Army to review Tillman's death

Criminal investigation recommended in friendly fire that killed former NFL player

March 05, 2006|By MARK MAZZETTI | MARK MAZZETTI,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The Army said yesterday that it will launch a criminal probe into the death of Pat Tillman, the one-time National Football League star who inadvertently was killed by gunfire from fellow soldiers in the mountains of Afghanistan in April 2004.

The Army's decision came after the Pentagon's inspector general reviewed the case and recommended further investigation into whether soldiers in Tillman's unit should be charged with negligent homicide.

The Army completed an extensive review of the case last year. Gen. Gary M. Jones, who led the probe, found no reason to hold any soldier criminally responsible for Tillman's death.

Yet Tillman's family has been openly critical of Jones' review, alleging a high-level cover-up, and Tillman's father successfully lobbied the Pentagon to renew its investigation of the case.

Army spokesman Col. Joseph Curtin said that Tillman's family was notified Friday that the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, known as CID, would take up the case.

A Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly about an open investigation, said he could not recall any case of a U.S. soldier being charged with negligent homicide for a friendly fire incident, and said it would probably be a very difficult case to prove.

The news of the CID probe was first reported by CNN yesterday.

Nearly two years ago Tillman was killed during a combat operation in the remote mountains near the Pakistan border. Shortly after his death, the Army said he was killed by enemy fire while leading troops in battle, scaling a hill to ensure the safety of other soldiers in his unit.

The Army awarded him a Silver Star for combat bravery, and during a televised memorial service Tillman was praised for his heroism under fire.

Weeks later, the Army acknowledged that Tillman had been a victim of friendly fire during the firefight and admitted that soldiers destroyed evidence -- Tillman's uniform and flak vest -- after the shooting. Jones' report found that Army officers told soldiers to remain quiet about the circumstance of Tillman's death for fear of negative news coverage.

The Army has acknowledged that top commanders in the field, including Army Gen. John P. Abizaid of U.S. Central Command, had been told at the time of the Silver Star award that Tillman died at the hands of U.S. troops.

Army officials have apologized to Tillman's family for the way the case was handled.

It was unclear yesterday whether the Pentagon's inspector general had discovered any new evidence of criminal behavior, or whether the announcement was the Pentagon's latest attempt at damage control, a public move meant to show the military was not trying to play down the incident.

The Rangers in Tillman's unit have received very light punishments. The most serious reprimand was for dereliction of duty, and four of the soldiers have been removed from the Rangers.

Mark Mazzetti writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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