Pat Tillman’s family firmly rejected the Defense Department’s findings into the former NFL star’s friendly-fire death in Afghanistan, calling for congressional investigations into what they see as broad malfeasance and a coverup.
“Perhaps subpoenas are necessary to elicit candor and accuracy from the military,” his family said in a statement Monday night, after hearing the results of the latest probes.
The men who shot Tillman have always claimed the April 22, 2004, incident was a terrible mistake in the fog of war, and the Army officially agreed Monday, declining to press charges.
But possible punishments still hang over several high-ranking officers who allegedly botched the investigations and key administrative tasks.
Nine Army officers, including four generals, made errors in reporting the friendly fire death to their superiors and to the Tillman family, the Pentagon said. Defense officials said one or more of those officers who provided misleading information as the military investigated could be charged with a crime.
A central issue in the case is why the Army waited about five weeks from the time it suspected Tillman’s death was friendly fire until it told his family. Several officers have testified they wanted to wait until the early investigations were complete, but regulations required the Army to notify family members if friendly fire was even suspected.
The latest investigation reserves its strongest criticism for Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, the now-retired three-star general who was in charge of Army special operations.
“We found compelling evidence that Kensinger learned of suspected fratricide well before the memorial service and provided misleading testimony” on that issue, the report said. That misrepresentation, the report said, could constitute a “false official statement,” a violation of the Military Code of Justice.
Because Kensinger is out of the military, it would be difficult to charge him criminally, however.
Acting Army Secretary Peter Geren asked Gen. William Wallace, who oversees training for the Army, to review the actions of the officers and to provide a progress report on possible punishments in 30 days.
“We as an Army failed in our duty to the Tillman family, the duty we owe to all the families of our fallen soldiers: Give them the truth, the best we know it, as fast as we can,” Geren told reporters at the Pentagon. “Our failure in fulfilling this duty brought discredit to the Army and compounded the grief suffered by the Tillman family. For that, on behalf of the Army, I apologize to the Tillman family.”
“The briefing we just received was shamefully unacceptable,” the family said in a statement issued from their home in San Jose, where Pat Tillman grew up. “Our family is therefore compelled to continue our (pursuit of) the full truth about the circumstances of Pat Tillman’s death and the so-called ’missteps’ and ’deficiencies’ of Pat’s unit, the Army, the Department of Defense, and this administration.”
Though dozens of soldiers knew quickly that Tillman had been killed by his fellow troops, the Army said initially that he was killed by enemy gunfire when he led his team to help another group of ambushed soldiers.
“We thought there was never an attempt to cover up what we saw,” Defense Department acting Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble said during a Pentagon briefing as the military released reports by the Army Criminal Investigation Command and by the inspector general.
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 terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The highest current ranking officer blamed in the incident is Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. Investigators said he was “accountable for the inaccurate and misleading assertions” contained in papers recommending that Tillman get a Silver Star award.
The inspector general’s report also faulted Brig. Gen. Gary Jones and now-Brig. Gen. James C. Nixon.
Jones, now retired from the Army, led one of the previous Army investigations of the matter. The report faulted him for failing to address several issues in his probe.
It criticized Nixon, who was Tillman’s regimental commander, for failing to ensure that Tillman’s family was told that friendly fire was suspected. Nixon is now director of operations at the Center for Special Operations at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.
According to a comparison of the report with documents the AP has examined previously, two of them are then-Capt. Richard Scott, appointed to conduct the first investigation, and then-Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, who conducted the second.
The report blames both men for failing to visit the scene of the shooting, secure evidence, take photos, obtain measurements and interview all witnesses.
Also, then-Lt. Col. Jeff Bailey, the battalion commander who oversaw Tillman’s platoon, is held accountable for the “inaccurate award recommendation” that led to Tillman’s Silver Star. Bailey recommended Tillman for the award, officials told the AP.
The inspector general investigation recommended that the Army review its award of the Silver Star to Tillman, but Geren said the award would stand after the notation was changed.