Friday, April 27, 2007

Video Interviews

These are video interviews of the families of soldiers who committed suicide.

Videos from the Hartford Courant.

--submitted by Jane Tier

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Army Clamped Down After Tillman's Death

Families: these news stories spell out what the Army has done to conceal the truth in the Tillman death. It proves that similar tactics may have been used in the death of your son, daughter, or spouse. This is very important as it is the first public acknowledgement that such deception is employed by the US Military.

The hearings will be held on Tuesday, April 24th. They can be viewed or heard on C-Span or C-Span Radio. Hearings usually begin at 9 or 10 a.m.

Our best wishes to the Tillman family. We are with you in spirit.


--Submitted by Jane Tier

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Was Pat Tillman Murdered to Conceal the Truth?

New panel to investigate all the lies, foul play, deaths and cover ups surrounding the Tillman and Lynch cases may be another whitewash April 14, 2007 Steve Watson

A U.S. House committee has announced it will hold hearings to investigate misleading military statements that followed the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan and the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch in Iraq.

As reported by the Associated Press , the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said an April 24 hearing will be part of its investigation into whether there was a strategy to mislead the public.

It will "examine why inaccurate accounts of these two incidents were disseminated, the sources and motivations for the accounts, and whether the appropriate administration officials have been held accountable,'' the panel said on its Web site.

The House Armed Services Committee also is considering Tillman hearings, a spokeswoman for that panel said Monday.

The Tillman and Lynch cases are two clear and blatant examples of how the government has consistently lied to the public about events during both the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq, often spinning situations and distorting reality in order to put the US military occupations in a better light.

We have covered both cases extensively and exposed the propaganda and the cover ups that have followed, now it seems, rather encouragingly, that some within the House are taking an interest in uncovering the truth and exposing the lies perpetrated by the Neocon White House war machine.

The Lynch case is well documented. In 2003 facing flack and extreme criticism the Bush administration orchestrated a clear piece of war propaganda in an effort to rally the people behind the troops and the Invasion of Iraq.

In April 2003 the US Army's 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company took a wrong turning near Nassiriya and was ambushed by Iraqi soldiers. Nine of Lynch's US comrades were killed. The Iraqis took Lynch to the local hospital, where she was kept for eight days.

The Iraqi soldiers fled the hospital days before Lynch's rescuers stormed it. The doctors there, having already tried and failed to return Lynch to the Americans after they fired upon an ambulance which she was being transported in, described the "rescue" as a Hollywood show , as special forces stormed in with cameras rolling.
"It was like a Hollywood film. They cried, 'Go, go, go', with guns and blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show - an action movie like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan, with jumping and shouting, breaking down doors." one doctor later recounted.

First, a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq was ordered by CENTCOM to tell journalists that soldiers exchanged fire during the Rambo like rescue, without adding that Iraqi soldiers had already abandoned the hospital, then the military released a green-tinted night-vision film of the mission, adding to the drama.

Releasing its five-minute film to the networks, the Pentagon then claimed that Lynch had stab and bullet wounds, and that she had been slapped about on her hospital bed, interrogated and possibly even raped.

Then news organizations began repeating reports that Lynch had heroically resisted capture, emptying her gun as she fired at her attackers.

But subsequent disclosures have proved all those details to be complete fabrications. Lynch was badly injured by the crash of her vehicle, her weapon jammed before she could fire, the Iraqi doctors made friends with her and treated her kindly, and the hospital was already in friendly hands when her rescuers arrived.

Asked by the ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer after the event if the military's portrayal of the rescue bothered her, Lynch said: "Yeah, it does. It does that they used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff. Yeah, it's wrong,".
Lynch went on the record quickly and has since gone on to denounce the whole debacle as outright propaganda. This was perhaps wise given that four of Lynch's rescuers and colleagues have coincidentally died since.

Petty Officer First Class David M. Tapper died of wounds received in Afghanistan. He took part in the rescue.

Lance Cpl. Sok Khak Ung was killed in a drive-by shooting. He was also part of the rescue team.

Spc Josh Daniel Speer died when his car crashed into some trees for no apparent reason. He was part of the rescue team.

Kyle Edward Williams, who worked in the same company as Lynch, died of "suicide".

Will the House committee be investigating these deaths as part of the hearings?

We have previously reported on how Pat Tillman's tragic death was also seized upon and used as a cheap propaganda tool by the government for the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq. His death may have even been a criminal plot manufactured to this end, a suspicion that both military investigators and Tillman's family have repeated.

After his death it was announced that Tillman, the All American poster boy, the former sporting hero who had traded in his football boots for army boots after witnessing the 9/11 attacks, had been tragically gunned down by evil Taliban terrorists whilst he was charging up a hill side to attack, bellowing orders to fellow Rangers.

A nationally televised memorial service and a Silver Star commendation cemented Tillman's place as the nation's first war hero since the story of Jessica Lynch's capture and phony details of her rescue were foisted on the public in 2003.

The truth was that Tillman's death was being exploited for public relations purposes by the U.S. military and the administration.

Weeks later, the Army acknowledged that Tillman had been a victim of friendly fire whilst on a routine patrol.
Tillman's platoon of the Second Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, began the day that he died dealing with a minor annoyance in the southeastern part of Afghanistan where the soldiers were conducting sweeps, the Army records show, one of their vehicles would not start.

