Failures and Blame In Pat Tillman's Death

Saturday, May 28, 2005

I'd like to offer a few clarifications to the May 23 front-page story "Tillman's Parents Are Critical of Army; Family Questions Reversal on Cause of Ranger's Death."

First, the word "critical" in the headline is an understatement.

Second, I characterized the second and third investigations as "shams." The first one -- a homicide investigation -- may have been accurate, but the results were changed by superiors after the investigating officer refused to alter them. I did not say the Army "botched" the investigation. I said it deliberately falsified baseline facts, -- e.g., distance, light conditions, details perceived before and while firing, and the identification of "friendlies."

The story said my son was "killed in a barrage of gunfire." Actually, there were three barrages: one from 78 yards and two from 60 yards. Pat survived a machine gun burst to the torso from the second barrage, but not the third.

The story also said the "soldiers in Afghanistan knew almost immediately that they had killed [Pat]." Approximately 14 soldiers witnessed the shooting.

Staff writer Josh White reported that soldiers burned my son's uniform and body armor, but he did not report that all physical evidence was destroyed on instructions from superiors.

The Army reported that information "was slow to make it back to the United States." To the contrary, the information was sent almost immediately, but there was one set of "facts" for the military and another for my family.

As to the military's claim that it kept the family informed, I was briefed three times with a sales pitch of made-up "facts" and assurances of investigative integrity.

With respect to the Army's reference to "mistakes in reporting the circumstances of [my son's] death": those "mistakes" were deliberate, calculated, ordered (repeatedly) and disgraceful -- conduct well beneath the standard to which every soldier in the field is held.

I have absolute respect and admiration for Army Rangers acting as such. As to their superior officers, the West Point-Army honor code is: "I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those that do." They should reissue the booklet.


San Jose

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