MSNBC : Pat Tillman investigations spur questions

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pat Tillman investigations spur questions

Probes highlight chaos surrounding former football player's combat death

November 9, 2006

In a remote and dangerous corner of Afghanistan, under the protective roar of Apache attack helicopters and B-52 bombers, special agents and investigators did their work.

They walked the landscape with surviving witnesses. They found a rock stained with the blood of the victim. They re-enacted the killings — here the U.S. Army Rangers swept through the canyon in their Humvee, blasting away; here the doomed man waved his arms, pleading for recognition as a friend, not an enemy.

“Cease fire, friendlies, I am Pat (expletive) Tillman, damn it!” he shouted, again and again.

The latest inquiry into Tillman’s death by friendly fire should end next month; authorities have said they intend to release to the public only a synopsis of their report. But The Associated Press has combed through the results of 2¼ years of investigations and uncovered some startling findings.

One of the four shooters, Staff Sgt. Trevor Alders, had recently had PRK laser eye surgery. Although he could see two sets of hands “straight up,” his vision was “hazy,” he said. In the absence of “friendly identifying signals,” he assumed Tillman and an allied Afghan who also was killed were enemy.

Another, Spc. Steve Elliott, said he was “excited” by the sight of rifles, muzzle flashes and “shapes.” A third, Spc. Stephen Ashpole, said he saw two figures, and just aimed where everyone else was shooting.

Squad leader Sgt. Greg Baker had 20-20 eyesight, but claimed he had “tunnel vision.” Amid the chaos and pumping adrenaline, Baker said he hammered what he thought was the enemy but was actually the allied Afghan fighter next to Tillman who was trying to give the Americans cover: “I zoned in on him because I could see the AK-47. I focused only on him.”

All four failed to identify their targets before firing, a direct violation of the fire discipline techniques drilled into every soldier.

Shortage of supplies

There’s more:

* Tillman’s platoon had nearly run out of vital supplies, according to one of the shooters. They were down to the water in their Camelbak drinking pouches, and were forced to buy a goat from a local vendor. Delayed supply flights contributed to the hunger, fatigue and possibly misjudgments by platoon members.
* A key commander in the events that led to Tillman’s death both was reprimanded for his role and meted out punishments to those who fired, raising questions of conflict of interest.
* A field hospital report says someone tried to jump-start Tillman’s heart with CPR hours after his head had been partly blown off and his corpse wrapped in a poncho; key evidence including Tillman’s body armor and uniform was burned.
* Investigators have been stymied because some of those involved now have lawyers and refused to cooperate, and other soldiers who were at the scene couldn’t be located.
* Three of the four shooters are now out of the Army, and essentially beyond the reach of military justice.

Taken together, these findings raise more questions than they answer, in a case that already had veered from suggestions that it all was a result of the “fog of war” to insinuations that criminal acts were to blame.

The Pentagon’s failure to reveal for more than a month that Tillman was killed by friendly fire have raised suspicions of a coverup. To Tillman’s family, there is little doubt that his death was more than an innocent mistake.

One investigator told the Tillmans that it hadn’t been ruled out that Tillman was shot by an American sniper or deliberately murdered by his own men — though he also gave no indication the evidence pointed that way.

“I will not assume his death was accidental or ’fog of war,”’ said his father, Pat Tillman Sr. “I want to know what happened, and they’ve clouded that so badly we may never know.”

Almost two years after three bullets through the forehead killed the star defensive back — a man who President Bush would call “an inspiration on and off the football field” — the fourth investigation began.

This time, the investigators are supposed to think like prosecutors:

Who fired the shots that killed Pat Tillman, and why?

Who insisted Tillman’s platoon split and travel through dangerous territory in daylight, against its own policy? Who let the command slip away and chaos engulf the unit?

And perhaps most of all: Was a crime committed?

From football to Rangers

The long and complicated story of Pat Tillman’s death and the investigations it spawned began five years ago, in the smoking ruins of the World Trade Center.

“It is a proud and patriotic thing you are doing,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld wrote to Tillman in 2002, after Tillman — shocked and outraged by the Sept. 11 attacks — turned down a multimillion-dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the elite Army Rangers.

The San Jose, Calif. native enlisted with his brother Kevin, who gave up his own chance to play professional baseball. The Tillmans were deployed to Iraq in 2003, then sent to Afghanistan.

The mission of their “Black Sheep” platoon in April 2004 sounded straightforward: Divide a region along the Pakistan border into zones, then check each grid for insurgents and weapons. They were to clear two zones and then move deeper into Afghanistan.

A broken-down Humvee known as a Ground Mobility Vehicle, or GMV, stalled the unit on an isolated road. A mechanic couldn’t fix it, and a fuel pump flown in on a helicopter didn’t help.

Hours passed. Enemy fighters watched invisibly, plotting their ambush.

Tillman’s platoon must have presented an inviting target. There were 39 men and about a dozen vehicles.

Impatience was rising at the tactical operations center at Forward Operating Base Salerno, near Khowst, Afghanistan, where officers coordinated the movements of several platoons. Led by then-Maj. David Hodne, the so-called Cross-Functional Team worked at a U-shaped table inside a 20-by-30-foot tent with a projection screen and a satellite radio.

(Hodne, now a lieutenant colonel and executive officer for the 75th Ranger Regiment, declined to be interviewed on the record by the AP — as did nearly every person involved in the incident.)

When the Humvee broke down, the Black Sheep were nearing the end of their assignment; all that was left was to “turn one last stone and then get out,” Hodne would testify. The unit was then to head for Manah, a small village where it would spend the night.

The commanders had already given the Black Sheep an extra day to get into its grid zones. High-ranking commanders were “pushing us pretty hard to keep moving,” said Hodne.

“We had better not have any more delays due to this vehicle,” he told his subordinates.

'I felt like the village idiot'

At the operations center, the Black Sheep’s company commander, then-Capt. William C. “Satch” Saunders, was feeling the heat to get the platoon moving.

“We wanted to make sure we had a force staged to confirm or deny any enemy presence in Manah the next day, so we would not get ourselves too far behind setting ourselves up for our next series of operations,” he recalled later to an investigator.

The order came down to split the platoon in two to speed its progress.

Saunders initially told investigators that Hodne had issued the order, but later, after he was given immunity from prosecution, he acknowledged it was his decision alone.

Hodne later said he was in the dark — “I felt like the village idiot because I had no idea what they were doing,” he recalled. The decision was foolhardy, he said. Divided in two, “they didn’t have enough combat power to do that mission” of clearing Manah, he testified. (Other commanders have insisted that splitting the platoon was perfectly safe and a common practice.)

One thing is clear: The order sparked a flurry of activity by the Black Sheep.

One of the gunners who shot Tillman said his unit didn’t even have time to look at a map before getting back on the road.

“We were rushed to conduct an operation that had such flaws,” said Alders. “Which in the end would prove to be fatal.”

“If anything, this sense of urgency was as deadly to Tillman as the bullet that cut his life short,” Alders wrote in a lengthy statement protesting his expulsion from the Rangers. “We could have conducted the search at night like we did on the follow-up operations or the next morning like we ended up doing anyway. Why, I ask, why?”

An investigator, Brig. Gen. Gary M. Jones, would later agree that an “artificial sense of urgency” to keep Tillman’s platoon moving was a crucial factor in his death: “There was no specific intelligence that made the movement to Manah before nightfall imperative.”

An officer involved in the incident told AP there was, however, general intelligence of insurgent activity in this region, historically a Taliban hotbed.

That suspicion would be confirmed when the Black Sheep drove through a narrow canyon, its walls towering about 500 feet, and came under fire from enemy Afghans. Chaos broke out and communications broke down.

After the platoon split, the second section of the convoy roared out of the canyon, into an open valley and straight at their comrades a few minutes ahead. A Humvee packed with pumped-up Rangers opened fire, killing the friendly Afghan and Tillman, though he desperately sought to be recognized.

Later, at least one of the same Rangers turned his guns on a village where witnesses say civilian women and children had gathered. The shooters raked it with fire, the American witnesses said; they wounded two additional fellow Rangers, including their own platoon leader.

'Holding the military accountable'

Had it happened in the United States, police would have quickly cordoned off the area with “crime scene” tape and determined whether a law had been broken.

Instead, the investigations into Tillman’s death have cascaded, one after another, for the past 30 months.

