Pat Tillman gave up a $3.6 million dollar NFL contract to fight for his country in the wake of 9/11. You can’t make up a better recruiting poster than a former NFL star turned Army Ranger, can you? I mean, really, you couldn’t write fiction like that and make it believable.
But then Pat Tillman was killed, in a "friendly fire" incident in Afghanistan, while fighting with his unit in April of 2004. Why write about old news? Because the case is back in the headlines — the Army has decided to re-open the investigation of Pat Tillman’s death to investigate possible criminal conduct on the part of personnel who were involved in the shooting. According to the WaPo (which has done exceptional reporting on this case from day one, btw):
Col. Joseph Curtin, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said the Army will open an investigation to examine whether soldiers violated military law when they failed to identify their target before opening fire on Tillman’s position.
Although there have been several military investigations into the Tillman shooting, this will be the first criminal investigation. A defense official said that it will probably focus on potential charges of negligent homicide, which means investigators will try to determine whether soldiers fired recklessly without intending to kill their fellow soldier.
"We want to do the right thing for the family," Curtin said. "We owe it to the family. We owe them the truth."
Here’s the rub, though: the Army only re-opened the investigation after Tillman’s family had to publicly complain. The Tillman’s lost their son, were lied to initially about their son’s death — they were told that "enemy fighters" had shot him, and the military used Pat Tillman publicly as their poster boy hero killed by al qaeda and the Taliban. Except this was not true — and they knew it at the time, hushing the Rangers who had been with Pat at the time of his death.
Tillman was killed in a barrage of gunfire from his own men, mistaken for the enemy on a hillside near the Pakistan border—perhaps, we will soon learn, criminally. "Immediately," the Post reported, "the Army kept the soldiers on the ground quiet and told Tillman’s family and the public that he was killed by enemy fire while storming a hill, barking orders to his fellow Rangers." Tillman posthumously received the Silver Star for his "actions."
The military investigation, exposed by the Post, "showed that soldiers in Afghanistan knew almost immediately that they had killed Tillman by mistake in what they believed was a firefight with enemies on a tight canyon road. The investigation also revealed that soldiers later burned Tillman’s uniform and body armor."
As if that weren’t bad enough, the Army then continued to lie to the Tillmans and stonewall up the chain of command after the initial investigation was concluded. Their questions were not answered, the Army continued to spin out its propoganda for public consumption.
Think about the timing of Pat Tillman’s death for a second. April of 2004 was in the thick of the Presidential campaign. One of the bits that struck me most in Greg Mitchell’s great review of this matter in E&P was the fact that George Bush delivered a taped message to Pat Tillman at an Arizona Cardinals game:
Mary, the mother, complained to the Post that the government used her son for weeks after his death. She said she was particularly offended when President Bush offered a taped memorial message to Tillman at a Cardinals football game shortly before the presidential election last fall.
The crassness of this just goes beyond my ability to express anger. Either George Bush knew that he was taping a message filled with lies to bolster the patriotic feeling about Pat Tillman, and by association George Bush, right before the election in Arizona, OR the Pentagon brass were lying to the President about the facts, but there is no evidence that any consequences have occurred among the upper level brass.
The only thing that has occurred in terms of accountability at this point is that the military is now pursuing a criminal investigation into lower level enlisted soldiers in an effort to fob off responsibility for lying to the Tillman family, to the American public and to the press, and to provide convenient scapegoats for all the decisions that came after Pat Tillman’s death: having his uniform and armor burned, hushing up soldiers who were at the scene, lying to the Tillmans, parading the President around and having him deliver a taped message at an NFL game just prior to the election.
What won’t these people use? I mean, honestly — is nothing at all sacred to them?
Of course there needs to be a thorough investigation into Pat Tillman’s death. We owe that to his family, and if gross negligence was involved, those responsible need to be held to account. That goes without saying.
