PLACING BLAME AT ANY COST

AFTER A CRASH, AS THE AIR FORCE TRIES TO SHOW IT IS WILLING TO PUNISH ITS OWN, ITS CHARGES CLAIM A SECOND VICTIM

The F-15 thundered down the runway, all grace and raw power, until it cartwheeled into the woods in a huge explosion. The lone U.S. Air Force pilot perished instantly in the crash at Germany's Spangdahlem air base last year. Another victim, far from the fireball that day, was also consumed--in a different way. He suffered much longer.

This is a story about how the Air Force pushed the principle of accountability to a tragic extreme. To make up for an earlier, fatal misdeed left initially unpunished, the Air Force court-martialed a pair of mechanics who had made what appeared to be...

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