Tuesday, July 31, 2007

From "News Unfit to Print"

The Heroic Pat Tillman, the Saintly Ted Westhusing


--submitted by Patti Woodard

Accustomed to Their Own Atrocities in Iraq, U.S. Soldiers Have Become Murderers

By Chris Hedges

All troops, when they occupy and battle insurgent forces, as in Iraq, or Gaza or Vietnam, are placed in "atrocity producing situations."

In this environment, surrounded by a hostile population, simple acts such as going to a store to buy a can of Coke means you can be killed. This constant fear and stress pushes troops to view everyone around them as the enemy. This hostility is compounded when the enemy, as in Iraq, is elusive, shadowy and hard to find.

The rage soldiers feel after a roadside bomb explodes, killing or maiming their comrades, is one that is easily directed over time to innocent civilians who are seen to support the insurgents. It is a short psychological leap, but a massive moral leap. It is a leap from killing -- the shooting of someone who has the capacity to do you harm -- to murder -- the deadly assault against someone who cannot harm you. The war in Iraq is now primarily about murder. There is very little killing.

After four years of war, American Marines and soldiers have become socialized to atrocity. The American killing project is not described in these terms to a distant public. The politicians still speak in the abstract terms of glory, honor, and heroism, in the necessity of improving the world, in lofty phrases of political and spiritual renewal. Those who kill large numbers of people always claim it as a virtue. The campaign to rid the world of terror is expressed with this rhetoric, as if once all terrorists are destroyed evil itself will vanish.

The reality behind the myth, however, is very different. The reality and the ideal clash when soldiers and Marines return home, alienating these combat veterans from the world around them, a world that still dines out on the myth of war and the virtues of the nation. But slowly returning veterans are giving us a new narrative of the war -- one that exposes the vast enterprise of industrial slaughter unleashed in Iraq for a lie and sustained because of wounded national pride and willful ignorance. "This unit sets up this traffic control point and this 18 year old kid is on top of an armored Humvee with a .50 caliber machine gun," remembered Geoffrey Millard who served in Tikrit with the 42nd Infantry Division. "And this car speeds at him pretty quick and he makes a split second decision that that's a suicide bomber, and he presses the butterfly trigger and puts 200 rounds in less than a minute into this vehicle. It killed the mother, a father and two kids. The boy was aged four and the daughter was aged three."

"And they briefed this to the general," Millard said, "and they briefed it gruesome. I mean, they had pictures. They briefed it to him. And this colonel turns around to this full division staff and says, 'if these fucking Hadjis learned to drive, this shit wouldn't happen.'"

Those who come back from war, like Millard and tens of thousands of other veterans, suffer not only delayed reactions to stress, but a crisis of faith. The God they knew, or thought they knew, failed them. The church or the synagogue or the mosque, which promised redemption by serving God and country, did not prepare them for the betrayal of this civic religion, for the capacity we all have for human atrocity, for the lies and myths used to mask the reality of war. War is always about betrayal, betrayal of the young by the old, of idealists by cynics and of troops by politicians. This bitter knowledge of betrayal has seeped into the ranks of American troops.

It has unleashed a new wave of embittered veterans not seen since the Vietnam War. It has made it possible for us to begin, again, to see war's death mask.

"And then, you know, my sort of sentiment of what the fuck are we doing, that I felt that way in Iraq," said Sergeant Ben Flanders, who estimated that he ran hundreds of convoys in Iraq. "It's the sort of insanity of it and the fact that it reduces it. Well, I think war does anyway, but I felt like there was this enormous reduction in my compassion for people, the only thing that wound up mattering is myself and the guys that I was with. And everybody else be damned, whether you are an Iraqi, I'm sorry, I'm sorry you live here, I'm sorry this is a terrible situation, and I'm sorry that you have to deal with all of, you know, army vehicles running around and shooting, and these insurgents and all this stuff.

