Skip to comments.Ranger told to conceal Tillman info
Posted on 04/24/2007 11:30:12 AM PDT by E. Pluribus Unum
WASHINGTON - An Army Ranger who was with Pat Tillman when he died by friendly fire said Tuesday he was told by a higher-up to conceal that information from Tillman's family. ADVERTISEMENT
"I was ordered not to tell them," U.S. Army Specialist Bryan O'Neal told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
He said he was given the order by then-Lt. Col. Jeff Bailey, the battalion commander who oversaw Tillman's platoon.
Pat Tillman's brother Kevin was in a convoy behind his brother when the incident happened, but didn't see it. O'Neal said Bailey told him specifically not to tell Kevin Tillman that the death was friendly fire rather than heroic engagement with the enemy.
"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. He added that Bailey made clear he would "get in trouble" if he told.
Kevin Tillman was not in the hearing room when Bailey spoke.
In earlier testimony, Kevin Tillman accused the military of "intentional falsehoods" and "deliberate and careful misrepresentations" in portraying Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan as the result of heroic engagement with the enemy instead of friendly fire.
"We believe this narrative was intended to deceive the family but more importantly the American public," Kevin Tillman told a House Government Reform and Oversight Committee hearing. "Pat's death was clearly the result of fratricide," he said, contending that the military's misstatements amounted to "fraud."
"Revealing that Pat's death was a fratricide would have been yet another political disaster in a month of political disasters ... so the truth needed to be suppressed," Tillman said.
The committee's chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman (news, bio, voting record), D-Calif., accused the government of inventing "sensational details and stories" about Pat Tillman's death and the 2003 rescue of Jessica Lynch, perhaps the most famous victims of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
"The government violated its most basic responsibility," said Waxman.
Lynch, then an Army private, was badly injured when her convoy was ambushed in Iraq. She was subsequently rescued by American troops from an Iraqi hospital but the tale of her ambush was changed into a story of heroism on her part.
Still hampered by her injuries, Lynch walked slowly to the witness table and took a seat alongside Tillman's family members.
"The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes and they don't need to be told elaborate tales," Lynch said.
Kevin Tillman said his family has sought for years to get at the truth, and have now concluded that they were "being actively thwarted by powers that are more interested in protecting a narrative than getting at the truth and seeing justice is served."
Lawmakers questioned how high up the chain of command the information about Tillman's friendly fire death went, and whether anyone in the White House knew before Tillman's family.
"How high up did this go?" asked Waxman.
Pat Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, said she believed former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must have known. "The fact that he would have died by friendly fire and no one told Rumsfeld is ludicrous," she said.
Tillman was killed on April 22, 2004, after his Army Ranger comrades were ambushed in eastern Afghanistan. Rangers in a convoy trailing Tillman's group had just emerged from a canyon where they had been fired upon. They saw Tillman and mistakenly fired on him.
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. The family was not told what really happened until May 29, 2004, a delay the Army blamed on procedural mistakes.
In questioning what the White House knew, Rep. Elijah Cummings (news, bio, voting record), D-Md., cited a memo written by a top general seven days after Tillman's death warning it was "highly possible" the Army Ranger was killed by friendly fire and making clear his warning should be conveyed to the president. President Bush made no reference to the way Tillman died in a speech delivered two days after the memo was written.
A White House spokesman has said there's no indication Bush received the warning in the memo written April 29, 2004 by then-Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal to Gen. John Abizaid, head of Central Command.
"It's a little disingenuous to think the administration didn't know," Kevin Tillman told the committee. "That's kind of what we hoped you guys would get involved with and take a look," he said.
Mary Tillman told the committee that family members were "absolutely appalled" upon realizing the extent to which they were misled.
"We've all been betrayed ... We never thought they would use him the way they did," she said.
The Tillman family has made similar accusations against the administration and the military before, but has generally shied away from news media attention. The family had never previously appeared together and summarized their criticism and questions in such a public, comprehensive way.
"We shouldn't be allowed to have smoke screens thrown in our face," Mary Tillman said. "You're diminishing their true heroism to write these glorious tales. It's really a disservice to the nation."
"Our family will never be satisfied. We'll never have Pat back," she said. "Something really awful happened. It's your job to find out what happened to him. That's really important."
