Ranger Alleges Cover-Up in Tillman Case
Tuesday, April 24, 2007; 9:31 PM
WASHINGTON -- An Army Ranger who was with Pat Tillman when the former football star was cut down by friendly fire in Afghanistan said Tuesday a commanding officer had ordered him to keep quiet about what happened.
The military at first portrayed Tillman's death as the result of heroic combat with the enemy. Army Spc. Bryan O'Neal told a congressional hearing that when he got the chance to talk to Tillman's brother, who had been in a nearby convoy on the fateful day, "I was ordered not to tell him what happened."
"You were ordered not to tell him?" repeated Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
"Roger that, sir," replied O'Neal, dressed in his Army uniform.
The revelation came as committee members questioned whether, and when, top Defense officials and the White House knew that Tillman's death in eastern Afghanistan three years ago was actually a result of gunfire from fellow U.S. soldiers.
The committee also heard from Jessica Lynch, the former Army private who was badly injured when her convoy was ambushed in Iraq in 2003. She was later 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, took a seat alongside Tillman's family members and said the heroism belonged to others who fought in Iraq, such as her roommate Lori Piestewa, who died in the same ambush in which Lynch was captured.
"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 lies," Lynch said.
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, 2001, terrorist attacks.
His family was initially misled by the Pentagon and did not learn the truth for more than a month. Tillman was awarded a Silver Star based on fabricated accounts _ who fabricated them still isn't clear after several investigations.
"We don't know what the secretary of defense knew, we don't know what the White House knew," Waxman said. "What we do know is these were not a series of accidents, these stories. They were calculatedly put out for a public relations purpose. ... Even now there seems to be a cover-up."
Kevin Tillman was in a convoy behind his older brother, a former NFL star, on April 22, 2004, when Pat Tillman was mistakenly shot by other Army Rangers who had just emerged from a canyon where they'd been fired upon. Kevin Tillman didn't see what happened. O'Neal said he was ordered not to tell him by then-Lt. Col. Jeff Bailey, the battalion commander who oversaw Tillman's platoon.