Although Pat Tillman's death was a "combat death", it exemplifies the lies and cover-ups that families of "non-combat deaths" must deal with. While this may seem like an exaggerated case, I assure you that it is SOP (standard operating procedure).
Officer: Criminal conduct not found
Family calls report 'unsatisfactory,' denounces Pentagon for exploiting death
By Frank Davies and Julia Prodis Sulek, MEDIANEWS STAFF
Article Last Updated: 03/27/2007 02:31:50 AM PDT
WASHINGTON — A four-star general will determine what punishments await up to nine Army officers — including four other generals — who gave inaccurate or misleading information about the "friendly fire" death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, the Pentagon's top leaders announced Monday.
Findings of two simultaneous investigations concluded Tillman, a former NFL star and San Jose native, was killed accidentally by other Rangers during a patrol in Afghanistan in 2004. But Brig. Gen. Rodney Johnson, head of Army criminal investigations, found no criminal conduct or cover-up in the shooting.
Thomas Gimble, however,acting inspector general of the Defense Department, concluded that individual officers made "critical errors" in handling and reporting Tillman's death and "had no reasonable explanation" for why they did not inform the family of how Tillman died until three weeks after a nationally televised memorial service in San Jose.
Punishment for those officers could include reprimands, demotions, dismissal from the Army or court martial trials for making false statements under oath.
Tillman's family, including his widow Marie and brother Kevin, who have been critical of the investigation, all gathered at an undisclosed location in San Jose on Monday to be debriefed on the reports. The lead investigators from each probe were sent to San Jose from Washington to explain the reports' findings.
In a statement released Monday night, Tillman's family called the report "unsatisfactory" and denounced the Pentagon for using Tillman and his family as "props ... in a public relations exercise."
Outside the small blue house in San Jose's New Almaden neighborhood, where Tillman grew up, TV trucks were parked out front.
Tillman received national attention — and a personal letter of thanks from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — when he gave up a lucrative pro football career with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army with brother Kevin after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Army investigators refused to explain what motivated officers to mislead or withhold information about Tillman's death, but one of the investigations included a reference to the political sensitivity and celebrity of the case.
One week after the shooting, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of joint special operations, sent a message to top brass that it was "highly possible" that Tillman was killed by "friendly fire."
McChrystal told investigators that he sent that alert a few days before the memorial service to allow top generals "to warn the acting secretary of the Army and President of the United States about comments they might make in speeches to preclude embarrassment if the public found out friendly fire was involved."
McChrystal testified he assumed family members had been told that Tillman's death may have been caused by friendly fire. They hadn't.
Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, a now-retired three-star general who was in charge of Army special operations, also was criticized by investigators. Kensinger attended the May 3 memorial service.
"We found compelling evidence that Lt. Gen. Kensinger learned of suspected fratricide well before the memorial service and provided misleading testimony to both Brig. Gen. Gary Jones and to our investigators," the report found.
Kensinger testified "that he decided not to tell the Tillman family because friendly fire had not yet been confirmed, the investigation was not yet completed, and it was just 'not the right time' to do so."
Pete Geren, acting secretary of the Army, said Monday the findings of the two investigations were sent immediately to Gen. William Wallace, a four-star former battlefield commander in Iraq, and he expected a swift review.
"It is important to the Tillman family, to our Army and to the American people that we resolve this matter as quickly as possible," Geren said in a Pentagon briefing. "Far too much time has passed in getting things right in this case."
Geren apologized to the Tillman family and acknowledged that the Army's handling of the case had eroded its standing: "We as an Army failed in our duty to the Tillman family, the duty we owe to all the families of our fallen soldiers: Give them the truth, the best we know it, as fast as we can."
The four generals were named in the report, the other officers were not. The Army cited privacy concerns in their cases.
McChrystal is the highest current ranking officer criticized in the investigation. He was also blamed for "misleading statements" in the documents recommending a Silver Star for Tillman, as was Tillman's regimental commander, James Nixon, who is now a brigadier general at the Center for Special Operations in Florida.
The citation for the Silver Star cited Tillman's valor under hostile fire, and investigators said Monday that the Army rushed its procedures to be able to present the Silver Star to the family at the memorial service.
In Monday's statement, the Tillman family questioned the award, pointing out that before Pat, the Pentagon had never awarded a Silver Star to a soldier killed by friendly fire and "never fired upon by the enemy."
"The award of the Silver Star appears more than anything to be part of a cynical design to conceal the real events from the family and the public, while exploiting the death of our beloved Pat as a recruitment poster," the statement says.
Geren said an Army board had affirmed that Tillman earned the Silver Star with heroic action, but would modify the wording on the citation.
In the three years since the shooting, seven soldiers have been disciplined in the Tillman case, including the four Rangers who fired on him, thinking they were attacking enemy Afghan forces. At least two were demoted or forced out of the military.
Frank Davies can be reached at email@example.com or (202) 662-8921.