For Mary Tillman, getting to the bottom of her son’s death is more than a personal quest.

“This isn’t just about our son,” she said. “It’s about holding the military accountable. Finding out what happened to Pat is ultimately going to be important in finding out what happened to other soldiers.”

In the days after the shootings, the first officer appointed to investigate, then-Capt. Richard Scott, interviewed all four shooters, their driver, and many others who were there. He concluded within a week that the gunmen demonstrated “gross negligence” and recommended further investigation.

“It could involve some Rangers that could be charged” with a crime, Scott told a superior later.

Then-Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bailey later assured Tillman’s family that those responsible would be punished as harshly as possible.

But no one was ever court martialed; staff lawyers advised senior Army commanders reviewing the incident that there was no legal basis for it.

Instead, the Army punished seven people; four soldiers received relatively minor punishments known as Article 15s under military law, with no court proceedings. These four ranged from written reprimands to expulsion from the Rangers. One, Baker, had his pay reduced and was effectively forced out of the Army. The other three soldiers received administrative reprimands.

Scott’s report circulated briefly among a small corps of high-ranking officers.

Then, it disappeared.

Some of Tillman’s relatives think the Army buried the report because its findings were too explosive. Army officials refused to provide a copy to the AP, saying no materials related to the investigation could be released.

Lingering questions

The commander of Tillman’s 75th Ranger Regiment, then-Col. James C. Nixon, wasn’t satisfied with Scott’s investigation, which he said focused too heavily on pre-combat inspections and procedures rather than on what had happened.

Scott “made some conclusions in the document that weren’t validated by facts” as described by the participants, Nixon would tell later investigators.

Nixon assigned his top aide, Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, to lead what became the second investigation. Kauzlarich harshly criticized Baker and the men on his truck.

Among other things, Baker should have known that at least two of his subordinates had never been in a firefight, and should have closely supervised where they shot.

“His failure to do so resulted in deaths of Cpl. Tillman and the AMF soldier, and the serious wounding of two other (Rangers),” Kauzlarich concluded. “While a great deal of discretion should be granted to a leader who is making difficult judgments in the heat of combat, the command also has a responsibility to hold its leaders accountable when that judgment is so wanton or poor that it places the lives of other men at risk.”

The Tillman family complained that questions remained: Who killed Tillman? Why did they fire? Were the punishments stiff enough?

“I don’t think that punishment fit their actions out there in the field,” said Kevin Tillman, who was with his brother the day Pat was killed but was several minutes behind him in the trailing element of a convoy and saw nothing.

“They were not inquiring, identifying, engaging (targets). They weren’t doing their job as a soldier,” he told an investigator. “You have an obligation as a soldier to, you know, do certain things, and just shooting isn’t one of your responsibilities. You know, it has to be a known, likely suspect.”

And so, in November 2004, acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee ordered up yet another investigation, by Jones.

The result was 2,100 pages of transcripts and detailed descriptions of the incident, but no new charges or punishments. The report, completed Jan. 10, 2005, was provided to the Tillman family. It has not been released to the public; the family found it wanting.

Pressed anew by the Tillmans, the Pentagon inspector general announced a review of the investigations in August 2005. And in March 2006, they launched a new criminal probe into the actions of the men who shot at Tillman.

In-depth investigation

The veteran Pentagon official who is overseeing these latest inquiries, acting Defense Department Inspector General Thomas Gimble, has called the Tillman probe the toughest case he has ever seen, according to people he recently briefed.

Investigators are looking at who pulled the triggers and fired at Tillman; they are also looking at the officers who pressured the platoon to move through a region with a history of ambushes; the soldiers who burned Tillman’s uniform and body armor afterward; and at everyone in the chain of command who deliberately kept the circumstances of Tillman’s death from the family for more than a month.

Military investigators under Gimble’s direction this year visited the rugged valley in eastern Afghanistan where Tillman was killed. It was a risky trip; the region is even more dangerous today than it was in 2004.

According to one person briefed by investigators, the contingent included at least two soldiers who were there the day of the incident — Staff Sgt. Matthew Weeks, a squad leader who was up the hill from Tillman when he was shot, and the driver of the GMV that carried the Rangers who shot Tillman, Staff Sgt. Kellett Sayre.

When the current inquiry began, the Pentagon projected it would be completed by September 2006. Now Gimble and the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, known as CID, are aiming to finish their work by December, say lawmakers and other officials briefed by Gimble.

CID is probing everything up to and including Tillman’s shooting. The inspector general’s office itself has a half-dozen investigators researching everything that happened afterward, including allegations of a coverup.

The investigators have taken sworn testimony from about 70 people, some of whom said they were questioned for more than six hours. But Gimble said investigators have been hindered by a failure to locate key witnesses, even some who are still in the active military.

Moreover, those who are now out of the Army, including three of the four shooters, can’t be court martialed. They could be charged in the civilian justice system by a U.S. attorney, but such a step would be highly unusual.

The law that allows it, the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, has been invoked fewer than a half-dozen times since its enactment in 2000, said Scott Silliman, executive director of Duke Law School’s Center on Law, Ethics and National Security and a high-ranking Air Force lawyer until his retirement in 1993.

The investigation, Gimble has said, is also complicated because of “numerous missteps” by the three previous investigators, particularly their failure to follow standards for handling evidence.

Gimble promised lawmakers in a series of briefings this fall that his investigation “will bring all to light.” He has committed to releasing his detailed findings to key legislators, Pentagon officials and the Tillman family, as well as a synopsis to the general public, congressional aides said.

Gimble declined an AP request for an interview.

Punishments handed out

To date, a total of seven soldiers have been disciplined in Tillman’s death.

Bailey, the 2nd Ranger Battalion commander who was camped out about two miles down the road with another unit the night Tillman died, surveyed the shooting scene hours after it occurred.

“I don’t think there was any criminal act,” he said. “It was a fratricide based upon a lot of contributing factors, confusion,” he testified to an investigator in late 2004.

Some high-ranking officers, including Bailey, believe a lack of control in the field was to blame — starting with the platoon leader and including the soldiers who didn’t identify their targets.

Bailey, who approved punishments for several of the soldiers, said he disagreed with the platoon’s protests that they were “doing what we asked them to do under some very difficult circumstances, and that there were mistakes made but they weren’t negligent mistakes.”

He also testified that “three gunners were, to varying degrees, culpable in what had happened out there.” And he said he wanted a fourth soldier involved — the squad leader, Baker — “out of the military.”

Baker soon left the Army.

As for others involved:

* The three other shooters — Ashpole, Alders and Elliott — remained in the service initially but Elliott and Ashpole have since left. Elliott struck a deal with authorities; in exchange for his testimony to investigator Jones, the Army gave him immunity from prosecution “in any criminal proceedings.”
* The platoon leader, Lt. David Uthlaut, was later bumped down from the Rangers to the regular Army for failing to prepare his men prior to the shootings, according to Bailey.

“They didn’t do communications checks. They didn’t check out their equipment. So they’d been there 24 hours,” Bailey testified. “For example, some of the weapons systems weren’t even loaded with ammunition. Many of the soldiers didn’t know where they were going. They didn’t have contingency plans.”

A non-commissioned officer on the ground that day, however, testified that the unit carried out required communications checks.

Uthlaut was also wounded by fellow Rangers in the incident. He was awarded the Purple Heart and later promoted to captain.

Saunders, the company commander, was given the authority to punish three soldiers. Both Saunders and Hodne received formal written reprimands for failing to “provide adequate command and control” of subordinate units — administrative punishments lighter than the Article 15s handed down to the soldiers who shot at Tillman. This obviously hasn’t hurt Hodne’s career; he has since been promoted.

“I thought it was (the commanders’) fault, or part of their fault that we were even in this situation, when they’re telling us to split up,” said Ashpole.

Congressional hearings?

Some lawmakers have warned that if this probe does not clear up all questions on Tillman’s death, they may press for congressional hearings. Others have said Congress could call for an independent panel of retired military officers and other experts to conduct an outside probe.

Rep. Mike Honda, a Democrat who represents the San Jose district where Tillman’s family lives, has pressed the Pentagon for answers on the status of its investigations.

“I’m very impatient and at times cynical,” Honda said. But, he said, the honor of the military — and the confidence of the public in the military and the government — are at stake.