Against their own policy and after the overruling of some objections, the platoon split into two parts so that half the team, including Tillman, could go on to the next town for sweeps while the second half could tow the disabled vehicle to a drop-off spot.

But both groups ended up in the same twisting canyon, along the same road, without radio communication. And after the sounds of an enemy ambush, three Rangers in the second group wound up firing at members of the first group — at an Afghan soldier who was fighting alongside Tillman, and then at Tillman himself.

The Afghan was killed. According to testimony, Tillman, who along with others on the hill waved his arms and yelled “cease fire,” set off a smoke grenade to identify his group as fellow soldiers. There was a momentary lull in the firing, and he and the soldier next to him, thinking themselves safe, relaxed, stood up and started talking. But the shooting resumed. Tillman was hit in the wrist with shrapnel and in his body armor with numerous bullets.

The soldier next to him testified: “I could hear the pain in his voice as he called out, ‘Cease fire, friendlies, I am Pat f—ing Tillman, dammit.” He said this over and over until he stopped,” having been hit by three bullets in the forehead, killing him.

It was also admitted that soldiers destroyed evidence — Tillman's uniform and flak vest — after the shooting, claiming that they were a "biohazard". However another soldier involved offered a contradictory take, saying "the uniform and equipment had blood on them and it would stir emotion" that needed to be suppressed until the Rangers finished their work overseas.

An initial investigation by then-Capt. Richard Scott, interviewed all four shooters, their driver, and many others who were there. He concluded within a week that while some of the gunmen demonstrated "gross negligence" others demonstrated "criminal intent" and recommended further investigation to push for the harshest possible criminal sentencing.

But Scott's report disappeared after circulating briefly among a small corps of high-ranking officers. Some of Tillman's relatives think the Army buried the report because its findings indicated foul play. Army officials refused to provide a copy to the media, saying no materials related to the investigation could be released. A second investigation was then commenced by a higher ranking officer which called for less severe punishment.

Richard Scott later gave testimony alleging that Army officials allowed witnesses to change key details in their sworn statements so his findings could be softened.

Scott stated “watching some of these guys getting off, what I thought … was a lesser of a punishment than what they should've received. And I will tell you, over a period of time … the stories have changed. They have changed to, I think, help some individuals.”

The document containing Scott's testimony was reviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle . In a published story in September 2005 the Chronicle highlighted the following passage from Scott:

“They had the entire chain of command (inaudible) that were involved, the [deleted], all sticking up for [deleted] … And the reason the [deleted] called me in … because the [deleted] … changed their story in how things occurred and the timing and the distance in an attempt to stick up for their counterpart, implied, insinuated that the report wasn't as accurate as I submitted it …”

In another section of his testimony, he said witnesses changed details regarding “the distance, the time, the location, the lighting conditions and the positioning” in Tillman's killing.

There are many other examples of conflicting testimony in the Tillman case including the fact that he may not have been killed immediately and was certainly given CPR hours after being shot in the head three times.
At least one Army officer, the records show, changed his sworn statements about which supervisor had actually ordered the split of the platoon and what conversations had occurred before the order was given.

A further review of the case by the Pentagon's inspector general,Gen. Gary M. Jones found that Army officers told soldiers to remain quiet about the circumstances of Tillman's death for fear of negative news coverage.

One or more members of the Tillman family will testify in the new hearings, in addition to Jessica Lynch herself.

The Tillman family have been very reluctantly outspoken since the tragic Death of Pat Tillman, "All I asked for is what happened to my son, and it has been lie after lie after lie," Tillman's father told the New York Times , explaining that he believed the matter should remain "between me and the military" but that he had grown too troubled to keep silent.

Quoted elsewhere Mr Tillman has stated “The administration clearly was using this case for its own political reasons... This cover-up started within minutes of Pat's death, and it started at high levels. This is not something that (lower-ranking) people in the field do,” he said.

"After it happened, all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this," Mr Tillman has said. "They purposely interfered with the investigation …. I think they thought they could control it, and they realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out."

Mr Tillman is certain that a cover up has been perpetrated and believes his son's death may not even have been an accident.

"There is so much nonstandard conduct, both before and after Pat was killed, that you have to start to wonder," Mr. Tillman said. "How much effort would you put into hiding an accident? Why do you need to hide an accident?"

Kevin Tillman, Pat's brother (pictured above) has also been very outspoken and recently slammed the Bush administration and the war in Iraq in a lengthy article . Kevin Tillman wrote: Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started. Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated. Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated. Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated. Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe. Somehow torture is tolerated. Somehow lying is tolerated.

Indeed, it has been revealed since his death that Pat Tillman was himself highly critical of the war in Iraq where he also served a tour of duty. Fellow soldiers have described the well spoken, well educated Tillman as having strong views, often openly stating "this war is so f— illegal." and describing Tillman as "totally against Bush.”

Moved in part by the 9/11 attacks, Tillman decided to give up his career, saying he wanted to fight al Qaeda and help find Osama bin Laden. He spurned an offer of a three year, $3.6 million NFL contract extension with Arizona Cardinals and joined the Army in June 2002.

Instead of going to Afghanistan, as Tillman expected, their Ranger battalion was sent to participate in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Word of the new hearings comes three years after Tillman was killed and two weeks after the Pentagon released the latest findings of its own investigations into Pat Tillman's death. The latest report once again faults as many as nine officers as responsible for mistakes and irregularities during the investigation into Tillman's death, but also dismisses the notion of a cover up, much the same as a previous report did in 2005.

