The Army said Wednesday it is reevaluating the way it handled the 2004 friendly fire shooting of a 21-year-old Ohio soldier whose death was initially blamed on a vehicle crash in Iraq.
Among other things, the Army inspector general will try to determine why it took nine months for the family of Army Spc. Jesse Buryj (pronounced BOO-dee) to learn that his death was a result of friendly fire, and why there was confusion over whether Buryj was shot by U.S. or allied Polish forces.
Buryj’s wife and parents were first told that Jesse Buryj died May 5, 2004, in Karbala after a dump truck hurtled through a checkpoint and crashed into the armored vehicle in which he was riding.
The Army still says Buryj, of Canton, Ohio, was killed in a crash, but the official cause of death is listed with the Combat Readiness Center as “friendly fire” by fellow U.S. soldiers.
“That’s how it’s recorded, but that’s not what I was told,” Peggy Buryj, the soldier’s mother, said Wednesday. “We were told it was suspected that it came from the Polish sector.”
The Army started an internal review after The Washington Post reported last month on the family’s struggle to learn details about the incident. The Pentagon told the Post on Tuesday that the Army inspector general “would review the matter to determine if proper policies and procedures were followed,” but wouldn’t elaborate.
Maj. Beth Robbins, an Army spokeswoman, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the internal review would look at “how the incident was investigated and the family notification procedures.”
The procedures followed by crash investigators are under review because it remains unclear who shot Buryj, Robbins said. The response by U.S. and Polish forces to the crash itself is not under review, she said.
“It could not be definitively assigned (to one country’s soldiers or the other’s) and so it’s being categorized as U.S.-on-U.S.,” Robbins said. Polish officials have denied a Polish soldier ever shot toward Buryj’s position in the turret of an armored vehicle.
When asked about the different explanations given to Buryj’s family, Robbins said the Army “has to balance accuracy and timeliness and take very seriously its obligation to notify families with as much as is known as quickly as possible.”
Peggy Buryj has said she sought more details about her son’s death from President Bush during a July 2004 campaign stop. She said she still supports Bush and the war, but now wonders whether Bush knew at that time that there were disparate explanations of her son’s death.
“It’s a shame I had to have The Washington Post write a story before they would cooperate,” she said Wednesday. “Anything they tell me now is nothing they shouldn’t have told me a year ago. Now they want to review certain aspects of this? Yeah; too little, too late.”