“So if we pursue the truth and wait for it,” he said, “it may be worthwhile.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Truthdig : After Pat’s Birthday

Thursday, October 19, 2006

After Pat’s Birthday

By Kevin Tillman | October 19, 2006

Editor’s note: Kevin Tillman joined the Army with his brother Pat in 2002, and they served together in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pat was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. Kevin, who was discharged in 2005, has written a powerful, must-read document.

It is Pat’s birthday on November 6, and elections are the day after. It gets me thinking about a conversation I had with Pat before we joined the military. He spoke about the risks with signing the papers. How once we committed, we were at the mercy of the American leadership and the American people. How we could be thrown in a direction not of our volition. How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice… until we got out.

Much has happened since we handed over our voice:

Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can’t be called a civil war even though it is. Something like that.

Somehow our elected leaders were subverting international law and humanity by setting up secret prisons around the world, secretly kidnapping people, secretly holding them indefinitely, secretly not charging them with anything, secretly torturing them. Somehow that overt policy of torture became the fault of a few “bad apples” in the military.

Somehow back at home, support for the soldiers meant having a five-year-old kindergartener scribble a picture with crayons and send it overseas, or slapping stickers on cars, or lobbying Congress for an extra pad in a helmet. It’s interesting that a soldier on his third or fourth tour should care about a drawing from a five-year-old; or a faded sticker on a car as his friends die around him; or an extra pad in a helmet, as if it will protect him when an IED throws his vehicle 50 feet into the air as his body comes apart and his skin melts to the seat.

Somehow the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.

Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started.

Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.

Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.

Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated.

Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe.

Somehow torture is tolerated.

Somehow lying is tolerated.

Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense.

Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world.

Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.

Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.

Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtueless, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.

Somehow this is tolerated.

Somehow nobody is accountable for this.

In a democracy, the policy of the leaders is the policy of the people. So don’t be shocked when our grandkids bury much of this generation as traitors to the nation, to the world and to humanity. Most likely, they will come to know that “somehow” was nurtured by fear, insecurity and indifference, leaving the country vulnerable to unchecked, unchallenged parasites.

Luckily this country is still a democracy. People still have a voice. People still can take action. It can start after Pat’s birthday.

Brother and Friend of Pat Tillman,
Kevin Tillman

ABC : A Case of Fratricide: Who Killed Pat Tillman?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Case of Fratricide: Who Killed Pat Tillman?

By MIKE FISH | July 19, 2006

Early in the evening of April 22, 2004, a heavily armored vehicle in the trailing half of a split platoon came under attack from enemy fire in the rugged mountainous terrain of southeastern Afghanistan.

Soldiers in a Humvee opened fire in retaliation, but instead shot at fellow Rangers positioned ahead, killing Spc. Pat Tillman and an Afghan soldier standing 10 feet off Tillman's left shoulder.

The former NFL safety -- the Army's most-celebrated volunteer -- took three bullets to the forehead.

Three days removed from the ambush and the ensuing firefight, it wasn't the memory of the rounds of gunshots raining clouds of rock and dust down the towering canyon walls that troubled Spc. Ryan Mansfield.

It was the madness of making sense of it all.

Two years after Tillman's death, the Defense Department Inspector General's Office nears the completion of yet another investigation into the death and many very important questions remain unanswered.

Sitting in a crammed tent at Camp Salerno, the Army's Forward Operating Base in the province of Khowst, Afghanistan, Mansfield witnessed the raw emotion and friction in the unit as the soldiers agonized over the tragic outcome of the mission.

An Army chaplain pulled up a seat, so did an Army psychiatrist as squad leaders and high-ranking officers joined the 30 or so young Rangers still fresh from their first firefight.

The soldiers in the Black Sheep platoon didn't need a tidy, bureaucratic Army inquiry to tell them what they already knew: Tillman had been killed in a case of fratricide, otherwise known as friendly fire, by someone among them at the meeting.

By then, they knew that.

Like Mansfield, though, many of them were struggling with how it had happened. With why it had happened. With the awful enormity of it all.

"It was emotional," said Mansfield, then 20 years old and a gunner in the vehicle that had been just in front of Tillman's, in an interview with

"Some people had things they said that other people didn't want to hear. It was just pretty personal. People in the second serial [the trailing half of the platoon] had a different perspective of what happened than people in the first."

The perspectives on the circumstances are still very much at odds, and the story is still very much alive.

Are the Rangers who fired at Tillman and their other fellow soldiers guilty of criminal wrongdoing?

Why did the Army glorify Tillman's actions on the battlefield during the firefight in which he was killed?

Did the Army purposely conceal that Tillman had been killed by friendly fire? If so, why?

And did the Army consciously puff up the Tillman story by awarding the dead soldier a Silver Star, its third-highest distinction for combat valor, to go along with his Purple Heart and a posthumous promotion from specialist to corporal?

For reasons that remain under investigation, the Pentagon elected for almost five weeks after the killing not to disclose the fact Tillman had been gunned down by members of his own platoon.

Yet some in Tillman's unit knew the night it happened. found that word of the fratricide had filtered through the ranks within a day or two of Tillman's death.

Army brass calling the shots from Camp Salerno also understood what had to be, for them, the discomfiting news about the elite group of soldiers expected to live and fight by a Ranger Creed that reads, in part, "I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy, and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country."

According to one of the documents obtained by, an Army official flown in to join the platoon the day after the shooting as part of the April 25, 2004, debriefing process told Army investigators, "I think at that point people already knew that it was a fratricide."

He said, "So when I say 'people' -- [I mean] leadership, OK."

In the meeting three days after Tillman's death, however, chaos and unanswered questions dominated the warm night air as Mansfield and the rest of the unit tried to understand how a Ranger had killed the war's most-famous soldier.

As the meeting progressed, the young men took turns pitching their piece of the big picture. Words like "bad judgment" and "panic" were tossed about. Gossip and suspicion flowed freely.

Because of the gruesome damage done to Tillman's head by the gunfire, popular theory first focused on a soldier who'd manned a .50-caliber machine gun as the likely shooter, but Army documents showed that investigators later dismissed that idea.

That soldier left the Army when his enlistment ended and declined several interview requests by

A few of the Rangers piped up, according to two soldiers in attendance that evening, to suggest Tillman had been overly aggressive when he took his position low on the desolate ridge.

In one of the Army documents, an officer assigned to observe the reaction of the Rangers during the debriefing session later told investigators, "A lot of them felt like his [Tillman's] actions that day had put himself and [Spc. Bryan O'Neal] and the Afghan soldier in peril that was unnecessary."

O'Neal, an 18-year-old soldier who had been positioned on the ridge just a few yards from Tillman during the firefight, sat quietly through most of the meeting.

Eventually, though, his few, riveting words brought a hush over the assembled platoon.

Another soldier at the session, Spc. Pedro Arreola, told that O'Neal, fighting back tears and shaking with emotion, said: "The only reason I am standing here is because Pat Tillman saved my life."

That night, O'Neal didn't detail for his fellow Rangers exactly how Tillman had saved him.

Later, according to a transcript of his interview with an Army investigator, O'Neal said he'd been out in the open and under intense fire while Tillman had what O'Neal described as "pretty good cover."

Tillman, O'Neal told the investigator, "wasn't really too much in danger," although the Afghan Military Forces soldier already lay off to the side, dead.

"I was watching them as they were shooting at me," O'Neal told the investigator, speaking about his fellow Rangers, "and I was watching the rounds when they were -- and Pat could look around -- and I was noticing that most of their fire seemed to be directed towards me. And he moved out from behind his cover to throw some smoke. … All I remember was him telling me, 'Hey, don't worry, I've got something that can help us.' And he popped a smoke [grenade], I guess, and that's when he got shot -- one of the few times he got shot."

The official Army autopsy report obtained by shows that, besides the three bullets in his forehead, Tillman had shrapnel in his left forearm and wrist.

Asked by to review the autopsy's findings, renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden suggested the three bullets that struck Tillman in the head came in rapid succession, and most likely were from the weapon of a single shooter.

Documents from the Army's investigations indicate the wounds likely came from American 5.56-mm or 7.62-mm rounds.

"The first bullet that struck him in the head, he was dead," Baden told "Then he was struck by two additional bullets, because of the rapid fire of the weapon that was used. He also may have been shot by other weapons in the arm and vest. This would indicate that. … More than one person was firing at him."