In all, the Army and Defense Department have conducted five investigations into Tillman's April 22, 2004 death, with the most recent one pointing toward high-ranking military officers knowing the circumstances of his death long before Tillman's family.

As reported by the AP, a memo sent to a four-star general a week after Tillman's death revealed that then-Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned that it was "highly possible" the Army Ranger was killed by friendly fire. McChrystal made it clear his warning should be conveyed to the president.

The memo was provided to the AP by a government official who requested anonymity because the document was not released as part of the Pentagon's official report into the way the Army brass withheld the truth. McChrystal was, and still is, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, head of "black ops" forces and was the highest-ranking officer accused of wrongdoing in the report.

Tillman's parents have since stated that they believe the memo backs the cover up theory. "He knew it was friendly fire in the very beginning, and he never intervened to help, and he essentially has covered up a crime in order to promote the war," Mary Tillman said in a telephone interview. "All of this was done for PR purposes."

As the AP commented, The memo reinforces suspicions that the Pentagon was more concerned with sparing officials from embarrassment than with leveling with Tillman's family.

Although it is encouraging that the high profile Tillman and Lynch cases are being investigated, it seems there are countless others that should be deserving of the same treatment. One such example is the case of Jess Buryj , a soldier from Canton, Ohio, who (it turns out) died in a friendly fire incident – shot in the back.

When his parents were told by the U.S. military that Polish soldiers were responsible for his death, a soldier who served with Buryi could not bear for the truth to be buried and so told Buryi's parents that an American G.I. was actually at fault. Buryj's father was so shaken by the alleged cover-up that he came to question whether the body they buried was even their son's.

Again and again, the press, the public, parents and spouses have been lied to about how young Americans in the military have died. The lies and the propaganda are endemic, just as the Bush government cannot afford to allow Americans to see flag draped coffins coming home, nor can they allow the truth of the war machine to be exposed and jeopardize their international killing spree.

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Parents Question Their Daughter's Mysterious Death in Iraq

March 1, 2007

LaVena Johnson, private first class, died near Balad, Iraq, on July 19, 2005, just eight days shy of her twentieth birthday. She was the first woman soldier from Missouri to die while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The tragedy of her story begins there. An Army representative initially told LaVena's father, Dr. John Johnson, that his daughter died of "died of self-inflicted, noncombat injuries" and initially added it was not a suicide -- in other words, an accidental death caused by LaVena herself. The subsequent Army investigation reversed this finding and declared LaVena's death a suicide, a finding refuted by the soldier's family.

In an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dr. Johnson pointed to indications that his daughter had endured a physical struggle before she died -- two loose front teeth, a "busted lip" that had to be reconstructed by the funeral home -- suggesting that "someone might have punched her in the mouth."

A promise by the office of Representative William Lacy Clay to look into the matter produced nothing. The military said that the matter was closed. Little more on LaVena's death was said until St. Louis CBS affiliate KMOV aired a story on Thursday which disclosed troubling details not previously made public - details which belie the Army's assertion that the young Florissant native died by her own hand.

The video of the report is available on the KMOV website. Reporter Matt Sczesny spoke with LaVena's father and examined documents and photos sent by Army investigators. So far from supporting the claim that LaVena died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the documents provided elements of another scenario altogether: indications of physical abuse that went unremarked by the autopsy; the absence of psychological indicators of suicidal thoughts; indeed, testimony that LaVena was happy and healthy prior to her death; indications, via residue tests, that LaVena may not even have handled the weapon that killed her; a blood trail outside the tent where Lavena's body was found; indications that someone attempted to set LaVena's body on fire.

The Army has resisted calls by Dr. Johnson and by KMOV to reopen its investigation. We have seen in other military deaths, most infamously that of Army Ranger and former professional football player Cpl. Pat Tillman, that the Army has engaged in an insulting game of deny and delay when it comes to uncovering embarrassing facts.

Only when public and official attention is brought to bear on the matter - as happened, eventually and with great effort, with the case of Cpl. Tillman - do unpleasant truths come to light. An honest accounting of their passing is all the dead ask of us.

The mother of Pat Tillman put the matter in stark and honest terms: "This is how they treat a family of a high-profile individual," she said. "How are they treating others?"In the case of Private First Class Johnson, we know the answer.

Slain soldier's father wants answersGeorgia officials refuse to release remains of St. Charles native

By Russell Korando

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Almost four years after his murder and a little more than a year after his murderers were convicted and imprisoned, Richard Davis is still waiting to be laid to rest.

And his father, Lanny Davis, of St. Charles, wants to know why.

A small part of Richard Davis was buried with full military honors at the Sunset Hills Cemetery in Apple Valley, Calif., in December 2003. But Lanny Davis believes the same military, along with those who tried and convicted his son's murderers, are now dishonoring the former Army soldier who fought in the opening days of the war in Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division, based out of Fort Benning, Ga.

Lanny Davis, a Vietnam veteran, and his wife, Remedios (Remy) Davis, went to Columbus, Ga., last month to obtain the rest of their son's remains so they could be interred in his California gravesite. Davis said he met with Columbus District Attorney Gray Conger but Conger told him the remains would have to stay in Georgia until the appeals process for two of the men convicted in his death runs out.