"The first briefing you get when you get off the plane in Kuwait, and you get off the plane and you're holding a duffle bag in each hand," Millard remembered. "You've got your weapon slung. You've got a web sack on your back. You're dying of heat. You're tired. You're jet-lagged. Your mind is just full of goop. And then, you're scared on top of that, because, you know, you're in Kuwait, you're not in the States anymore … so fear sets in, too. And they sit you into this little briefing room and you get this briefing about how, you know, you can't trust any of these fucking Hadjis, because all these fucking Hadjis are going to kill you. And Hadji is always used as a term of disrespect and usually, with the 'f' word in front of it."

War is also the pornography of violence. It has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque. The Bible calls it "the lust of the eye" and warns believers against it. War allows us to engage in lusts and passions we keep hidden in the deepest, most private interiors of our fantasy life. It allows us to destroy not only things but human beings. In that moment of wholesale destruction, we wield the power to the divine, the power to revoke another person's charter to live on this earth. The frenzy of this destruction -- and when unit discipline breaks down, or there was no unit discipline to begin with, frenzy is the right word -- sees armed bands crazed by the poisonous elixir our power to bring about the obliteration of others delivers. All things, including human beings, become objects -- objects to either gratify or destroy or both. Almost no one is immune. The contagion of the crowd sees to that.

Human beings are machine gunned and bombed from the air, automatic grenade launchers pepper hovels and neighbors with high-powered explosive devices and convoys race through Iraq like freight trains of death. These soldiers and Marines have at their fingertips the heady ability to call in air strikes and firepower that obliterate landscapes and villages in fiery infernos. They can instantly give or deprive human life, and with this power they became sick and demented. The moral universe is turned upside down. All human beings are used as objects. And no one walks away uninfected. War thrusts us into a vortex of pain and fleeting ecstasy. It thrusts us into a world where law is of little consequence, human life is cheap and the gratification of the moment becomes the overriding desire that must be satiated, even at the cost of another's dignity or life.

"A lot of guys really supported that whole concept that, you know, if they don't speak English and they have darker skin, they're not as human as us, so we can do what we want," said Josh Middleton, who served in the 82nd Airborne in Iraq. "And you know, when 20 year old kids are yelled at back and forth at Bragg and we're picking up cigarette butts and getting yelled at every day to find a dirty weapon. But over here, it's like life and death. And 40-year-old Iraqi men look at us with fear and we can -- do you know what I mean? -- we have this power that you can't have. That's really liberating. Life is just knocked down to this primal level of, you know, you worry about where the next food's going to come from, the next sleep or the next patrol and to stay alive."

"It's like you feel like, I don't know, if you're a caveman," he added. "Do you know what I mean? Just, you know, I mean, this is how life is supposed to be. Life and death, essentially. No TV. None of that bullshit."

It takes little in wartime to turn ordinary men into killers. Most give themselves willingly to the seduction of unlimited power to destroy, and all feel the peer pressure to conform. Few, once in battle, find the strength to resist. Physical courage is common on a battlefield. Moral courage is not.

Military machines and state bureaucracies, who seek to make us obey, seek also to silence those who return from war to speak the truth, to hide from a public eager for stories of war that fit the mythic narrative the essence of war which is death.

Camilo Mejia, who eventually applied while still on active duty to become a conscientious objector, said the ugly side of American racism and chauvinism appeared the moment his unit arrived in the Middle East. Fellow soldiers instantly ridiculed Arab-style toilets because they would be "shitting like dogs." The troops around him treated Iraqis, whose language they did not speak and whose culture was alien, little better than animals. The word "Hadji" swiftly became a slur to refer to Iraqis, in much the same way "gook" was used to debase the Vietnamese or "rag head" is used to belittle those in Afghanistan.

Soon those around him ridiculed "Hadji food," "Hadji homes," and "Hadji music." Bewildered prisoners, who were rounded up in useless and indiscriminate raids, were stripped naked, and left to stand terrified and bewildered for hours in the baking sun. They were subjected to a steady torrent of verbal and physical abuse. "I experienced horrible confusion," Mejia remembers, "not knowing whether I was more afraid for the detainees or for what would happen to me if I did anything to help them."