The previous investigations under Army regulation 15-6, which establishes procedures for such inquiries, concluded that a trio of young Rangers was following the initial fire of their squad leader, Sgt. Greg Baker, as the soldiers were trained to do.

None of those official inquiries identified who squeezed the trigger on the fatal shots.

Baden, though, suspects that enough ballistics evidence remained for the Army to have pinpointed the shooter, even though key evidence such as Tillman's uniform and body armor was destroyed within three days of his death.

Baden also said X-rays could have been used to identify the path the bullets took through Tillman's head, but the results were not included in the autopsy report, neither was mention of a hole in Tillman's leg discovered by a soldier who helped carry the body down the hillside.

"They should be able to figure out where the bullets came from, from the trajectory analysis, and whose weapon they came from, from microscopic ballistic comparison," said Baden, chief forensic pathologist for the New York State Police and a frequent consultant in high-profile murder cases. "The person who fired probably knows who he is. I think the supervisors know who the shooter or shooters were, but they're not releasing it."

According to the Army officer who directed the first official inquiry, the Army might have more of a clue about the shooter's identity than it has let on. Asked whether ballistics work was done to identify who fired the fatal shots, Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich told, "I think, yeah, they did. And I think they know [who fired]. But I never found out."

Mansfield and other Rangers who attended the post-incident meeting said -- both in interviews with and in documents from the Army investigations -- they were advised by debriefers that night that the unit as a whole bore the responsibility for Tillman's death and they should avoid placing blame on any one person.

In his interview with, Kauzlarich also said he was not driven to identify Tillman's killer.

"You know what? I don't think it really matters," Kauzlarich said. "And the reason I say that -- you got to look at the overall situation here that these guys were fighting in. And somebody hit him. So would you hold that guy [who] hit him responsible for hitting him, when everybody was shooting in that direction, given the situation? We'll see how the [Defense Department Inspector General's] investigation comes out. But I had no issue on not finding a specific person responsible for doing it."

Kauzlarich said he was confident the current probe would not result in criminal charges against the shooter or shooters.

He said investigators would not still be examining the killing if it were not for Tillman's NFL celebrity -- he walked away from a multimillion-dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals when he enlisted -- and the pressure brought to bear by Tillman's family or a number of Washington politicos.

"His parents continue to ask for it to be looked at," Kauzlarich said. "And that is really their prerogative. And if they have the right backing, the right powerful people in our government to continue to let it happen, then that is the case."

"But there [have] been numerous unfortunate cases of fratricide, and the parents have basically said, 'OK, it was an unfortunate accident.' And they let it go. So this is -- I don't know, these people have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs."

In a transcript of his interview with Brig. Gen. Gary Jones during a November 2004 investigation, Kauzlarich said he'd learned Kevin Tillman, Pat's brother and fellow Army Ranger who was a part of the battle the night Pat Tillman died, objected to the presence of a chaplain and the saying of prayers during a repatriation ceremony in Germany before his brother's body was returned to the United States.

Kauzlarich, now a battalion commanding officer at Fort Riley in Kansas, further suggested the Tillman family's unhappiness with the findings of past investigations might be because of the absence of a Christian faith in their lives.

In an interview with, Kauzlarich said: "When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more -- that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don't know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough."

Asked by whether the Tillmans' religious beliefs are a factor in the ongoing investigation, Kauzlarich said, "I think so. There is not a whole lot of trust in the system or faith in the system [by the Tillmans]. So that is my personal opinion, knowing what I know."

Asked what might finally placate the family, Kauzlarich said, "You know what? I don't think anything will make them happy, quite honestly. I don't know. Maybe they want to see somebody's head on a platter. But will that really make them happy? No, because they can't bring their son back."

Kauzlarich, now 40, was the Ranger regiment executive officer in Afghanistan, making him ultimately responsible for the conduct of the fateful operation in which Pat Tillman died. Kauzlarich later played a role in writing the recommendation for the posthumous Silver Star. And finally, with his fingerprints already all over many of the hot-button issues, including the question of who ordered the platoon to be split as it dragged a disabled Humvee through the mountains, Kauzlarich conducted the first official Army investigation into Tillman's death.

That investigation is among the inquiries that didn't satisfy the Tillman family.

"Well, this guy makes disparaging remarks about the fact that we're not Christians, and the reason that we can't put Pat to rest is because we're not Christians," Mary Tillman, Pat's mother, said in an interview with Mary Tillman casts the family as spiritual, though she said it does not believe in many of the fundamental aspects of organized religion.

"Oh, it has nothing to do with the fact that this whole thing is shady," she said sarcastically, "But it is because we are not Christians."

After a pause, her voice full with emotion, she added, "Pat may not have been what you call a Christian. He was about the best person I ever knew. I mean, he was just a good guy. He didn't lie. He was very honest. He was very generous. He was very humble. I mean, he had an ego, but it was a healthy ego. It is like, everything those [people] are, he wasn't."

Though rarely for public consumption, the Tillman family has continued to try to push through layers of Army bureaucracy for answers, about both the death of their son and the appearance that Pat Tillman's Army life, and death, might have been used for political purposes.

Were the Army and/or the White House so desperate for a positive spin that they morphed Tillman into a male version of Jessica Lynch, the Army private from West Virginia who was foisted into the spotlight early in the Iraq War during the march to Baghdad? The Pentagon initially portrayed Lynch as fighting until the last bullet was fired before she was wounded and captured. Only later was it learned that she had been injured when her vehicle crashed and she had been knocked unconscious. In her authorized biography, "I Am a Soldier, Too," she said she never fired a shot.

Tillman's Silver Star suggests the possibility of a similar spin. According to military records, 45 Silver Stars for gallantry have been awarded to soldiers for their heroism during the war in Afghanistan. An Army official told that Tillman's is the only one of those 45 that involved friendly fire. Although involved in the writing of Tillman's Silver Star application, Kauzlarich said the medals are "typically not" awarded in such cases.

"I mean, had the story come out that he had been killed by his own guys, then it probably would have been looked at differently," Kauzlarich said.

Army documents and statements given by witnesses during the Army's investigations indicate top officials already suspected fratricide when Tillman's Silver Star application was crafted. According to the transcript of his statement, Tillman's company commander, Capt. William Saunders acknowledged providing the information needed for Tillman's Silver Star recommendation, stating that before submission, "We became aware that his death was a possible fratricide." During a separate interview with investigators, Saunders said he arriving at the scene of the battle early the following morning -- April 23, 2004 -- and being informed fratricide was suspected.

Though two other Rangers were wounded in the incident, no one else on the battlefield that day was awarded a Silver Star.

Partly for that reason, the Army could be in for an embarrassing PR hit when the Defense Department Inspector General's Office releases its findings after an almost yearlong review of the events surrounding Tillman's death. That could come perhaps as early as September -- the start of another NFL season. The IG's Office initiated its current inquiry after determining the three earlier military investigations, including the one by Kauzlarich, failed to fully address concerns and allegations raised by the Tillman family as well as by Washington politicians.

In a March 23, 2006, letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a copy of which was obtained by, Reps. Michael Honda, D-Calif., Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, Ike Skelton, D-Mo., and Christopher Shays, R-Conn., wrote: "The Army ... should have a shared interest in determining whether Army officials covered up the true facts regarding Corporal Tillman's death." To that end, the lawmakers suggest congressional hearings ultimately might be convened to delve into the matter.

Both the White House and Rumsfeld's office declined comment for this story. Through spokesman Hollen J. Wheeler, the secretary of defense turned down the opportunity to address's questions about the Tillman situation e-mailed to his office.

The Army, too, isn't eager to discuss publicly either the specifics of the battle in which Tillman was killed or the events and investigations that have taken place since. e-mailed a series of questions about Tillman's death to the Department of the Army. Paul Boyce, the Army's deputy director of public affairs, cited the ongoing investigation as a reason for declining to respond.

In some cases, it appears the Army has tried to discourage the soldiers who fought with Tillman from speaking about how he died. Some of the Rangers contacted by said they were told that a nondisclosure agreement they signed upon entering the regiment precludes them from talking about the incident. Others told that a confidentiality agreement they signed upon leaving the Rangers prohibits them from discussing classified information for 80 years. Notices also have been posted around Fort Lewis advising soldiers not to talk about the Tillman incident with the media, according to a Ranger from Tillman's platoon who was stationed there.