Alberto Martinez and Mario Navarrete, who were in the same platoon with Davis in Iraq, were sentenced to life in prison. Jacob Burgoyne received 20 years for his role in the murder. Douglas Woodcoff was given five years probation for concealing a death.

Prosecutors allege Davis was stabbed at least 30 times in July 2003, the day after the five soldiers returned to Fort Benning from Iraq. The men were all members of the same platoon and had been out drinking at a popular strip club in Columbus they had frequented before the war.Conger has not returned several phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.

"I don't know which remains we buried because I never saw a list and they would not let me look in the casket," said Lanny Davis at his home in St. Charles this week.Later, he found his son's remains were still housed in Columbus.

"When I told Mr. Conger I wanted to view my son's remains he acted like I was a ghoul and asked me if I really wanted to see them. I told him, 'Yes sir, I do,'" Lanny Davis said. "We met with (Conger) and his assistant again the next day and they had an elongated box sitting on a conference table that was maybe 2-and-a-half feet long maybe 8 inches high and 8 inches wide."Seeing what he believed to be just 20 percent of his son's remains in that cardboard box devastated Davis and his wife.

Remy Davis clutched her son's skull to her breast and wept. Lanny Davis tried to keep his emotions under control as he consoled his wife and took count of the bone fragments."It looked like somebody had gone through those remains,"

Lanny Davis said.Lanny Davis believes that Martinez and Navarrete will appeal their sentences, arguing they have post-traumatic stress disorder, something Lanny has been afflicted with since returning from Vietnam more than three decades ago.

Davis undergoes treatment for PTSD every month. Yet, he doesn't think PTSD had anything to do with his son's murder. Davis has long since maintained that the murder was an attempt to cover up atrocities his son witnessed in Iraq.

"That's the lamest excuse I've heard in my life," said Davis clearing his throat. His voice is hoarse and the words come out with a harsh raspiness, as they have since Davis was struck in the throat by a Viet Cong soldier's rifle butt in Vietnam.

He's frustrated with Conger's execution of the case against the four soldiers, and the D.A.'s attitude toward the Davis family."I don't think he took me seriously at all, I was just another person he had to deal with that day," Lanny Davis said. "

I didn't see much emotion from this man. He looked at me as part of the enemy because I wanted to find out the facts. I was digging into things he didn't want me to. The Army, too."

Davis may have good reason to be skeptical about the case and the delay in turning over his son's remains. The controversy surrounding the death of former NFL player and Army Ranger Pat Tillman is eerily familiar for the Davis family. Both were the result of fratricide.

Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan three years ago.The truth, Davis said, is all his family wants.His wife has moved to California to be close to her family and Richard. She doesn't want Davis to sell their home here because it's one of the last reminders of their son alive.

He said the circumstances surrounding his son's death have put a strain on their marriage, but he still loves his wife and wants her to have the closure she deserves."We still love each other, how can you not," he said.

"Yeah, it's put a strain on our marriage, but we need to support each other. Most of her family's out there for support."But they're not alone. Nearly 200 people, mostly strangers, have signed a petition by at

What Lanny and Remy Davis want now is a proper way to remember their son.

"My plan is once they get everything done, I'm going to go to Columbus, view my son's remains, see what's missing and then escort his remains back to California," Lanny Davis said. "If I have to sleep in the morgue to do that, if I have to fly out in the cargo hold, I'll do that."That's our son. I used to feed him and clean his dirty diapers, hold him, try to teach him right from wrong."

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Oversight Committee to Hold Hearing on Tillman, Lynch Incidents

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing on Tuesday, April 24, 2007, entitled “Misleading Information from the Battlefield,” in Room 2154 of the Rayburn House Office Building at 10 a.m.

The hearing will focus on the death of Army Ranger Specialist Patrick Tillman in Afghanistan and the capture and rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch in Iraq. The Committee will examine why inaccurate accounts of these two incidents were disseminated, the sources and motivations for the accounts, and whether the appropriate Administration officials have been held accountable.

Specialist Tillman was killed near Manah, Afghanistan on March 22, 2004. Although the Defense Department reported that he had been killed by enemy combatants, it was later disclosed that Tillman’s death was the result of friendly fire.

Private Lynch was captured when her convoy became lost in An Nasariyah, Iraq, on March 23, 2003. Following her release, the Defense Department disseminated an account of her capture and rescue that turned out to be inaccurate and misleading.

Private Lynch and family members of Specialist Tillman are scheduled to testify, as well as Defense Department officials.

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Friendly Fire May Have Killed 2 in Iraq

...The Army said it is investigating the deaths of Pvt. Matthew Zeimer, 18, of Glendive, Mont., and Spc. Alan E. McPeek, 20, of Tucson, Ariz., who were killed in Ramadi, in western Iraq, on Feb. 2. The families of the two soldiers were initially told they were killed by enemy fire...

Read the whole article:

Friday, April 06, 2007

From the Seattle Weekly, March 21, 2007

Who's Shooting Who?

How the U.S. Military strung along the family of a Fort Lewis soldier killed by "friendly fire."

By Rick Anderson

THIRTEEN DAYS after Fort Lewis Ranger and ex–pro football player Pat Tillman, 27, was killed in Afghanistan, a Fort Lewis military policeman named Jesse Buryj, 21, was killed in Iraq. In life, the famous chiseled athlete and the small-town baritone horn player never met. But their deaths have followed a parallel course. Both were victims of "friendly fire," the military's oxymoronic euphemism for death at the hands of a fellow soldier. And who exactly killed them, and under what circumstances, remains a mystery.