These scenes of abuse, which began immediately after the American invasion, were little more than collective acts of sadism. Mejia watched, not daring to intervene, yet increasingly disgusted at the treatment of Iraqi civilians. He saw how the callous and unchecked abuse of power first led to alienation among Iraqis and spawned a raw hatred of the occupation forces. When army units raided homes, the soldiers burst in on frightened families, forced them to huddle in the corners at gun point, and helped themselves to food and items in the house.

"After we arrested drivers," he recalled, "we would choose whichever vehicles we liked, fuel them from confiscated jerry cans, and conduct undercover presence patrols in the impounded cars.

"But to this day I cannot find a single good answer as to why I stood by idly during the abuse of those prisoners except, of course, my own cowardice," he also notes.

Iraqi families were routinely fired upon for getting too close to check points, including an incident where an unarmed father driving a car was decapitated by a 50-caliber machine gun in front of his small son, although by then, Mejia notes, "this sort of killing of civilians had long ceased to arouse much interest or even comment." Soldiers shot holes into cans of gasoline being sold alongside the road and then tossed incendiary grenades into the pools to set them ablaze. "It's fun to shoot shit up," a soldier said. Some open fire on small children throwing rocks. And when improvised explosive devices go off the troops fire wildly into densely populated neighborhoods, leaving behind innocent victims who become, in the callous language of war, "collateral damage."

"We would drive on the wrong side of the highway to reduce the risk of being hit by an IED," Mejia said of the deadly roadside bombs. "This forced oncoming vehicles to move to one side of the road, and considerably slowed down the flow of traffic. In order to avoid being held up in traffic jams, where someone could roll a grenade under our trucks, we would simply drive up on sidewalks, running over garbage cans and even hitting civilian vehicles to push them out of the way. Many of the soldiers would laugh and shriek at these tactics."

At one point the unit was surrounded by an angry crowd protesting the occupation. Mejia and his squad opened fire on an Iraqi holding a grenade, riddling the man's body with bullets. Mejia checked his clip afterwards and determined that he fired 11 rounds into the young man. Units, he said, nonchalantly opened fire in crowded neighborhoods with heavy M-240 Bravo machine guns, AT-4 launchers and Mark 19s, a machine gun that spits out grenades.

"The frustration that resulted from our inability to get back at those who were attacking us," Mejia writes, "led to tactics that seemed designed simply to punish the local population that was supporting them."

He watched soldiers from his unit abuse the corpses of Iraqi dead. Mejia related how, in one incident, soldiers laughed as an Iraqi corpse fell from the back of a truck.

"Take a picture of me and this motherfucker," one of the soldiers who had been in Mejia's squad in third platoon said, putting his arm around the corpse.

The shroud fell away from the body revealing a young man wearing only his pants. There was a bullet hole in his chest.

"Damn, they really fucked you up, didn't they!?" the soldier laughed.

The scene, Mejia noted, was witnessed by the dead man's brothers and cousins. Senior officers, protected in heavily fortified compounds, rarely saw combat. They sent their troops on futile missions in the quest to be awarded Combat Infantry Badges. This recognition, Mejia notes, "was essential to their further progress up the officer ranks." This pattern meant that "very few high-ranking officers actually got out into the action, and lower-ranking officers were afraid to contradict them when they were wrong." When the badges, bearing an emblem of a musket with the hammer dropped, resting on top of an oak wreath, were finally awarded, the commanders immediately brought in Iraqi tailors to sew the badges on the left breast pockets of their desert combat uniforms.

"This was one occasion when our leaders led from the front," Mejia noted bitterly. "They were among the first to visit the tailors to get their little patches of glory sewn next to their hearts."
The war breeds gratuitous and constant acts of violence.

"I mean, if someone has a fan, they're a white collar family," said Phillip Chrystal, who carried out raids on Iraqi homes in Kirkuk. "So we get started on this day, this one, in particular. And it starts with the psy ops [psychological operations] vehicles out there, you know, with the big speakers playing a message in Arabic or Farsi or Kurdish or whatever they happen to be saying, basically, saying put your weapons, if you have them, next to the front door in your house. Please come outside, blah, blah, blah, blah. And we had Apaches flying over for security, if they're needed, and it's also a good show of force. And we were running around, and we'd done a few houses by this point, and I was with my platoon leader, my squad leader and maybe a couple other people, but I don't really remember.