O'Neal, the Ranger alongside Tillman when he was killed, told, "I've been advised not to talk by my superiors -- people that control me."

However, with the help of a number of other Rangers who were willing to talk about the firefight, along with documents from the Army's investigations, has been able to reconstruct the events leading up to and including the battle scene.

On the morning of April 21, 2004, a day before Tillman was gunned down, a failed fuel pump on a ground mobility vehicle -- Army jargon for a Humvee -- brought the Ranger platoon to a halt as it searched for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. Another pump was flown in by helicopter that night, but according to an Army synopsis of one of the investigations, it didn't fix the problem.

The Army's elite fighting group -- 35 soldiers in 11 vehicles -- pulled out from their camp, towing the broken-down Humvee. The Rangers had no tow bar, so they improvised with straps. A few hours later, the Humvee's front end gave out near the village of Magarah and the Ranger convoy stopped.

Lt. David Uthlaut, the leader of the Black Sheep platoon, radioed for help to have the $50,000 Humvee airlifted out by a Chinook cargo helicopter to end the delay, according to several documents from the Army investigation led by Jones. Uthlaut was told, according to the documents, that it would be three or four days until the helicopter would be available. And he was told he could not abandon the vehicle along the roadside or blow it up to keep it out of the hands of Afghan insurgents.

Back at the Camp Salerno base, Saunders, the company commander, ordered the platoon to be split. The Humvee, accompanied by 19 Rangers in five vehicles, was to be towed by a local driver to a designated "recovery point" on a road that branched off to the north, where it was to be retrieved by an Army wrecker. According to the plan, the platoon was then to reunite and hit its objectives the next morning, raiding nearby villages to look for weapons and high-value targets.

Had the platoon stayed together, it's possible the friendly-fire incident might not have happened. According to the November 2004 interview transcript of an officer involved in one of the Army's investigations, "The results that caused Corporal Tillman's death really had nothing to do with splitting that [platoon] up…" But the officer continues his sentence with, "…except for that the converging forces killed him."

After a six- to seven-hour layover in Magarah, the Rangers paid a local driver $120 to pull the crippled vehicle along the mountainous roads with his "jinga truck," a large, colorful rig used to cart everything from livestock to shrubs.

But 10 or 15 minutes after the now-split platoon's first unit -- which comprised Pat Tillman, 15 other Rangers and four AMF soldiers in six vehicles -- had left, the jinga truck driver, who had become part of the second unit, deemed the road to the chosen recovery point to be too treacherous. He began to follow the path of the first unit toward the village of Manah. In the deep canyon, the two groups temporarily lost radio contact with each other.

It was early evening, close to 6:45. Daylight was waning along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, though it wasn't quite dark enough for night vision goggles. Suddenly, small arms fire from Afghan insurgents rained down from high atop a ridge, and an explosion rocked the floor of the canyon near where the second serial was traveling. The Rangers still in the canyon had no place to hide.

Making matters worse, when the trailing convoy, including the disabled Humvee and the jinga truck, was caught in the ambush, the non-English-speaking jinga driver was out in front of the Army's elite soldiers. According to the transcripts of statements given by several witnesses, the jinga truck initially blocked the convoy's escape route through the canyon. Kevin Tillman was in the rear vehicle of the second serial, which had come under fire.

Beyond the canyon, the first group of Rangers, including Pat Tillman, dismounted near the tiny village of Sperah and moved into position to fire at the muzzle flashes visible at the top of the ridgeline and lay cover for the trailing convoy.

Pat Tillman and O'Neal took off to reach a position low on the ridgeline. The Afghan soldier, who had been in the vehicle behind Pat Tillman, followed them.

As the second unit's lead vehicle broke free of the canyon, Baker, who was standing in the front passenger side, spotted the dark-skinned Afghan soldier on his feet and firing an AK-47 in the direction of the convoy. He took aim.

Baker told that he didn't realize he had targeted a friendly Afghan soldier, one of four who a few days earlier had joined the Rangers for a sweep operation of the countryside, or that the Afghan was firing over the convoy, at an enemy position high atop the ridgeline.

Neither, Baker said, did he realize that just a few feet off the Afghan's right shoulder were two Americans in Ranger uniforms: Pat Tillman and O'Neal.

Baker fired.

The Afghan was killed, his gut torn open as Baker let loose eight rounds.

Baker's first shots triggered wild, frenzied firing from the young shooters under his charge in the vehicle, engaging everything in the vicinity of the friendly Afghan.

"Well, we teach our guys to, you know -- one of our fire commands is to shoot where the leader shoots," Baker said to

And that is what they did?

"Right," Baker answered.

But according to one of the Rangers in the first unit, the soldiers also are trained to make certain they know what they are aiming at before they pull the trigger.

"I was always taught: identify, acquire, engage," Arreola said in an interview with "Identify your target. Acquire it -- put your gun sight on it. And if the threat is there, engage. So that is what I did. And that is why I shot up on top of the mountain, knowing that nobody we would give a s--- about is up there. And if anything, the threat is up there."

When asked by whether the Rangers in the second serial should have known what they were shooting, Arreola said: "Yes, definitely. That is what we are taught. It is burned into our minds."

Arreola, who was in the last vehicle of the second serial, told he did not shoot at Tillman or the other Rangers on the ridgeline. Both Arreola and Mansfield were interviewed on Memorial Day of this year at an Orange County, Calif., jail facility, where they are serving sentences for felony assault for their part in a November 2004 bar fight in Fullerton.

Pat Tillman and other Rangers on the ridgeline frantically waved their arms. Tillman set off a smoke grenade. At one point, the firing ceased briefly when the soldiers in the trailing serial lost sight of their targets as their vehicle rounded a curve. Thinking the firefight was over, Tillman and O'Neal stood to stretch their legs. According to O'Neal's interview transcript from the Army's November 2004 investigation, the two Rangers assumed the shooters had recognized the tragic error.

"So we figured we were fine," O'Neal recalled for investigators. "We figured it was -- you know, they realized we were friendly."

But the firing resumed.

This time, someone put three bullets in Tillman's head.

O'Neal's account, again from the Army's documents: "I probably laid down for a minute, you know, just trying to decide what had just happened. And after about then, I started to notice I was hearing some kind of running water sound and then I noticed I was just covered in blood and the blood was just running all over me and, at that time, I knew something was wrong. Probably not even a minute, a minute and a half before I started calling. I looked at Pat and realized he was dead and I called for [redacted] and it probably took a minute and a half, two minutes before they got to my position."

Before they eased off their triggers, the shooters also hit and wounded the platoon leader, Lt. Uthlaut, and his radio telephone operator, Spc. Jade Lane, who were positioned alongside a mud house less than 100 yards down the road.

"I just [feel] horrible," Baker told "I mean, all of us did. ... I don't know how you deal with something like this. The mood overall was just crappy. Everyone was down. [Tillman] was a great guy and stuff like that. Awesome guy."

Now out of the Army and living in Tacoma, Wash., near where the Ranger unit had trained at Fort Lewis, Baker said he remembers his anxiety rising as his Humvee moved farther down the road. Up ahead, the vehicles belonging to the first group were stopped. Off to his right, up on the hills lining the road, were Rangers, some flailing their arms to signal for a cease-fire.

Explaining what first moved him to squeeze the trigger of his automatic weapon, Baker told, "It was just thinking that we'd seen bad guys on top of them, 'cause obviously that was where we were receiving fire at the whole time. And it just happened that the Afghan's moving with [Tillman and O'Neal], too -- the Afghan being their furthest man to the right, you know. So that was the first person that we [saw] on top of the hill, and him firing an AK-47, the same weapon system [the enemy was] shooting at us."

Kauzlarich, in the first official Army investigation, harshly chastised Baker for allowing himself to become "tunnel visioned" on the AMF soldier.

"He was firing up over us," Baker said he realized later. "But just at our angle, it looked like it came down at us because just the way the terrain was laid out and stuff like that. He was actually firing on a firing position up over our heads."

As for Pat Tillman, Baker said, "I couldn't... I didn't see him."

Nor did he see O'Neal, standing alongside Tillman. And he said he didn't pick up on the smoke canister Tillman set off.

Baker has never denied shooting the friendly Afghan soldier. In one of his statements to Kauzlarich during the first official investigation, Baker said, "I killed that guy. I killed the AMF soldier."