The Army is trying to answer that question in the high-profile Tillman case. It has undertaken four investigations in three years and is now performing a fifth review to answer questions about a possible Army cover-up and whether the killing was intentional, which could lead to criminal charges.

In contrast, the Buryj case has fallen silent. The service is satisfied with blaming an unknown soldier from Poland, even though the Polish government denies the claim and Buryj's mother in Ohio says she was told an American soldier has confessed to shooting her son.

"My son is another Kennedy—nobody seems to know who shot him," says Peggy Buryj with a hard laugh. She's grateful for the Army's attempts to provide her with information, although each new answer raised more infuriating questions. And she doesn't begrudge the Tillmans for the attention they've gotten, having conferred and commiserated with the family. Peggy Buryj feels the Tillman case has helped open the eyes of other parents to questions about the Pentagon's casualty reporting methods. And like the Tillmans, she suspects a military cover-up. "Where's my criminal investigation?" she asks.

Understandably, the Tillman case has gotten more notice. Pat Tillman was the Arizona Cardinals defensive back who gave up a $3.6 million NFL contract to join the Army in 2002. He signed up with his brother Kevin, who gave up a promising baseball career, eight months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. They ascended to Ranger School, were assigned to Fort Lewis' elite 75th Ranger Regiment, and served together in Iraq and Afghanistan. A hero to many, Pat Tillman was killed April 22, 2004. He was the 106th U.S. fatality in Afghanistan, where, as of this week, more than 370 have died.

His death made international headlines. The funeral was nationally televised. Moments of silence were held, flags were lowered, and memorials were established in his name. He's been given a special display at the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, his picture and story included in the NFL's "Wartime Heroes" exhibit and elsewhere.

Jesse Buryj's life was comparably modest. He grew up in Ohio, played in the high-school band, and joined the Army after graduating in 2002. Hoping to someday become a police officer, Buryj wound up in Fort Lewis' 66th Military Police Company, which, in addition to MP duties, can also be involved in combat situations. He shipped off to Iraq in February 2004 and was killed three months later. He was the 761st U.S. fatality in Iraq, where, as of this week—the war's fourth anniversary—more than 3,200 have died.

The name Buryj is Ukranian, by the way. It's pronounced BOO-dee. But, as Buryj's mother says with a chuckle, "In the Army, you'd never survive with a name that sounds like 'booty.' So he didn't complain when they started calling him Spc. 'Burage.'"

Buryj's death rated mostly small headlines back home. Family and friends turned out for the service, and citizens paused in the street as his procession passed. He was remembered as the typical good guy who strikes out for a career in the military. He had slung a few burgers at Wendy's and married his high-school sweetheart, Amber, a piccolo player in his school band, in a wedding ceremony officiated by the band's director.

He was honored in Canton, too, a gritty former steel town 45 minutes south of Cleveland. That's his hometown. He's buried in a small church cemetery there. Though he never became the local cop he'd hoped to be, his name is included on a list of fallen officers remembered at an annual Canton police memorial event.
The uneven contrast of their lives and their Canton memorials is reflected in the differing levels of investigation into the two soldiers' deaths, Buryj's family thinks.

The Army initially told both families their sons were killed during firefights with the enemy—Tillman ambushed in the mountains near the Pakistani border, Buryj fatally injured when his armored vehicle turned over during an attack in Karbala, south of Baghdad. Each family buried its loved one thinking the soldier was slain by forces aligned with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. That's hard enough to take. But it wasn't true.

Five weeks after Tillman's death, the Army revealed he was killed by his own troops—one, or several, of four U.S. soldiers—something the Army knew from the start. "Cease fire, friendlies," he is said by a witness to have futilely shouted, "I am Pat fucking Tillman, damn it!" He was hit in the head by three bullets and torn apart.
Fellow soldiers wrapped Tillman's body in a poncho and later burned his bloody clothing and body armor—because they were a biohazard, the soldiers claimed. Commanders meanwhile debated how and when they'd admit the fratricide. They were silent, Tillman's father, Patrick, would say later, because "they killed their poster boy" in an unpopular war during an election year.

Family pressure and heavy media coverage eventually prompted the four different investigations, with results of the fifth soon to be released. The latest probe is, in part, a review of the earlier ones, the Army says. It's supposed to clear up disputed details of Tillman's death—whether it was a "fog of war" accident caused by the confused inability to determine friend from foe, or possibly death by "fragging" (an intentional shooting). A secondary probe could also establish whether officials tried to criminally cover up details of the case.

Truth has been just as elusive and delayed in the Buryj case, as his family sees it. But theirs is a lonelier fight for a son no less loved. Mother Peggy remembers looking out her window and seeing the uniformed officer on her doorstep that sad day in May. She put off going to the door. The longer she waited, the longer Jesse would still be alive.

"He said Jesse was killed when a truck rammed his Humvee," Peggy Buryj says, referring to what a casualty officer told her. Her son was among a small contingent manning a checkpoint when a heavy dump truck sped out of the night toward them. Buryj, a Humvee turret gunner, fired hundreds of rounds, killing the driver and saving fellow soldiers' lives, the record shows. But the truck kept coming, knocking over the Humvee and throwing Buryj to the ground.

