Official reprimands issued to three high-ranking Army officers are only mildly critical of their mistakes after the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman and at times praise the officers.
The Army also said it would not include the reprimands in the officers’ military records, according to documents reviewed by The Associated Press.
Tillman’s direct superiors knew within hours of his April 2004 death in Afghanistan that the former football star had been killed by fellow Army Rangers, but the truth was kept from the public and Tillman’s family for five weeks — in direct violation of Army regulations.
“You should not consider this as an adverse action,” letters to the officers say. “This document will not be filed in any system of records maintained by the Army.”
Tillman’s death attracted widespread attention because he had turned down an NFL contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Subsequent investigations into his death and congressional hearings raised questions both about the circumstances of his death and the immediate follow-up.
Only one faces harsh criticism?
Last week, the Army announced that seven officers would be disciplined for critical errors related to the incident. The military laid most of the blame on Philip Kensinger, a retired three-star general who led Army special operations forces after Sept. 11.
Kensinger was censured for “a failure of leadership” and accused of lying to investigators. A stinging disciplinary letter recommending his demotion was released by the Army last week.
But according to three more “memorandums of concern” obtained by the AP, Kensinger was the only one to receive such harsh criticism.
Retired Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, who led one of the early investigations, was criticized by Army Commanding Gen. William Wallace for accepting Kensinger “at his word” and for incorrectly characterizing Tillman’s actions in describing why he should be awarded a Silver Star.
The letter from Wallace includes broad compliments, telling Jones he approached his investigation with “due vigor, diligence and professionalism.” Wallace writes that misleading Army leaders, members of Congress and the Tillman family was “a fundamental mistake” with “significant consequences,” but he says he understands it was “unintentional.”
Brig. Gen. Gina Farrisee, director of military personnel management at the Pentagon, was criticized for failing to respond to “red flags” raised by medical examiners who doubted Tillman’s mortal head wounds were caused by enemy fire.
“Had you acted differently once the medical examiners raised the red flags, many of the Tillman family’s valid complaints that ensued could have been avoided,” Wallace wrote.
He continued: “I know that all of this is much clearer with the benefit of hindsight. I suspect that, upon reflection, you wished you had done more to act on the medical examiners’ concerns.”
'Well-intentioned but fundamentally wrong'
Brig. Gen. James Nixon, Tillman’s former regimental commander, is cited for his “well-intentioned but fundamentally wrong” decision to keep information about Tillman’s death limited to just his staff.
“I am mindful that you never intended to deprive the Tillman family of the truth and only intended to delay notification until you had the facts,” Wallace wrote.
Nixon is now a brigadier general and director of operations at the Center for Special Operations at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.
Pentagon investigators recommended in March that Army officials consider disciplinary action against nine officers for their roles in the case. Possible steps by the Army could have included demotions, dishonorable discharges, jail, courts-martial or letters of reprimand.
Asked why the memorandums are not going to be included in the officers’ military records, Army spokesman Paul Boyce said Friday: “That was the determination by the courts-martial convening authority in this matter.”
Some of the details that emerged after Tillman’s death included that he was close enough to see the men shooting at him when he was killed; his uniform was burned after his death; medical examiners’ suspicions about the bullet holes in his head were ignored; and comrades were also ordered not to discuss his death.
Also, just one day after approving a medal citation claiming Tillman had been cut down by “devastating enemy fire” in Afghanistan, a high-ranking general tried to warn President Bush that the story might not be true.
Messages seeking comment were left with the Tillman family.
The Army has not released a memorandum of concern issued to Lt. Col. Jeff Bailey, Tillman’s battalion commander, for his handling of the punishment against the Rangers involved in the shooting of Tillman. Nor has the Army released names or disciplinary letters received by two other unnamed officers.