In stark contrast with Tillman, the Afghan remains a true unknown soldier. U.S. military officials told they aren't certain of his identity. Representatives with the Embassy of Afghanistan in Washington, as well as officials with the Afghanistan National Army, told they also have no record of his identity.

The job of making sense of the battlefield scene initially belonged to Capt. Richard Scott.

Within 24 hours after the Rangers killed Pat Tillman, Scott, who has since risen to the rank of major, was assigned to conduct the first, though unofficial, investigation. He was told up front that fratricide was suspected, a suspicion he seconded after he interviewed the Rangers and finished his inquiry. According to the transcript of his statement given to investigators later, he found Tillman had been killed by friendly fire.

At the time he was assigned to the investigation, Scott was already a decorated, if young, officer on the rise. A year earlier, he'd been recognized at the Pentagon during ceremonies for the 16th annual Gen. Douglas MacArthur Army Leadership Awards. Army brass, however, subsequently determined the assignment of Scott to the investigation wasn't in line with Army protocol once the scope of the inquiry began to focus on his superior officer, Kauzlarich. According to Army documents, though, Kauzlarich was assigned to what would become the Army's first official investigation on May 8, 2004, a little more than two weeks after Tillman had been killed. Kauzlarich completed his report within a week.

The existence of the Army's initial investigation didn't become known by the Tillman family until Kevin Tillman's chance encounter with Scott at Fort Bragg, N.C., in late 2004.

Scott's conclusions were more unfavorable toward the actions of the Rangers than any of the subsequent Army investigations, and they came during a time of turmoil and negative headlines for the Army and the Bush administration. The war images in front of the public were awful. Remains of the bodies of American contractors working in Iraq were strung up in Fallujah just three weeks before Tillman's death. And on April 28, "60 Minutes II" broadcast graphic photos depicting abuse by U.S. soldiers working as guards in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison.

According to Scott's statement provided in an investigation concluded last year and obtained by, he said he believed some of the shooters "could be charged for criminal intent" and at least three had demonstrated "gross negligence." Scott told Jones, the brigadier general assigned to conduct the most recently concluded investigation, that Baker should have been "chaptered out of the Army" and expressed his frustration that the shooters were allowed to change their stories and hadn't been punished adequately.

Reached by, Scott declined to elaborate, saying "Unfortunately, I can't really discuss anything until the [current] investigation is over with. I'm under a strict order not to."

Jones, who retired from the Army in January, also declined comment.

In findings released in March 2005, Jones acknowledged the Army knew almost immediately that Tillman had been killed by fellow soldiers, but blamed confusion over an interpretation of the regulations rather than a cover-up for the delay in telling Tillman's family. Jones upheld the awarding of the Silver Star to Tillman, even though he'd been killed before he could carry out what, in Jones' words, was an "audacious plan" that evening on the battlefield.

According to Army documents, Jones also upheld the relatively light sentences previously levied against the handful of soldiers and officers. The most serious reprimand: a dismissal from the Rangers, but not the Army, along with a Field Grade Article 15 Non-Judicial Punishment (which allows a commanding officer considerable leeway in administering discipline) for Baker. The other soldiers who fired with Baker -- Trevor Alders, Steve Elliott and Steve Ashpole -- received Company Grade Article 15s (which are less severe reprimands than the Field Grade level), and also were dismissed from the Rangers but not the Army.

"They didn't have to serve any punishments for their Article 15s," Lane, the radio operator who was wounded by friendly fire in the incident, said in an interview with "No deduction in rank. No extra duty. No punishment of any kind. Their punishment was -- and this is what they were told -- that 'leaving the Rangers was punishment enough.' "

Platoon leader Uthlaut received a verbal reprimand as well as reassigned to the regular Army. Still in the Army and now a captain, he recently was stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia.

Among other things, the Tillman family is troubled the Army didn't take action against the soldiers who, according to Army documents and witness statements, destroyed potentially key evidence within days of Tillman's death. His body armor was burned April 23 -- a day after his death -- and two days later his uniform and vest were similarly burned. Soldiers said they destroyed Tillman's bloody belongings for hygiene reasons, as well as for the morale of the platoon, though they failed to follow Army procedures requiring medical authority before doing so.

A soldier who burned Tillman's uniform said in his statement it was not an effort to destroy evidence: "At that time it was acknowledged that this was fratricide. There was no question in my mind it was a friendly fire incident and [I] had no thought of 'destroying evidence' as we already knew that this was fratricide."

For the past two years, Kevin Tillman has been a reclusive figure. He rarely has been seen at ceremonies honoring his late brother, and he has avoided the media. Now out of the service, he has refused to go on the record for this story. But Arreola and Mansfield remember Kevin's reaction to his brother's death.

Arreola, a 22-year-old from Fontana, Calif., who had been in the vehicle with Kevin when the firefight started, was pulling guard duty with Kevin after the shooting was over. Arreola said he sensed something was wrong.

"It was dark already," Arreola told "I just saw like a shadow. I saw Kevin. I saw somebody walk up to him, don't know who it was. I heard voices and I don't know what was said. I just remember hearing Kevin crying. And then I put that together with [the fact] we took a casualty.

"Then," Arreola said, "I went into shock. Kind of like, 'What the hell just happened?' "

Another Ranger had whispered to Kevin that Pat Tillman was dead.

Mansfield reflected with empathy on the changes he saw in Kevin when he rejoined the platoon upon its return to Fort Lewis about five weeks after Pat Tillman's death.

"He kept himself away from everybody," said Mansfield, clad in a dark blue prison jumpsuit with his head shaved. "And when we came back [to Fort Lewis], people were laughing, joking. And to him, he still didn't think people should be laughing, joking. A lot of people were trying to move on, trying to get past it; but to him, it was still pretty close. He didn't [think] that we should be doing that. So he pushed us away from him and wanted nothing to do with anybody there."

Said Arreola: "I think he blamed everybody that was there. Not one person in particular, but maybe he felt more toward certain people."

Army Spc. Russell Baer, one of Kevin Tillman's closer friends in the unit, accompanied Kevin and his brother's body on the flight back to the United States from Afghanistan. In his own interview with Army investigators in November 2004, Baer said he had been told to "pretty much keep my mouth shut up about the incident until all the pieces were put together."

Frustration with that situation, he said, caused him to be two days late returning to the Army, a transgression for which he was disciplined.

"I went home and saw all the pain and frustration. ... I always had that piece in my head -- my part of the puzzle and I couldn't tell them about it," Baer told investigators. "I was pissed off and I really at that time did not want to come back."

The next chapter in the Pat Tillman story is still to be written. It remains unclear whether the current inquiry will bring results that will satisfy his family. From their perspective, the accounts have been marked by uncertainties and unknowns from the very beginning, and the passing of time since April 22, 2004, doesn't help.

Even that night in the cramped tent at Camp Salerno, when the story should have been fresh, witnesses couldn't agree on what had happened. According to one Army document, a high-ranking officer who led the after-action review described the scene to Army investigators: "That whole (unit) was pissed off. But it started to become clear as we drew this thing out that there was just some -- some things didn't make sense."

And that hasn't changed.

NYT : 2 Years After Soldier's Death, Family's Battle Is With Army

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

2 Years After Soldier's Death, Family's Battle Is With Army

By MONICA DAVEY and ERIC SCHMITT | March 21, 2006

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Patrick K. Tillman stood outside his law office here, staring intently at a yellow house across the street, just over 70 yards away. That, he recalled, is how far away his eldest son, Pat, who gave up a successful N.F.L. career to become an Army Ranger, was standing from his fellow Rangers when they shot him dead in Afghanistan almost two years ago.

"I could hit that house with a rock," Mr. Tillman said. "You can see every last detail on that place, everything, and you're telling me they couldn't see Pat?"

Mr. Tillman, 51, is a grieving father who has refused to give up on his son. While fiercely shunning the public spotlight that has followed Cpl. Pat Tillman's death, Mr. Tillman has spent untold hours considering the Army's measurements, like the 70 yards.

He has drafted long, sometimes raw, letters to military leaders, demanding answers about the shooting. And he has studied — and challenged — Army PowerPoint presentations meant to explain how his son, who had called out his own name and waved his arms, wound up dead anyway, shot three times in the head by his own unit, which said it had mistaken him for the enemy.

"All I asked for is what happened to my son, and it has been lie after lie after lie," said Mr. Tillman, explaining that he believed the matter should remain "between me and the military" but that he had grown too troubled to keep silent.