At first, Peggy Buryj believed the incident to have been an accident. That's what she was told by the military, according to an Associated Press report the day after his death: "'Everyone was fine, but Jesse's stomach was hurting him,' she said she was told. 'They took him to a hospital where they found he had massive internal injuries, and he died on the operating table.'" She didn't know it at the time, but he also had a bullet inside him. The fatal wound had not been obvious at the scene, but the mangled slug was discovered in a postmortem CAT scan.

No one in the truck had fired at them, the soldiers reported that day. That meant Buryj was killed by his own troops.

But it was more than two months before the Army told the Buryj family their son had been shot. When the death certificate arrived in July, it listed a "penetrating gunshot wound of the back."

The family was surprised and confused. There was no indication who fired the shot.

Peggy Buryj began making calls, writing letters, and sending e-mails. Fortuitously, President Bush came to Canton that summer during the 2004 election campaign and met some of Ohio's grieving war families. Peggy got a brief audience and asked him to help her learn more. He promised to do what he could.

But for the most part, the family was on its own. Peggy, 53, who works part time, learned how to file Freedom of Information Act requests with the Army. In February 2005, she and husband Steve, 54, a worker at an Akron plastics company, received a copy of Jesse's Army autopsy report. Nine months after Buryj's death, his family for the first time saw the official words "friendly fire," or death resulting from mistaken aim or misidentification of the target.

"We had no idea until then," the mother recalls.

Buryj is one of possibly two dozen U.S. service members killed by their own troops or allies in Afghanistan and Iraq—on the ground and in mistaken aerial attacks—out of more than 3,570 deaths. (The ratio was much worse in the 1991 Gulf War, with 35 out of 148 U.S. combat deaths from friendly fire.) The Army confirms 17 fratricides since 2001, and documents obtained by the Army Times last year turned up six other suspected friendly-fire incidents involving the deaths of nine U.S. soldiers. Several British and Canadian soldiers have also been killed by Americans. It can be devastating to all involved. Last month, the London Sun said a cockpit recording of two U.S. pilots—who'd just learned they'd accidentally killed a British soldier on the ground—captured them saying "I'm going to be sick" and "We're in jail, dude." Last week, a London coroner's inquest found the soldier's death avoidable and "criminal."

Fog of war is "the generic answer" to many of the deaths, says John Pike, a military expert and director of the D.C. think-tank Global Security, "though there are always more specific elements in each case." He didn't want to comment directly on Buryj's or other individual cases, but said, "Combat is an enormously confusing, chaotic environment, which is one reason ground troops spend so much time training, so that when faced with actual combat, they are able to respond instinctively." The services have been developing new techniques and technology to prevent such deaths, including sewing electronic chips into military clothing that can be seen on computer screens in vehicles and aircraft.

Some of the very first deaths in the "war on terror" were from friendly fire. A 2,000-pound U.S. bomb missed its target and killed three Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan in December 2001. One of the dead was Army Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser, 28, whose mother and stepfather live in Seattle; they were informed within 24 hours of the well-publicized bombing that left 20 other U.S. soldiers injured, and six allied Afghan fighters dead. The first American soldier to die from "unfriendly," or enemy, fire was Army Sgt. Nathan Chapman, 31, of Puyallup, who was killed the next month in Afghanistan.

The military uses the term "nonhostile fire" to describe what are usually noncombat deaths caused by fellow soldiers, oftentimes merely by stumbling or failing to secure a weapon. That's what happened to Capt. James Shull of Kirkland, for example. He was accidentally killed in 2003, on routine patrol in Baghdad, when one of his men tossed a rifle into the back of a Humvee and the M-16 discharged. Shull, 32, married with three children, was killed instantly.

The Army's casualty reporting methods have been questioned in other friendly-fire cases, such as the death of Army 1st Lt. Ken Ballard, 26, from California. He died in May 2004 in Iraq—killed in action, his family was initially told. They later learned, by requesting military records, that the tank commander died from the accidental discharge of an unmanned machine gun (incredibly, it had been triggered by a tree limb as the tank passed under it). The reporting system also failed for the families of two California National Guardsmen, Spc. Patrick McCaffrey, 34, and Lt. Andre Tyson, 33, killed in 2004 supposedly in an enemy ambush in Iraq. It wasn't until last summer that the Army finally admitted the two were murdered by members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps they were training.

Last year, the Army reviewed nearly 800 fatalities in an attempt to improve its reporting. The service says it found seven cases—Tillman's and Buryj's among them—where families were misinformed. Lt. Col. Kevin Arata of the Army's Human Resources Command in Virginia says that led to "major steps" to improve the casualty-report process. Another layer of review, by field-grade officers, has been added to verify the accuracy of initial casualty information, Arata tells Seattle Weekly, and any war death now will get a more thorough look "to ensure families ultimately received the most accurate information."

New procedures to cross-reference and double-check investigations are in place, Arata adds, and families now are entitled to receive a follow-up report, redacted and declassified, "to verify or clarify the initial circumstances in a much shorter period of time."

That's well and good, says Peggy Buryj, if it prevents other families from going through the misery she has endured. But she thinks an independent entity should be established to help families hack a path through the Army's tangled bureaucracy. "The only people shooting that day were the good guys," she says. "I buried my son not knowing that."