"And we were approaching this one house, and this farming area, they're, like, built up into little courtyards," he said. "So they have like the main house, common area. They have like a kitchen and then, they have like a storage shed-type deal. And we were approaching, and they had a family dog. And it was barking ferociously, because it was doing its job. And my squad leader, just out of nowhere, just shoots it. And he didn't -- mother fucker -- he shot it and it went in the jaw and exited out. So I see this dog -- and I'm a huge animal lover. I love animals -- and this dog has like these eyes on it and he's running around spraying blood all over the place. And like, you know, the family is sitting right there with three little children and a mom and a dad horrified. And I'm at a loss for words. And so, I yell at him. I'm like what the fuck are you doing.

"And so, the dog's yelping. It's crying out without a jaw. And I'm looking at the family, and they're just scared. And so, I told them I was like fucking shoot it, you know. At least, kill it, because that can't be fixed. It's suffering. And I actually get tears from just saying this right now, but -- and I had tears then, too, -- and I'm looking at the kids and they are so scared. So I got the interpreter over with me and, you know, I get my wallet out and I gave them 20 bucks, because that's what I had. And, you know, I had him give it to them and told them that I'm so sorry that asshole did that. Which was very common. I don't know if it's rednecks or what, but they feel that shooting dogs is something that adds to one's manliness traits. I don't know. I had a big problem with that.

"Was a report ever filed about it?" he asked. "Was anything ever done? Any punishment ever dished out? No, absolutely not. He was a sycophant down to the T."

We make our heroes out of clay. We laud their gallant deeds and give them uniforms with colored ribbons on their chest for the acts of violence they committed or endured. They are our false repositories of glory and honor, of power, of self-righteousness, of patriotism and self-worship, all that we want to believe about ourselves. They are our plaster saints of war, the icons we cheer to defend us and make us and our nation great. They are the props of our civic religion, our love of power and force, our belief in our right as a chosen nation to wield this force against the weak and rule. This is our nation's idolatry of itself. And this idolatry has corrupted religious institutions, not only here but in most nations, making it impossible for us to separate the will of God from the will of the state.

Prophets are not those who speak of piety and duty from pulpits -- few people in pulpits have much worth listening to -- but it is the battered wrecks of men and women who return from Iraq and speak the halting words we do not want to hear, words that we must listen to and heed to know ourselves. They tell us war is a soulless void. They have seen and tasted how war plunges us to barbarity, perversion, pain and an unchecked orgy of death. And it is their testimonies alone that have the redemptive power to save us from ourselves.

Chris Hedges is the former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times and the author of "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning."

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/58101/

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--submitted by Patti Woodard

Friday, July 27, 2007

Was Tillman Murdered?

Was Tillman Murdered? AP Gets New Documents

Published: July 26, 2007 11:30 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman's forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player's death amounted to a crime, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

"The medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described," a doctor who examined Tillman's body after he was killed on the battlefield in Afghanistan in 2004 told investigators.

The doctors - whose names were blacked out - said that the bullet holes were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.

Ultimately, the Pentagon did conduct a criminal investigation, and asked Tillman's comrades whether he was disliked by his men and whether they had any reason to believe he was deliberately killed.

The Pentagon eventually ruled that Tillman's death at the hands of his comrades was a friendly-fire accident.

The medical examiners' suspicions were outlined in 2,300 pages of testimony released to the AP this week by the Defense Department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Among other information contained in the documents:-- In his last words moments before he was killed, Tillman snapped at a panicky comrade under fire to shut up and stop "sniveling."

-- Army attorneys sent each other congratulatory e-mails for keeping criminal investigators at bay as the Army conducted an internal friendly-fire investigation that resulted in administrative, or non-criminal, punishments.--

The three-star general who kept the truth about Tillman's death from his family and the public told investigators some 70 times that he had a bad memory and couldn't recall details of his actions.

-- No evidence at all of enemy fire was found at the scene - no one was hit by enemy fire, nor was any government equipment struck.

