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.