It wasn't until Army officials arrived at her home in April 2005, handing over a "final" report, that she learned Buryj's unit had been on a joint mission with Polish troops, who then had about 300 soldiers in Iraq.
And "most likely," the report said, one of the Poles had killed her son. But when Buryj put in a call to the Polish Embassy in D.C., "they denied it," she recalls.

The embassy confirmed that denial to Seattle Weekly. Defense attaché Maj. Rafal Nowak says the Polish government conducted its own inquiry into the death, and "the conclusion was that the Polish troops were not responsible for Buryj's death." The inquiry determined that the bullet fragment found in Buryj's body was standard 5.56 ammunition used by both U.S. and Polish troops, but that it couldn't have been fired by a Polish soldier because the Polish unit was positioned to shoot at the truck and not toward the checkpoint where Buryj was posted.

After two field investigations, the U.S. Army couldn't fully resolve this and other questions. With the Buryjs pushing for more details, in part through their congressional representatives, the service's watchdog agency, the Army inspector general's office, last year decided to undertake a new probe, reviewing both the case and the investigations into it.

Last November, the report arrived, leaving Peggy Buryj lost in her own kind of fog of war.

She learned for the first time that, like in Tillman's case, as many as four American soldiers, in addition to the Polish troops, had apparently been suspected of firing the fatal bullet.

But the bullet fragment taken from Jesse Buryj's body had been lost—accidentally destroyed in late 2005, the inspector general said, when it was mixed in with evidence from hostile-fire cases and criminal investigators tossed them all out.

"They threw away the bullet!" exclaims a frustrated Peggy Buryj. That news hit her in much the same way the news of Tillman's clothing destruction affected his stunned parents. "I lost the last bit of confidence I had in the Army," Buryj says.

The fragment could have been instrumental in determining which gun had fired the fatal shot. But it may have been a moot point: The IG also discovered that no ballistics samples were taken from the suspect weapons after the shooting in 2004.

"Had the four U.S. weapons been tested [and the bullet retained], this might have eliminated doubts over whether U.S. weapons fired the fatal round," said the report.

The IG outlined a series of Army errors compounded by more mistakes, paperwork screwups, and unexplained reporting delays, although the probe found no evidence of an intentional cover-up.

The Army's methods in the case were "often inaccurate and untimely," the IG concluded. The Army officially declared the shooting "a tragic accident" likely caused by an unknown ally.

With her son's story lacking the final, whodunit chapter, Peggy Buryj would like to see a full-scale probe like the one being done in the Tillman case by the Army Criminal Investigative Division, under orders from the IG. There's reasonable cause, she says.

"I think it may have been someone from the 66."

At least, that's what she was told, she says, by one of the officers in Jesse's 66th MP Company.

A lieutenant, he "came to our house last February [2006]," Buryj says."He had heard me on a radio show talking about Jesse. He called and asked if he could come by and talk to me. He was very afraid and at first wouldn't tell me his name.After a while, I figured out who he was." She won't publicly identify the officer.

"He told me who had confessed to killing Jesse. [The officer] was not there when Jess was killed, but he was there when the confession was made and the reports were falsified."

Buryj says she relayed the information to the IG's office, but was told the officer who had spoken with her had since left the service and the Army lacked jurisdiction. The IG's office won't comment today.
"They totally discredited him by saying he was demoted while in Iraq and had an ax to grind with commanders of the 66th," Buryj says. "That may be true, but people I've talked to in the 66th say it isn't."

Time is working against her now, as it is for the Tillmans. Three of the four likely shooters in Tillman's case are out of the service, free from military punishment.

"I think they're waiting for the same thing in Jess' case," says Buryj, suggesting the Army can just drop the case altogether if the alleged shooter of her son leaves the service.

A civil lawsuit would be expensive and perhaps futile—the military services are shielded from most tort claims for injury and death under a 60-year-old law known as the Feres doctrine, which, for the "good of the service," immunizes the military from what could be a barrage of claims.

Besides, says Buryj, if key evidence is missing, other than asking for a criminal probe, "There's just no place I know to go from here. Is it good enough? No. But what can I do about it? I guess you just live with your frustration."

She pauses.

"He was funny; that's the one thing I miss most. He was the funniest person I ever met. We were always on the same wavelength." She visits him weekly, sometimes driving past the football fans downtown.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Gen. Petraeus and a High-Profile Suicide in Iraq

Col. Ted Westhusing, a West Point scholar, put a bullet in his head in Iraq after reporting widespread corruption. His suicide note -- complaining about human rights abuses and other crimes -- was addressed to his two commanders, including Gen. David Petraeus, now leader of the U.S. "surge" effort in Iraq. It urged them to "Reevaluate yourselves....You are not what you think you are and I know it."

By Greg Mitchell

(March 14, 2007) -- The scourge of suicides among American troops in Iraq is a serious, and seriously underreported, problem, as this column has observed numerous times in the past three years. One of the few high-profile cases involved a much-admired Army colonel named Ted Westhusing.

A portrait of Westhusing written by T. Christian Miller for the Los Angeles Times in November 2005 (which I covered at the time) revealed that Westhusing, before putting a bullet through his head, had been deeply disturbed by abuses carried out by American contractors in Iraq, including allegations that they had witnessed or even participated in the murder of Iraqis.

His widow, asked by a friend what killed this West Point scholar, had replied simply: "Iraq."