The Pentagon and the Bush administration have been criticized in recent months for lying about the circumstances of Tillman's death.

The military initially told the public and the Tillman family that he had been killed by enemy fire. Only weeks later did the Pentagon acknowledge he was gunned down by fellow Rangers.

With questions lingering about how high in the Bush administration the deception reached, Congress is preparing for yet another hearing next week.

The Pentagon is separately preparing a new round of punishments, including a stinging demotion of retired Lt. Gen. Philip R. Kensinger Jr., 60, according to military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the punishments under consideration have not been made public.

In more than four hours of questioning by the Pentagon inspector general's office in December 2006, Kensinger repeatedly contradicted other officers' testimony, and sometimes his own.

He said on some 70 occasions that he did not recall something.At one point, he said: "You've got me really scared about my brain right now. I'm really having a problem."

Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, who has long suggested that her son was deliberately killed by his comrades, said she is still looking for answers and looks forward to the congressional hearings next week.

"Nothing is going to bring Pat back. It's about justice for Pat and justice for other soldiers. The nation has been deceived," she said.

The documents show that a doctor who autopsied Tillman's body was suspicious of the three gunshot wounds to the forehead.

The doctor said he took the unusual step of calling the Army's Human Resources Command and was rebuffed.

He then asked an official at the Army's Criminal Investigation Division if the CID would consider opening a criminal case.

"He said he talked to his higher headquarters and they had said no," the doctor testified.

Also according to the documents, investigators pressed officers and soldiers on a question Mrs. Tillman has been asking all along.

"Have you, at any time since this incident occurred back on April 22, 2004, have you ever received any information even rumor that Cpl. Tillman was killed by anybody within his own unit intentionally?" an investigator asked then-Capt. Richard Scott.

Scott, and others who were asked, said they were certain the shooting was accidental.

Investigators also asked soldiers and commanders whether Tillman was disliked, whether anyone was jealous of his celebrity, or if he was considered arrogant. They said Tillman was respected, admired and well-liked.

--submitted by Patti Woodard
More on the Tillman Case

General Faces Demotion in Tillman Case


Associated Press Writer

6:38 PM EDT, July 26, 2007


Army Secretary Pete Geren is expected to recommend demoting a retired three-star general for his role in providing misleading information to investigators about the friendly-fire shooting of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, military officials say.

In what would be a stinging and rare rebuke, Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, who headed Army special operations, is one of seven high-ranking Army officers expected to receive official reprimands for critical errors in reporting the circumstances of the Army Ranger's death in April 2004.

The officials requested anonymity because the punishments under consideration by Geren have not been made public. The Army said it has not made any final decisions. The Army plans an announcement next week, after notifying Tillman's family and Congress of its actions.

Geren also is considering a letter of censure to Kensinger. He is in line for the harshest punishment of those involved in what has become a three-year controversy that led to more than half a dozen investigations. Five other officers, including three generals, are expected to receive less severe letters criticizing their actions.

Army officials decided against tougher penalties, which could have included additional demotions, dishonorable discharges or prison time. One senior officer, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, escaped punishment.

Tillman's death received worldwide attention because he had walked away from a huge contract with the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Tillman's mother, Mary, said the impending punishments were inadequate.

"I'm not satisfied with any of it," she said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
She rejected the Pentagon's characterization of the officers' offenses as "errors" in reporting her son's death, when several officers have said they decided against telling the Tillman family that friendly fire was suspected.

Geren's pending decisions come four months after two investigative reports found that Army officers provided misleading and inaccurate information about Tillman's death. A central issue has been why the Army waited about five weeks after it suspected friendly fire was involved before telling his family.

The investigations found that nine officers, including four generals, were at fault in providing the bad information and should be held accountable. But the reports determined there was no criminal wrongdoing in the actual shooting and that there was no deliberate cover-up.

Geren then named Gen. William Wallace to review the investigations and recommend disciplinary actions. Wallace disagreed with initial findings against McChrystal, according to the military officials.

But Wallace also surprised Army officials by singling out a 10th officer -- one who had not been blamed in the earlier reports -- for rebuke.