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 but that there was no criminal wrongdoing in his shooting.
Tillman's death received worldwide attention because he had walked away from a huge contract with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Associated Press writer Scott Lindlaw contributed to this report from San Francisco.
Pat Tillman remains an American hero ... his family not so much.
Not according to the IG, who seemed to be the only non-hysteric at the hearing today.
According to HawaiianGecko, who actually watched the proceedings today:
I watched the entire testimony today on C-Span and the author is leaving a bunch out. First, the Tillman's came across nearly as lunatics. I'm not saying they didn't encounter a terrible tragedy, but they really had the tin foil wrapped tightly. They could not answer a single question asked of them and continuously wandered back to rambling. The I.G. that investigated states flat out that none of several reports and investigations ever said Tillman was killed by anything other than friendly fire.
Rep. Issa of California had the best questions. He kept asking them who "they" was in their stories. They didn't know. He asked if they had even a shred of evidence that any of this was done for political reasons and their response was all hypothetical. Not a bit of evidence. Just answers like "Everyone knows that military-101 says you don't split into two groups." Huh?
Seems like the only ones developing any false scenarios are the surviving Tillmans.
“Seems like the only ones developing any false scenarios are the surviving Tillmans.”
I don’t see connection between the Tillman’s not being polished during this hearing and what seems to be your position that no one from the military lied in regards to this case.
The official story is plainly a lie, Tillman did not die fighting the enemy. The narrative supporting the award of his citation was fabricated, Tillman did not die fighting the enemy. The Navy Seal who gave his eulogy at the public memorial service testified that the words that he had spoken were not true. At least one of his team members testified that he was ordered not to tell the truth to Tillman’s brother.
I really can’t see how it is relevent that the Tillman family did not put on an impressive performance today, or how that fact somehow means that all of the other witnesses were in error.
I am not saying that the IG did not see reports that stated Tillman died in an act of friendly fire, however, these reports may have been internal. There are plenty of examples of members of the military working to put a different public face on the story.
Since Apr 15, 2007
So what was your previous screen name before you were banned?
Again, an absolute non sequitir.
The Tillman episode is a black eye on our military. Had the whole thing been handled better the damage would be far less. Someone should be chewed out and handed his/her walking papers so it never happens again. I don’t understand why you are so willing to reward those who failed here by turning a blind eye.
Although the military had not officially confirmed his death, the White House put out a statement of sympathy that praised Tillman as "an inspiration both on and off the football field."
Lt. Col. Matt Beevers, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Kabul, confirmed that a U.S. soldier was killed Thursday evening, but would not say whether it was Tillman. A military official at the Pentagon confirmed it was Tillman.
Beevers said the soldier died after a firefight with anti-coalition militia forces about 25 miles southwest of a U.S. military base at Khost, which has been the scene of frequent attacks.
Two other U.S. soldiers on the combat patrol were injured, and an Afghan soldier fighting alongside the Americans was killed. Notice the section that says: Beevers said the soldier died after a firefight with anti-coalition militia forces This is correct! They had just been in a firefight (see IG report) minutes before. That's why one of their vehicles was disabled. The military told the truth. The press may have stretched it a bit.
In short the government never said it was anything other than fratricide. The official story has always been fratricide. So who's the one lying?
I watched the entire hearing on C-Span today, every moment of it. The Inspector General clearly differed with Waxman and said there is no evidence of a cover up, period, the end.
I fully agree that there is no official cover-up, no crime and no one to blame. It does appear, however, that some pencil pusher somewhere tried to turn the Tillman story and seemingly the Jessica Lynch story into some Hollywood recruitment poster story- maybe to help encourage support for the war or for some other reason.
For good or ill, in Tillman’s case, the family got hurt and I believe that we owe it to all of the families of our soldiers to give them better.
Tillman was obviously a hero- no question, but the way this was handled gives the enemy, foreign and domestic, an opportunity to smear the war effort while claiming to be advocates for the family. That is why this is so injurious.
That's why I have always been uncomfortable regarding derogatory or snide comments made about former Sen. Max Cleland. I understand the context in which those comments were made, and there's no doubt Sen. Cleland used his situation for political purposes.
As to the Tillman investigation, I'm withholding judgment until the investigation is complete.