Now, a new article reveals -- based on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act -- that Westhusing's apparent suicide note included claims that his two commanders tolerated a mission based on "corruption, human right abuses and liars." One of those commanders: the new leader of the "surge" campaign in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus.

Westhusing, 44, had been found dead in a trailer at a military base near the Baghdad airport in June 2005, a single gunshot wound to the head. At the time, he was the highest-ranking officer to die in Iraq. The Army concluded that he committed suicide with his service pistol. Westhusing was an unusual case: “one of the Army's leading scholars of military ethics, a full professor at West Point who volunteered to serve in Iraq to be able to better teach his students. He had a doctorate in philosophy; his dissertation was an extended meditation on the meaning of honor,” Miller explained in his L.A. Times piece.

”So it was only natural that Westhusing acted when he learned of possible corruption by U.S. contractors in Iraq. A few weeks before he died, Westhusing received an anonymous complaint that a private security company he oversaw had cheated the U.S. government and committed human rights violations. Westhusing confronted the contractor and reported the concerns to superiors, who launched an investigation.

”In e-mails to his family, Westhusing seemed especially upset by one conclusion he had reached: that traditional military values such as duty, honor and country had been replaced by profit motives in Iraq, where the U.S. had come to rely heavily on contractors for jobs once done by the military.”

His death followed quickly. "He was sick of money-grubbing contractors," one official recounted. Westhusing said that "he had not come over to Iraq for this." After a three-month inquiry, investigators declared Westhusing's death a suicide.

Now, nearly 18 months after Miller's article, The Texas Observer this month has published a cover story by contributor Robert Bryce titled "I Am Sullied No More." Bryce covers much of the same ground paved by Miller but adds details on the Petraeus angle.

"When he was in Iraq, Westhusing worked for one of the most famous generals in the U.S. military, David Petraeus," Bryce observes. "As the head of counterterrorism and special operations under Petraeus, Westhusing oversaw the single most important task facing the U.S. military in Iraq then and now: training the Iraqi security forces."

Bryce refers to a "two-inch stack of documents, obtained over the past 15 months under the Freedom of Information Act, that provides many details of Westhusing’s suicide. The pile includes interviews with Westhusing’s co-workers, diagrams of his sleeping quarters, interviews with his family members, and partially redacted reports from the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command and Inspector General.

"The documents echo the story told by Westhusing’s friends. 'Something he saw [in Iraq] drove him to this,' one Army officer who was close to Westhusing said in an interview. 'The sum of what he saw going on drove him' to take his own life. 'It’s because he believed in duty, honor, country that he’s dead.'"

In Iraq, Westhusing worked under two generals: Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, and Petraeus, then a lieutenant general. In a March 2005 e-mail, Petraeus told Westhusing that he had “already exceeded the very lofty expectations that all had for you.”

But Bryce continues: "By late May, Westhusing was becoming despondent over what he was seeing. Steeped in—and totally believing in—the West Point credo that a cadet will 'not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those who do,' Westhusing found himself surrounded by contractors who had no interest in his ideals. He asked family members to pray for him. In a phone call with his wife, Michelle, who was back at West Point, Westhusing told her he planned to tell Petraeus that he was going to quit. She pleaded with him to just finish his tour and return home."

When his body was found on June, a note was found nearby addressed to Petraeus and Fil. According to Bryce it read:

"Thanks for telling me it was a good day until I briefed you. [Redacted name]—You are only interested in your career and provide no support to your staff—no msn [mission] support and you don’t care. I cannot support a msn that leads to corruption, human right abuses and liars. I am sullied—no more. I didn’t volunteer to support corrupt, money grubbing contractors, nor work for commanders only interested in themselves. I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored. I trust no Iraqi. I cannot live this way. All my love to my family, my wife and my precious children. I love you and trust you only. Death before being dishonored any more.

"Trust is essential—I don’t know who trust anymore. Why serve when you cannot accomplish the mission, when you no longer believe in the cause, when your every effort and breath to succeed meets with lies, lack of support, and selfishness? No more. Reevaluate yourselves, cdrs [commanders]. You are not what you think you are and I know it."

Twelve days after Westhusing’s body was found, Army investigators talked with his widow, Michelle, who told them: "The one thing I really wish is you guys to go to everyone listed in that letter and speak with them. I think Ted gave his life to let everyone know what was going on. They need to get to the bottom of it, and hope all these bad things get cleaned up.”

Bryce concludes:

"In September 2005, the Army’s inspector general concluded an investigation into allegations raised in the anonymous letter to Westhusing shortly before his death. It found no basis for any of the issues raised. Although the report is redacted in places, it is clear that the investigation was aimed at determining whether Fil or Petraeus had ignored the corruption and human rights abuses allegedly occurring within the training program for Iraqi security personnel. The report, approved by the Army’s vice chief of staff, four-star Gen. Richard Cody, concluded that 'commands and commanders operated in an Iraqi cultural and ethical environment often at odds with Western practices.' It said none of the unit members 'accepted institutional corruption or human rights abuses. Unit members, and specifically [redacted name] and [redacted name] took appropriate action where corruption or abuse was reported.'

"The context, placement and relative size of the redacted names strongly suggest that they refer to Petraeus and Fil.

"Last November, Fil returned to Iraq. He is now the commanding general of the Multinational Division in Baghdad and of the 1st Cavalry Division. On February 12, Petraeus took command of all U.S. forces in Iraq. He now wears four stars."