Brother of Pat Tillman accuses military of deception
Kevin Tillman, who served in the same platoon in Afghanistan as his brother and was nearby when he was killed, told a House committee that the military...
WASHINGTON -- The brother of Pat Tillman bitterly accused the U.S. military Tuesday of deceiving the public and the family of the football-star-turned-Army-ranger to promote a story of heroism that suited its purposes.
Kevin Tillman, who served in the same platoon in Afghanistan as his brother and was nearby when he was killed, told a House committee that the military was going through a particularly rough patch when Pat Tillman died in a "friendly-fire" incident on April 22, 2004.
"Revealing that Pat's death was a fratricide would have been yet another political disaster in a month of political disasters," said Kevin Tillman, who gave up a minor-league baseball career to enlist with his older brother in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "So the truth needed to be suppressed."
Tillman added, "The least this country can do for him in return is to uncover who was responsible for his death, who lied and covered it up, and who instigated those lies and benefited from them; then ensure that justice is meted out to the culpable."
The Army portrayed the specialist's killing as the result of a heroic firefight with enemy fighters in the mountains of Afghanistan, and the Silver Star was awarded to Pat Tillman, 27. But it turned out Army officials had been aware almost immediately that Tillman was probably killed by fellow U.S. soldiers.
Kevin Tillman, who has since left the Army, spoke at a hearing that dealt a double blow to the U.S. military's public-relations machinery.
Jessica Lynch, an Army private who was captured in Iraq soon after the 2003 invasion, also testified about the early accounts depicting her as a "girl Rambo from the hills of West Virginia" who had emptied her gun as enemy soldiers closed in. In fact, she was captured without firing a shot.
Every war has its stories of heroism, and those of Tillman and Lynch have perhaps been the two most dramatic tales of the current campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. They were told and re-told as examples of the bravery and resourcefulness of ordinary Americans in the face of a callous enemy.
In both cases, the early official accounts have long been challenged as additional facts have come out bit by bit. But the sight of those directly involved, speaking with anger and puzzlement about the inaccuracies of those stories, helped demolish them in a particularly human way.
"The bottom line," Lynch said, "is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes and they don't need to be told elaborate lies."
In testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, a fellow soldier who was the last to see Tillman alive also testified about the day comrades mistakenly killed the former pro-football player, who gave up a $3.6 million contract to fight for his country.
Spec. Bryan O'Neal said he knew that Tillman, who was posthumously promoted to corporal, was killed by friendly fire. O'Neal said he told several people in the unit's chain of command, but he did not say anything to the Tillman family out of fear of reprisal.
O'Neal said battalion commander Lt. Col. Jeff Bailey told him not to tell Kevin Tillman that the death was friendly fire. He added that Bailey told him he would be in trouble if he did so.
"He basically just said, 'Do not let Kevin know. He's probably in a bad place knowing that his brother's dead,' " O'Neal said.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House government reform panel, said he called the hearing because "the bare minimum we owe our soldiers and their families is the truth."
Waxman said his committee was just beginning to investigate how the Defense Department handled five different Tillman investigations since 2004, and a committee spokesman said additional hearings are likely.
Several senior military officials, politicians and other dignitaries attended Tillman's funeral. At least one, Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, then the commanding general of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, was aware within days of Tillman's death that friendly fire was a likely cause. But Kensinger failed to let the family know even as he attended the soldier's May 3, 2004, memorial service.
Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., a member of the oversight and government reform committee, said the committee asked Kensinger to testify, but he declined through a lawyer, citing the right not to incriminate himself.
Last month, the military concluded in a pair of reports that nine high-ranking Army officers, including four generals, made critical errors in reporting Tillman's death.
The Army decided last month to allow Tillman to retain the Silver Star but revised the citation stating that he died saving his fellow soldiers in a valiant fight against enemy fire.
The Tillman family said the military needed Pat's death to serve as a heroic story when the U.S. military was getting pilloried over bad news out of Iraq.
Kevin Tillman noted that U.S. commanders were locked in a struggle with Sunni insurgents in Fallujah, diplomats and U.S. commanders were struggling to win the trust of Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric and the Defense Department was readying itself for the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal to blow up.
In the end, the military's "cover-up" proved to be an even greater blow to the U.S. military's public-relations machinery, he said.
"There was one problem with the narrative," Tillman said, referring to the initial account offered by the military. "It was utter fiction. The narrative was meant to deceive the family and more importantly, to deceive the American public."
Material from The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times is included in this report.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.
The engineers who create gallon-squeezing cars like the Toyota Prius use every available method to comply with the ever-tightening fuel-economy standa...
Post a comment