July 3rd

On this day in 1988, a passenger plane, Iran Air Flight 655, was shot down by a US warship over Iran’s territorial waters in the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 civilians on board.


Newsweek headlines following the aircraft’s downing

Allegedly mistaking the plane for an Iranian warplane, the ship’s commander William Rogers III ordered two surface-to-air missiles be launched. This came after the crew of the USS Vincennes attempted to make contact with the plane on 10 occasions across all frequencies, though Iran claims that as the plane was making IFF squawks in Mode 3, not Mode 2 which the Iranian military used, the US should not have fired. Furthermore, as the ship had sailed into Iranian waters, many accused the commander of being negligent and aggressive.

In 1996, the US and Iran reached a conclusion at the International Court of Justice which would mean that the US paid the families of the 290 victims around $213,000 each, for a total of $61 million. The incident came at the end of the Iraq-Iran war but damaged the US’ international credibility heavily.

This outrage was extended when the crew of the Vincennes were all given combat ribbons, including a Navy Commendation Medal for the air-warfare coordinator and in 1990 Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit.


The rewarding of these individuals was seen by many as wrong given they had been responsible for nearly 300 innocent civilians dying, but the US defended them in each case and furthermore, never accepted responsibility for the aircraft going down in the first place.

This postage stamp was released by Iran on 11 August 1988 and titled Disastrous U.S. missile attack against Iranian air liner.


In 2003, the International Court of Justice did conclude the United States to have acted unlawfully, but no meaningful actions resulted from this judgement.



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