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No Cover-up in Tillman Fratricide, Former Pentagon Officials Say

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2007 – Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other former top Pentagon officials today said facts about Army Cpl. Patrick D. Tillman’s friendly-fire death were mishandled, but not covered up to make it seem he died from enemy fire.

In his first visit to Capitol Hill since stepping down as defense secretary, Rumsfeld appeared with three Army generals before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to answers questions about the controversial case and to deny allegations that evidence was intentionally distorted.

Seven investigations into Tillman’s case revealed the Defense Department and Army responses to the fratricide were “badly handled, and errors were made,” Rumsfeld admitted.

“But in no instance has any evidence of a cover-up … been presented or put forward,” he said. “I know of nothing that suggests that.”

Joining Rumsfeld were retired Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; retired Army Gen. John Abizaid, former commander of U.S. Central Command; and Army Gen. Bryan D. Brown, former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. The four offered condolences to the Tillman family and unanimously denied that a cover-up occurred.

Tillman, a former National Football League player, died when fellow soldiers accidentally shot and killed him near the Afghan-Pakistani border April 22, 2004. Initial reports, however, incorrectly stated the soldier was killed by enemy fire.

One week after Tillman’s death, Army Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the Joint Staff’s vice director for operations, sent a memo suggesting the soldier was not killed by insurgents. The memo went to Myers, Abizaid and Army Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, who commanded U.S. Army Special Operations Command at the time. McChrystal even recommended the generals inform President Bush the friendly-fire scenario was “highly possible.”

Tillman’s family did not learn that the soldier’s death was being investigated as a possible fratricide until the Defense Department announced five weeks later that Tillman died at the hands of fellow soldiers. According to Army policy, families are to be informed when there’s a possibility their loved one died from friendly-fire.

“(The Army) should have talked about the possibility of that as soon as they knew it,” Myers said.

Lawmakers today probed Rumsfeld and the generals on why the Defense Department failed to announce to Tillman’s family and the public the facts surrounding the former football star’s death until May 29, 2004, after the soldier had been awarded a posthumous Silver Star for “gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.”

“We’re focused on Pat Tillman’s case because the misinformation was so profound and because it persisted so long,” committee Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman said. “And if that can happen to the most famous soldier serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, it leaves many families and many of us questioning the accuracy of information from many other casualties.”

The Army imposed sanctions on six officers yesterday, Waxman said, but congressional hearings are designed to answer important questions that remain unanswered.

At a Pentagon news conference yesterday, Army Secretary Pete Geren said a “perfect storm” of events initially obfuscated the case’s facts.

After reading a review of previous Tillman investigations performed by Army Gen. William S. Wallace, commander of U.S. Training and Doctrine Command, Geren said he decided to issue a letter of censure to Kensinger.

“I believe the buck stops with General Kensinger,” Geren said. “He was the senior leader in the chain of command for administrative control for the 75th Ranger Regiment.”

If the general “had performed his duty, we wouldn’t be standing here today,” Geren said.

Kensinger, who was invited to appear at today’s committee hearing, did not attend. A military panel will decide if Kensinger will lose a star and be demoted to major general.

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