Brig. Gen. Gina Farrisee, director of military personnel management at the Pentagon, is expected to receive a letter of punishment for her involvement in the oversight of the awarding of Tillman's Silver Star.

Two others who were blamed in earlier reports are also expected to receive letters of admonishment: Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, who led one of the early Army investigations, and Brig. Gen. James C. Nixon, who was Tillman's regimental commander.

Jones, now retired from the Army, was faulted for failing to address several issues, leading to speculation that Army officials were concealing information about Tillman's death.
Nixon was criticized for failing to ensure that Tillman's family was told.

The names of the three lower level officers expected to be punished have not been released by the military. But they are likely among the five who were blamed -- but also not named -- in the earlier investigations.

According to an AP analysis of the reports and other documents, those five officers include then-Capt. Richard Scott, who conducted the first investigation into the shooting, and then-Lt. Col. Jeff Bailey, the battalion commander who oversaw Tillman's platoon and played a role in the recommendation for his Silver Star. Officials would not say if either of those are among the ones recommended for rebuke.

It is no surprise that Kensinger, 60, is in line for the most severe punishment. An investigation by the Defense Department's inspector general found "compelling evidence that Kensinger learned of suspected fratricide well before the memorial service and provided misleading testimony" on that issue. That misrepresentation, the report said, could constitute a "false official statement," a violation of the Military Code of Justice.

Farrisee's rebuke is tied to the Army recommendations that Tillman receive the Silver Star. The investigations found that Army officials were aware that Tillman probably died as a result of friendly fire, but that they moved ahead with the medal, for heroism in the face of the enemy.

If Geren does recommend to Defense Secretary Robert Gates that Kensinger lose a star and be demoted to major general, that would lower Kensinger's retirement benefits. As an example, a lieutenant general retiring in 2006 would earn about $9,400 per month, while a major general would get about $8,500 per month.

The letters of rebuke for the others could be crippling blows, too. They can include letters of concern, reprimand or censure, with escalating degrees of gravity.

"For officers generally, a reprimand is a devastating career injury," said Eugene Fidell, a lawyer who specializes in military cases and teaches at American University's Washington College of Law. "It can trigger an effort to throw the person out of the military. It can trigger a reduction in pay grade when the time comes to retire. It can prevent a future promotion and it can gum up a promotion that has already been decided."

For a one-star general, Fidell said, it could mean they are likely to never get a second star. He said a lower level officer, such as a captain, "would have to dig out of a deep hole to continue his or her career. Letters of reprimand are truly bad news."

Associated Press reporter Scott Lindlaw in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007, The Associated Press

--submitted by Patti Woodard

Editorial: Seeking the Truth About Pat Tillman

Published: July 27, 2007

The Pentagon indicated yesterday that several high-ranking officers will soon be punished for misleading investigators probing the 2004 death of Cpl. Pat Tillman, the Army Ranger who became an icon in the administration’s war on terror but who was later found to have been killed by friendly fire. While this could provide a measure of accountability, it should not stop Representative Henry A. Waxman from pursuing his dogged efforts to get to the bottom of this convoluted and troubling case.

Corporal Tillman, who walked away from a lucrative football contract to enlist in the Army after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, in a hail of fire from fellow Rangers who mistakenly believed that his small group was an enemy force.

That Corporal Tillman was killed by friendly fire appears to have be known to his fellow soldiers within a day of the incident, if not sooner. But at some point in the first few days another story was concocted asserting that he had died from enemy fire as he heroically tried to help the unit that shot him. The truth did not emerge — and was not conveyed to his family — until more than a month had gone by and a well-publicized and widely televised memorial service had taken place.

Mr. Waxman, who runs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is asking three basic questions: Who initiated the phony story? How far up the chain of command did the deception go? And what did the White House know?

Mr. Waxman has reviewed more than a thousand pages that the White House, with some reluctance, has provided his staff for private review. He now wants some of these documents made available to the full committee, but since the written record seems to shed little light on what the White House was or was not being told, he has also asked four former members of the White House staff to testify. Among them is them Scott McClellan, a former press secretary.

