Army misled Tillman family

Report says officers knew NFL star likely died by friendly fire

March 27, 2007|By Peter Spiegel and Julian Barnes | Peter Spiegel and Julian Barnes,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Military officers knew a day after the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan that the former NFL star's killing was probably caused by friendly fire, but led Tillman's family to believe he was shot by Afghan insurgents for more than a month before coming clean.

According to a Pentagon inspector general's report issued yesterday, nine officers, from battlefield commanders to the three-star general in charge of elite Army Special Operations units, were aware of the friendly fire incident even when Tillman was publicly awarded a Silver Star that posthumously commended him for valor in the face of an enemy attack.

A second report found no criminal wrongdoing by the members of Tillman's unit who mistook him and two others for enemy snipers. The separate report by the inspector general did not speculate on the motives for officers to mislead Tillman's family, members of Congress, and the public. But Tillman, who gave up a multimillion-dollar football contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army Rangers after the Sept. 11 attacks, was long seen as a recruiting coup for the Army.

By failing to acknowledge the cause of his death April 22, 2004, officers might have violated regulations, and the Army's top official apologized to Tillman's family yesterday.

"We as an Army failed in our duty to the Tillman family, the duty we owe to all families of our fallen soldiers: give them the truth, the best we know it, as fast as we can," said acting Army Secretary Pete Geren. "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."

Geren said the service had received advanced notice of the findings and had completed a review of Tillman's Silver Star citation, which was issued in time for his memorial service. Geren said the Army Decorations Board has decided against rescinding the award.

He said he has ordered Gen. William S. Wallace, who oversees all training and doctrine for the Army, to review the findings in the report and to recommend any disciplinary action within 30 days.

Although the highest-ranking general implicated in the case, Lt. Gen. Philip R. Kensinger Jr., retired in February, another top officer named in the report, Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is now in charge of all Army special operations forces in Iraq.

The findings against McChrystal, who as head of the Joint Special Operations Command was promoted to lieutenant general in February and oversees elite units like the Delta Force, could be problematic for the military. A rising star, McChrystal is believed to oversee clandestine military operations in the Middle East.

According to the Pentagon report, only a week after Tillman's death, McChrystal informed superiors that investigations "will find that it is highly possible that Corporal Tillman was killed by friendly fire." A day earlier, he approved Tillman's Silver Star citation saying the ex-football star had died as a result of enemy fire.

Peter Spiegel and Julian Barnes write for the Los Angeles Times.

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