As the second anniversary of the death of Corporal Tillman, once a popular safety for the Arizona Cardinals, approaches, Mr. Tillman, his former wife, Mary, and other family members remain frustrated by the Army's handling of the killing but for the first time may be close to getting some of the answers they so desperately seek.

After repeated complaints from the Tillmans and members of Congress contacted by them, the Army is immersed in a highly unusual criminal investigation of the killing, and the Defense Department's inspector general, which called for the criminal investigation this month, is looking separately into the Army's conduct in its aftermath.

Senior military officials said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had expressed outrage to top aides that the Army was having to conduct yet another inquiry into the shooting, prolonging the family's anguish and underscoring the failure of the Army's investigative processes to bring resolution.

Gary Comerford, a spokesman for the inspector general, said the Army Criminal Investigation Command was "dealing with events leading up to the death, and we're looking at anything after that." Though Mr. Comerford did not say so, that could include the possibility of a cover-up, the Tillmans said they had been told by the inspector general's office.

No one wants answers more than the Tillmans. But by now, they said, they have lost patience and faith that any Army entity, even the Criminal Investigation Command, can be trusted to find the truth.

"I am sitting here on my own, going over and over and over this for two years," Ms. Tillman, 50, said in a telephone interview. "The whole thing is such a debacle. I am beyond tears. It's killing me."

Like her former husband, she has spent days reading the files, researching the episode, calling members of Congress, even trying to contact some of the soldiers involved. She criticized the military, as well as the news media, for failing to get to the bottom of what occurred, leaving her family, in essence, to figure it out themselves.

All of it, her former husband said, has even left him suspicious of the military's central finding in their son's case so far: that the killing was a terrible but unintentional accident.

"There is so much nonstandard conduct, both before and after Pat was killed, that you have to start to wonder," Mr. Tillman said. "How much effort would you put into hiding an accident? Why do you need to hide an accident?"

An examination by The New York Times of more than 2,000 pages of documents from three previous Army administrative reviews reveals shifting testimony, the destruction of obvious evidence in the case and a series of contradictions about the distances, the lighting conditions and other details surrounding the shooting.

Seven Rangers have received administrative disciplines — a pay cut, a loss of rank or a return to the rank-and-file Army — but the criminal inquiry is for the first time examining whether the soldiers broke military law when they failed to identify their targets before firing on Corporal Tillman's position. The earlier reviews found that a chain of circumstances and errors had led to the deaths of Corporal Tillman and an Afghan soldier fighting alongside the Americans.

A senior Pentagon official briefed on the criminal investigation, who was granted anonymity because he was not permitted to speak publicly while the new investigation was under way, said it would delve into highly sensitive areas.

"The balance that investigators now have to wrestle with is how much of a crime-scene approach they can take — nearly two years after the fact — into the fog of war, where soldiers were making decisions in milliseconds," the Pentagon official said.

Mr. Tillman spoke bluntly and angrily one afternoon here as he waded once more through the Army reports, the charts, even the details in his son's autopsy. He knows the smallest of details by heart — where his son was supposed to be standing, which way the sun was setting, what the Ranger ducking beside his son heard him call out last — and ticked them off unemotionally as he flipped through the worn reports.

Mr. Tillman's small office, though, belies his hardened shell. His trash can, pasted with orange and green paper, was a grade school project of Pat Tillman. So was the wooden pencil holder nearby, shakily carved with the letters N.F.L. A blurry photograph in a frame showed Pat Tillman at age 2, marching off toward a lake with his signature confident stride.

"At this point I don't believe that the facts of this case are going to come out without the serious threat of jail time hanging over some folks," Mr. Tillman said.

The Tillman family's first glimmers of distrust began in the month after Corporal Tillman was killed, at the age of 27, on April 22, 2004.

Within hours, military officers came to the family home here, the same house where Corporal Tillman had grown up. No one mentioned, though, that the shooting had been at the hands of his colleagues. Even Corporal Tillman's younger brother Kevin, who served in the same Ranger unit and was in a vehicle far behind the shooting and did not see what had happened, did not learn the truth for more than a month.

Instead, eight days after Corporal Tillman's death, Army officials awarded a Silver Star and issued a news release that seemed to suggest that he had been killed by enemy fire during an ambush.

At the end of May, as the rest of Corporal Tillman's unit was returning to the United States, the Army notified the family of what it believed really happened. In the months that followed, in private briefings for the family, the Army assured the Tillmans that a thorough investigation would be made and that those responsible would be disciplined.

"They said they'd take care of it, and I believed them," Mr. Tillman said.

Corporal Tillman's platoon of the Second Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, began the day that he died dealing with a minor annoyance in the southeastern part of Afghanistan where the soldiers were conducting sweeps, the Army records show: one vehicle would not start.

The platoon split into two parts so that half the team, including Corporal Tillman, could go on to the next town for sweeps while the second half could tow the disabled vehicle to a drop-off spot.

But both groups ended up in the same twisting canyon, along the same road, without radio communication. And after the sounds of an enemy ambush, three Rangers in the second group wound up firing at members of the first group — at an Afghan soldier who was fighting alongside Corporal Tillman, and then at Corporal Tillman.

The Army's administrative reviews that followed, parts of which have been described previously in other newspapers, including The Washington Post and The San Francisco Chronicle, have left the Tillman family with more questions than answers, they say. Some of those involved in the shooting have provided shifting accounts of what happened, the records show.

The decision to split the unit into two convoys, for example, was a crucial, and perhaps fatal, one. Brig. Gen. Gary M. Jones, who led the most recent of the three Army reviews, concluded that the decision was a result of "miscommunication" among several officers.

But at least one Army officer, the records show, changed his sworn statements about which supervisor had actually ordered the split and what conversations had occurred before the order was given.

Even the soldier who conducted the military's first review of Corporal Tillman's death — in the hours and days immediately afterward — expressed concern about the changes in the accounts.

That soldier, whose name, like many others, was redacted from the Army files provided to The Times by Mr. Tillman, said he believed Rangers had changed their versions of what happened and were not receiving the "due just punishment" for what he concluded was "gross negligence."

The stories, he said in a sworn statement as part of General Jones's subsequent review, "have changed to, I think, help some individuals."

"The other difficult thing, though, was watching some of these guys getting off with what I thought was a lesser of a punishment than what they should've received," the soldier who conducted the first inquiry said.

Among a number of conflicts in the descriptions of what happened, some Rangers said that in the dusk they could see nothing more than "shapes" and "muzzle flashes" even as Corporal Tillman tried to tell his colleagues who he was, waving his arms, setting off a smoke grenade signal and calling out. Others said they had seen and aimed for the Afghan fighter, his "dark face" and his AK-47.

After the shooting, the Rangers destroyed evidence that would be considered critical in any criminal case, the records show. They burned Corporal Tillman's uniform and his body armor.

Months later, the Rangers involved said they did not intend to destroy evidence. "It was a hygiene issue," one soldier wrote. "They were starting to stink."

Another soldier involved offered a slightly different take, saying "the uniform and equipment had blood on them and it would stir emotion" that needed to be suppressed until the Rangers finished their work overseas.

"How could they do that?" Mr. Tillman said. "That makes no sense."

The family still wants to know, he said, what became of Corporal Tillman's diary. It was never returned to the family, he said.

Ms. Tillman said her family could not rest until they knew what really happened. All of it, Ms. Tillman said, has left her wondering what other families who have lost service members in Iraq and Afghanistan may really know about the circumstances. In addition to Corporal Tillman, at least 16 service members have died in Afghanistan and Iraq as a result of shootings or bombings by fellow Americans, and none of the deaths, so far, have led to criminal convictions.

"This is how they treat a family of a high-profile individual," she said. "How are they treating others?"

Col. Joseph Curtin, an Army spokesman, said the Tillmans deserved answers.

"We deeply regret their loss," Colonel Curtin said, "and will continue to answer their questions in a truthful and forthright manner."

Monica Davey reported from San Jose for this article, and Eric Schmitt from Washington. David S. Cloud contributed reporting from Washington.

NYT : Army Ordered to Look Again at Battle Death

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Army Ordered to Look Again at Battle Death

By MONICA DAVEY and ERIC SCHMITT | March 5, 2006

WASHINGTON, March 4 — In a rare rebuke of military investigators, the Defense Department inspector general has told the Army to open a criminal inquiry into the shooting death of Cpl. Pat Tillman, the former professional football player whose enlistment in the Army drew national attention, Pentagon officials said Saturday.