There are at least two possible outcomes here. One is that the White House was part of the deception, which would be bad for the White House. Another is that the White House did not learn the truth any sooner than the public or the Tillman family, which would be very bad for the Pentagon. Mr. Waxman should continue his quest, and the White house must be responsive.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Non-combat Deaths in Iraq Drop

By Thomas Frank, USA TODAY

BAGHDAD — Non-combat U.S. troop deaths in Iraq have fallen for three years — largely because of fewer vehicle accidents — and account for the smallest percentage of fatalities for any war except the Korean conflict.

A USA TODAY analysis of Pentagon data shows 105 U.S. troops died in non-combat incidents, including suicide and illness, in the year ending June 30 — 11% of U.S. troop deaths in Iraq for that period. During the first year of the war, there were 193 non-combat deaths, about half of U.S. casualties in Iraq.

The falloff in non-combat deaths comes amid a spike in battle fatalities. There were 939 U.S. combat deaths in the year ending June 30, the most for any 12-month period of the war. In the first year, 387 troops died in combat.

Until World War II, non-combat deaths — from disease, cold and other causes — outnumbered those on the battlefield, said Malcolm Muir, a Virginia Military Institute historian.

Non-combat deaths in Iraq are dropping because troops do little driving unless they are on missions, said F. Andy Messing, executive director of the National Defense Council Foundation in Alexandria, Va.

Unlike past campaigns, U.S. forces in Iraq are largely confined to fortified bases and combat outposts. "People just aren't going out unless it's for a specific mission," said Messing, a retired Army Special Forces major. "It's a very different environment than in the Vietnam War or even the first Gulf War."

Leading causes of non-combat deaths in Iraq are vehicle accidents, gunshot wounds — accidents and suicides — and air crashes. The number of troops killed in vehicle accidents fell from 67 in the first year of the Iraq war to 23 in the most recent year, Pentagon data show.

Another factor: medical advances that allow them to be quickly airlifted to Germany and improve survival rates. It's "an extraordinary change in medical doctrine," Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said.

The smaller percentage of non-combat fatalities in Iraq — 645 of 3,631 total deaths — contrasts with the 1991 Gulf War. Then, more troops died outside of combat than in fighting, 235 vs. 147.

"That war was very short and relatively chaotic," said Dennis McBride, president of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies outside Washington.

In the current war, troops have had time to learn. "On flying missions, lessons get passed down to crews," improving safety, McBride said.

It wasn't until World War II, when medicine had vastly improved, that battlefield deaths outnumbered non-combat deaths, Pentagon figures show.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Pat Tillman Investigators Want Rumsfeld: House panel hopes to ask him about Ranger’s death

Published on Tuesday, July 17, 2007 by the San Francisco Chronicle

by Zachary Coile

WASHINGTON — House lawmakers, suspecting that top Pentagon officials covered up the 2004 friendly-fire death of football star and Army Ranger Pat Tillman, want former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and five generals to testify about the fatal shooting of the San Jose native by soldiers from his unit in Afghanistan.

The Democrats’ most tenacious investigator, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman of Los Angeles, joined by the panel’s ranking Republican, Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, announced Monday they will ask Rumsfeld, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers and retired Gen. John Abizaid, who oversaw operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, to testify at a hearing scheduled for Aug. 1.

Waxman’s goal is clear from the title of the hearing — “The Tillman Fratricide: What the Leadership of the Defense Department Knew.”

Rumsfeld and the others could resist testifying before the committee, a media event sure to attract almost every TV camera on Capitol Hill. But Waxman holds a powerful card: He is the only committee chairman who can issue subpoenas without a committee vote.

Still, with Davis’ support, it appears Waxman will have the committee’s backing to compel the witnesses to appear.

Many lawmakers already believe the Pentagon knew the facts of Tillman’s death for weeks, but misled the public by awarding him the Silver Star and spinning a false tale of his dying while fighting enemy forces.

