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Iraq Transition

Sources: 'Friendly fire' video will go to UK coroner

Story Highlights

• NEW: Top U.S. military judge authorizes release of cockpit video, sources say
NEW: Move would be first time U.S. allows release of the video
• Coroner investigating death of British soldier in Iraq wants video
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(CNN) -- The U.S. Central Command judge advocate general has authorized the release of the cockpit video from a U.S. fighter jet involved in a friendly fire incident in Iraq nearly four years ago, Pentagon officials told CNN.

The tape will be released to the British coroner who requested it and to the family of the British soldier who was killed in the incident.

Earlier, Pentagon sources told CNN the video would not be released, contradicting an announcement by the UK prime minister's office that the video would be released to the British coroner investigating the death of a British soldier killed in the 2003 incident.

A British tabloid newspaper Tuesday released what it says is a cockpit video from a U.S. fighter jet being used in the investigation of a "friendly-fire" incident in Iraq in which a British soldier was killed.

The Sun posted the 15-minute video, along with a transcript, on its Web site under the headline: "The tape they wanted to hide."

The coroner had demanded the video be released and presented as evidence in an inquest, but until now U.S. authorities refused.

The incident, in the early stages of the Iraq war, involved a convoy of four British vehicles. Orange panels on the vehicles were misidentified as orange missiles.

The pilots' coordinators gave assurances there were no coalition forces in the area at the time. The pilots opened fire, but the error soon became obvious, and the pilots were informed that friendly units were in the area.

When they realize they have hit a convoy of British armored vehicles, the pilots say: "God damn it" and "We're in jail, dude."

In a statement, Britain's Ministry of Defense (MOD) said the video was classified and should not have been released.

"A copy of the video was used as evidence by the Board of Inquiry's investigation into the incident," the ministry statement said.

"This recording is the property of the United States government and the MOD does not have the right to release it without their permission."

British convoy misidentified

The Board of Inquiry's investigation involves the death of 25-year-old Lance Cpl. Matty Hull, who was killed on March 28, 2003 -- less than two weeks after the start of the war.

According to The Sun, Hull died when a pair of U.S. A-10 jets opened fire on his tank near Basra in southeastern Iraq.

In the video, the pilots working with targeting coordinators on the ground misidentified a British convoy as Iraqi forces and are informed shortly after opening fire that they had attacked "friendlies." (Read a transcript of the cockpit video)

"Be advised that ... you have friendly armor in the area," a targeting coordinator said.

"Ahh s--- ... f---, f---, f---." said one of the A-10 pilots, code named Popov35. "I'm going to be sick."

The conversation continued between the pilots after an initial report of one British soldier killed and one wounded.

"Did you hear?" asked Popov35.

"Yeah, this sucks," said the second pilot, Popov36.

"We're in jail dude," said Popov35.

"Damn it. F......ing damn it," Popov36 continued a short time later.

The pilots were then told to abort their mission and return to base.

Inquest suspended

The video's release by The Sun came less than a week after British media had widely reported that the Oxfordshire coroner's office had to suspend the inquiry into Hull's death because the U.S. military had not yet declassified it.

The coroner's office told The Associated Press that the leak means that the material is now in the public domain, suggesting it may be shown when in the inquest resumes on February 16.

U.S. military officials conducted their own investigation but the findings have not been made public, according to AP.

"I'm very relieved this is being made public at long last," Hull's widow, Susan, told The Sun Monday night.

The UK Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman said all the information about Hull's death should be made available to help his family.

She would not be drawn on whether whoever leaked the video could be prosecuted, but said it would have to be proved to be in the public interest.

"The position we have always taken, and convey in the strongest possible terms in meetings and letters to the American authorities via the U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission David Johnson, is that they should comply with all requests from the coroner," she said.

Asked about whether it was right that the video had been leaked to The Sun, she said: "I have always taken the view that what is important is that the families get all the information available to help them understand what happened.

"People do understand that, in armed conflict situations, terrible accidents do sometimes happen, but what I think people do not understand or accept is the notion that the truth should be revealed."

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said during a visit to Jerusalem that the government was working with the U.S. to give the inquest as much evidence as possible, the BBC reported.

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Lance Cpl. Matty Hull was killed in March 2003.

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