoidable death for the furtherance of a cause, not migrant labourers accidentally shot down in a commercial aircraft while returning to work.
The Spectator 9 July 1988