“Who knew what and when?” Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, said Monday. “After years of obfuscation, and likely coverup, an American hero’s family and the nation remain inexcusably in the dark. The White House and Department of Defense’s refusal to answer this basic question about the death of Patrick Tillman is an affront to the sacrifices of America’s warriors.”
The committee also wants testimony from Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who sent a high-priority cable five days after Tillman’s death to Abizaid and other top Army commanders, warning that the former NFL safety probably had been killed by friendly fire — not by the Taliban, as the Army claimed publicly.

The memo, viewed as a smoking gun by congressional investigators, urged Abizaid to immediately contact “POTUS” — the president of the United States — “to preclude any unknowing statements by our country’s leaders which might cause public embarrassment.”
The memo also was sent to Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, who oversaw the Rangers, and Gen. Bryan “Doug” Brown, former chief of the Special Operations Command. Both generals, now retired, have been called to testify.

Army spokesman Paul Boyce said he could not comment on whether the current or former officials would agree to appear before Congress. The Army is waiting for more information from the committee, he said.

Waxman’s Oversight and Government Reform Committee launched the investigation earlier this year, sifting through evidence gathered by Tillman’s family and Army investigators that found that senior Army officers destroyed key evidence, including burning Tillman’s uniform and armor-plated vest; warned Tillman’s fellow soldiers not to discuss the incident; and later devised a public relations strategy for how to handle the football star’s death.

Several Army officers are expected to be disciplined for their handling of the shooting as part of a new Army inquiry. But Tillman’s family and House lawmakers believe that top Pentagon officials — including Abizaid and possibly Rumsfeld — also were aware of or approved the cover-up.

“How high up did this go?” Waxman asked at the committee’s first hearing in April.

Waxman and Davis have accused the Pentagon of blocking their inquiry by refusing to hand over documents, including e-mails and internal memos, about what top generals knew about Tillman’s death.

The Pentagon has turned over more than 10,000 pages of documents, but has refused to produce others, with White House lawyers citing executive branch confidentiality. Waxman and Davis, in a letter last week, said the information released thus far “sheds virtually no light on these matters.”

“From the very start, the administration has mishandled information about this tragedy and misinformed the American public,” said Rep. Tom Lantos, D-San Mateo, a senior Democrat on the committee. “It is high time they came clean and respected the oversight role of Congress in this issue.”

© 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Panel reviews casualty notification processes

By Karen Jowers - Staff writerPosted : Friday Jun 29, 2007 14:31:22 EDT

The Marine Corps may not be complying with a law that requires families to be notified when an investigation is being conducted in connection with the death or injury of their service member, such as in cases of friendly fire, a Marine Corps official acknowledged during a congressional hearing today.

The Marine Corps is aware of the law, said retired Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Downs, director of the personnel and family readiness division, which includes the casualty division, under Headquarters Marine Corps. He said the family is notified after the investigation is finished if a determination is made that the incident did involve friendly fire.

“Clearly, we need to look at the issue of ‘under investigation,’” Downs said, to ensure that combatant commanders put amendments into personnel casualty reports earlier, rather than waiting until the final investigation report is in.

“The existence of this regulation is well known. It’s an issue of 100 percent adherence,” Downs said.

Army, Navy and Air Force officials told the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee that families are notified when an investigation begins.

“As soon as we get information, the case is under investigation or unknown, we will notify the family,” said Brig. Gen. Reuben Jones, the Army’s adjutant general.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Anthony Przybyslawski, commander of the Air Force Personnel Center, said families are assigned an officer from the Office of Special Investigations within 72 hours of an investigation being opened in a death. Since 2004, OSI investigates every hostile incident death, he said.

The Army also investigates every hostile incident death.

The Navy also notifies families that investigations are being conducted, said Patrick McLaughlin, acting assistant deputy chief of naval operations and chief operating officer for manpower, personnel, training and education enterprise.

Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., the subcommittee chairman, described the hearing as “an unsatisfactory experience.”

“I thought this would be crisper, more clear and uniform. But I’ve got uneasiness about this process,” Snyder said. “I thought it would be laid out that all families are treated in the same way. Maybe they’re treated fairly, but they’re not getting the same information because it varies from service to service.”

--Source: The Army Times