But those responsible for spinning out the lies to a grieving family — lies that they also fed to the public and the press in a close campaign season — need some exploration as well. Who gave the orders to silence the Rangers on the ground? Who gave the orders to burn Tillman’s gear? Who gave the orders to falsify information contained on Tillman’s Silver Star citation — because it now appears that some of the information in the chain of events does not match up with later stories? Who fed Tori Clark the information she spewed from the press podium at the DoD? Who fed it to Donald Rumsfeld? Did Rumsfeld order this to be propgandized — or did that come from the President’s campaign staff, including from Karl Rove?
Who gave the orders to start all of this ass covering — up the line to the President of the United States?
And who made the decision for the President to use Pat Tillman as a campaign prop in Arizona — when the taped message the President gave was a lie? And did the President know at the time that his lovely public words about a fallen American hero were nothing but lies — and gave the taped message anyway? If not, has anyone been held to account for feeding the President false information that he publicly stated about the Tillman matter — and if so, who has been held to account and by what means?
This feels just like the manufactured story they used for Jessica Lynch, a story which she lived to correct, much to her credit. But Pat Tillman is not here to speak for himself today — he was killed in the line of duty, in our nation’s uniform, and then had his government lie outright to his family — repeatedly through four separate botched investigations into his death.
"The Army’s public release made no mention of friendly fire, even though at the time it was issued, investigators in Afghanistan had already taken at least 14 sworn statements from Tillman’s platoon members that made clear the true causes of his death.
"But the Army’s published account not only withheld all evidence of fratricide, but also exaggerated Tillman’s role and stripped his actions of their context. … The Army’s April 30 news release was just one episode in a broader Army effort to manage the uncomfortable facts of Pat Tillman’s death, according to internal records and interviews."
Now the Army is going after soldiers who presumably pulled the triggers at the scene. There is no evidence that it is looking at its own high-level cover-up.
"Maybe lying’s not a big deal anymore," Tillman’s father told the Post last year. "Pat’s dead, and this isn’t going to bring him back. But these guys should have been held up to scrutiny, right up the chain of command, and no one has."
Who will stand up and speak for Pat Tillman? What is the truth behind all of the lies — not just the ones that the military and the Bush Administration want to pin on convenient scapegoats?
USAToday has an editorial about this entitled "Army Dishonors War Hero." But it’s not just the Army — and what I want to know is who decided to use a dead war hero as a campaign prop for George Bush? The buck stops on the desk of the Commander in Chief. Let’s see some accountability all the way up the chain.
Pat Tillman and his family deserve to know the whole truth — not just the bits that are convenient for the Administration. For once, can they just be completely honest and forthcoming? I doubt it, because lying seems to be the modus operandi of the Bush Administration, but isn’t there some person with some sense of decency out there who will tell this family the truth about what happened on the ground in Afghanistan and with the whole web of lies that followed?
Who will speak for Pat Tillman?
UPDATE: Speaking of using people in uniform, Josh at TPM has been doing some great work the last couple of days on the Republican party having military personnel appear in uniform at campaign events. This is directly in violation of military regs. A soldier can be court-martialed for it, although the politician who asks them to take that risk doesn’t put their ass on the line, and I doubt that the politicians are informing the enlisted folks they are using as props that they can be cashiered out of the military via the UCMJ.
This is severely detrimental to the purpose of a military separate and distinct from the political process, which is the whole point of the rule in the first place. As Josh points out:
The existence of this ban and the enforcement of it are hugely important both to good order and discipline within the military and to preserving our democratic republic. The military can’t be made into an arm of one or the other political party. Nor can the executive be allowed to enlist members of the armed forces, either individually or en masse, willingly or not, as soldiers in his domestic political battles.
This is about having a professional military — and not using them as props for a photo op is a part of that. Bob Novak reported this would be a Republican campaign strategy for the 2006 elections — someone ought to tell those soldiers that the thing most on the line is their own butt, BEFORE they appear at the campaign event. Anyone want to bet that the GOP has left that little bit of information out of the invitations?