Update 1 – 6 March
At the direction of the Inspector General, the Army is launching a criminal investigation into the death of Pat Tillman, the high-profile former NFL football player who was killed by “friendly fire” in Afghanistan on 22 April 2004. Tillman’s parents — and the media — were told he died heroically on the battlefield, even after the Army had launched an investigation based on probable negligence. Tillman’s parents went public with a call for a full investigation in mid-2005, noting that no one had ever been held accountable for Tillman’s death.
Although this is the fifth official investigation, it is the first first criminal investigation, a “rare rebuke” of military investigators. However, Patrick Tillman Sr., said,
“[I]f you send investigators to reinvestigate an investigation that was falsified in the first place, what do you think you’re going to get?”
On NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, “Although there’s no evidence that there was criminal activity, the investigators did not specifically look at whether or not there was criminal activity, criminal activity being when Cpl. Tillman was killed by friendly fire.”
Clear as mud.
We know from prior investigations that officers destroyed critical evidence. We know that the Army deliberately concealed the truth from Tillman’s family, including his brother, also an Army Ranger. We know that the Army deliberately concealed the truth from the American people: the nationally televised memorial ceremony in the US continued to tout a fictional account of his death, much like long-lived fictions surrounding the Jessica Lynch rescue.
How do we know this? Because of tenacious reporters and an anguished family who finally went public.
Why would the Administration not acknowledge the truth as soon as its investigators made the determination of “friendly fire”? Setting aside the fact that Tillman was the highest profile volunteer in US forces, events of that spring provide a rationale for a deliberate attempt to squash the story.
- 18 April 2004: The Seattle Times (my home town paper) releases images of flag-draped coffins on its front page. The Defense Contractor subsequently fires the employee.
- 22 April 2004: The same day that Tillman dies, The Memory Hole publishes coffin images obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
- 23 April 2004: “All top Ranger commanders were told of the suspected fratricide.”
- 28 April 2004: CBS broadcasts images of the abuse at Abu Ghraib.
- 30 April 2004: The New Yorker publishes its first analysis of Abu Ghraib, written by Seymour Hersh.
- 30 April 2004:
April was the bloodiest month for US troops in the year-old invasion. The 127 Americans killed in “hostile” events more than doubled the prior “record.” Until this milestone, the bloodiest month had been November 2003, with 73 killed in hostile actions.
- 1 May 2004: The one-year anniversary of Bush’s speech that hostilities had ended in Iraq.
- 3 May 2004: Tillman’s nationally televised memorial. Army sticks by the official story of heroic death at the hands of the enemy, even though, as Forbes notes, “top Army officials were aware that the investigation showed the death had been caused by an act of ‘gross negligence.'”
- 29 May 2004: For the first time, more than a month after his death, the Army acknowledges publicly that Tillman is killed by friendly fire.
Tillman’s mother said earlier: “The Army used him. They knew right away he was killed by fratricide and used him for their own purposes to promote the war, to get sympathy for the war.” Given the above timeline, her sentiment seems sound.
I hope that this investigation helps Tillman’s family find peace. But I believe the odds of finding anyone culpable are slim, especially given the low-rank of individuals found “guilty” at Abu Ghraib.