The new inquiry into the killing of Corporal Tillman, a member of the elite Rangers, will be conducted by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. The Army initially had said he died as a hero in a blaze of enemy fire in Afghanistan in 2004 before attributing his death to an accidental shooting by fellow Rangers.

The inquiry follows three other military investigations — two by his Army Ranger unit and one by its parent organization, the United States Army Special Operations Command — that the inspector general's office has now determined were deficient.

The earlier investigations found a series of crucial errors made by Corporal Tillman's fellow Rangers in the heat of combat, but found no criminal wrongdoing.

The new inquiry would be the first criminal investigation into Corporal Tillman's death, a move that military law experts said was unusual and significant.

"It obviously could lead to one of three things," said Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at the Washington College of Law at American University. "Was there a negligent homicide? Was there a dereliction of duty? Was there a cover-up?"

Pentagon officials said no new evidence had prompted the inquiry and would not speculate about the outcome or timing. But the officials said that given the confusion on a battlefield, it would be highly unusual to pursue criminal charges against a soldier for the death of a comrade.

Col. Joseph Curtin, an Army spokesman, said that the scope of the new inquiry had yet to be defined but that investigators would look at whether the soldiers violated military law when they failed to identify their targets before opening fire on his position.

Corporal Tillman's parents, who were notified Friday of the investigation, have long complained about the findings and contradictions in thousands of pages of earlier investigations and have said there was evidence of a crime.

Patrick K. Tillman, Corporal Tillman's father, said Saturday that he remained distrustful of the military.

"You're assigning the same folks that have been asked several times to address this issue," Mr. Tillman, of San Jose, Calif., said in a telephone interview. "You're asking them to prosecute something when three times they have said there was nothing to prosecute? Do you really expect them to do it right?"

A Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said that the inspector general in ordering another inquiry had not found evidence of a criminal offense, in Corporal Tillman's death or in the other investigations.

Rather, Mr. Whitman said, the inspector general concluded that the Army had failed to conduct a thorough enough investigation, including the possibility of criminal activity, immediately after Corporal Tillman's death on April 22, 2004.

Corporal Tillman's death first drew national notice because of who he was: a successful young N.F.L. safety who had walked away from a $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist, then qualified for the elite Rangers, with his brother after the terrorist attacks of 2001.

His death drew perhaps more attention than any other in the Afghanistan conflict, more so after it became clear that he had died not from enemy fire as he led his Ranger team up a hill, but from the fire of his own unit.

Earlier investigations found that for at least three weeks, as the Army allowed Corporal Tillman to be celebrated by the news media and mourned by his family as a war hero killed by the enemy, it actually knew of the more complicated circumstances of his death.

Corporal Tillman, 27, died beside a boulder along a craggy stretch of land in southeastern Afghanistan. His Ranger unit had been split into two parts, the first of a series of circumstances that led to confusion, miscommunication and fatal errors before his death, the Army's earlier investigations have shown.

At one point, one section of the unit reported coming under sudden attack and began returning volleys at what they said they believed was the enemy. After firing hundreds of rounds, the men in the convoy discovered that they had actually been shooting at men in the other half of their unit — a group they said they had believed was miles away, the earlier investigations showed.

An Afghan soldier fighting alongside the Rangers was killed, as was Corporal Tillman, who had tried desperately to alert his colleagues to his identity, the investigations showed. He had waved his arms frantically and called out, "Friendlies!" to alert the other Rangers, according to the statement of a Ranger who was near him.

Those who fired on Corporal Tillman described a hectic, confusing scene to investigators, and said they had made an unavoidable error in the blur of a firefight. They said they could not see him and fired in the direction of muzzle flashes that they believed to be the enemy.

Seven Army members faced administrative disciplinary action — though not criminal prosecution — after the shooting. They were cited by the military for failing to "provide adequate command of subordinate units," for dereliction of duty, and for failing to command and control the fire and movement of subordinates, Army documents show.

Corporal Tillman's family has long raised questions about the details of the investigations. His father has pointed to contradictions in descriptions by witnesses and investigators about the lighting at the time, the distances between those shooting and Corporal Tillman, and the communication between the groups. There have also been questions about the fate of much of the evidence, including his son's body armor and uniform, which were burned.

"We still don't know what happened," Mr. Tillman said.

Last year, the Defense Department inspector general's office opened a review into the case after the Tillman family criticized the earlier findings. Mr. Tillman said he was told on Friday that the inspector general's investigation would also continue.

Mr. Whitman, the Pentagon spokesman, said of the inspector general's decision to order the criminal investigation: "They've called a process foul on the Army for using the wrong investigative tools. That said, there's no reason to believe the outcome will be any different."

Mr. Whitman and Army officials cautioned, however, that it was too soon to tell what the new inquiry would turn up.

"The Army deeply regrets the loss of Corporal Patrick Tillman's life and the lives of all soldiers in this war," an Army spokesman, Paul Boyce, said Saturday. "We again extend our condolences to his family and are working to bring this matter to thorough resolution."

Eric Schmitt reported from Washington for this article, and Monica Davey from Chicago.

SF Chronicle : Criminal investigation into Tillman's death

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Criminal investigation into Tillman's death

Matthew B. Stannard, Chronicle Staff Writer | March 5, 2006

The Department of Defense inspector general has asked the Army to open a criminal investigation into the death of Army Cpl. Pat Tillman, the football star turned soldier who was killed in Afghanistan by his fellow Rangers nearly two years ago.

The request, which came out of the inspector general's review of four previous investigations of the April 22, 2004, shooting, will likely lead investigators from the Army Criminal Investigation Command to return to Afghanistan and conduct a monthslong investigation into whether Tillman's death may have been a homicide, the result of criminal negligence or an accident, said an Army official who asked to remain anonymous.

Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, told The Chronicle on Saturday that while he was gratified by the inspector general's recommendation, he was concerned about the Army "investigating itself" and said he may recommend a congressional inquiry into Tillman's death and a possible cover-up by the military.

The criminal probe is the latest twist in a case that has led Tillman's family members to charge the military with covering up the circumstances surrounding the death of the San Jose native and Leland High School graduate, who gave up a high-paying National Football League career with the Arizona Cardinals after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to join the Army along with his brother Kevin.

"The first investigative officer indicated two years ago there should have been a criminal investigation, and the Army took his investigative report and sent it up to the regiment level in what he thought was an attempt to find the truth, but which appears to have been an attempt to cover up the truth," Tillman's mother, Mary, said Saturday.

"The whole family has been trying to say there is something wrong here -- it's been there from the beginning, and we've had to go through this horrible process for almost two years. The Army used him. They knew right away he was killed by fratricide and used him for their own purposes to promote the war, to get sympathy for the war, for five weeks."

Military officials originally said Tillman was killed when his unit came under enemy fire in Afghanistan, a statement repeated a week after his death in a Special Operations Command press release announcing his posthumous Silver Star medal.

"Through the firing, Tillman's voice was heard issuing commands to take the fight to the enemy forces emplaced on the dominating high ground," the release said. "Leading his Rangers without regard for his own safety, Tillman was shot and killed while focusing his efforts on the elimination of the enemy forces and the protection of his team members."

It wasn't until the end of May, weeks after a May 5 memorial service in San Jose, that the U.S. Central Command announced Tillman died "as a probable result of friendly fire while his unit was engaged in combat with enemy forces."

In fact, according to documents obtained by The Chronicle, the first investigator had delivered a report on May 4, 2004, concluding that soldiers involved in the incident had committed "gross negligence" and should be appropriately disciplined.

Other testimony said Tillman's platoon was split after a humvee became disabled -- a decision one platoon leader protested was dangerous -- and the two sides lost contact in a canyon, with Tillman's group in the lead.

Some time later, according to testimony, the second group spotted Tillman's group and opened fire wildly, despite the efforts of their lead vehicle driver -- who recognized the group as friendly -- and Tillman's own efforts to identify himself by shouting and setting off a smoke grenade.

Some of those who testified in the first investigation later changed their stories, according to documents obtained by The Chronicle, and some evidence was mishandled, including Tillman's armor and uniform, which were burned.

The initial investigating officer became a key witness in a subsequent inquiry, in which he testified that he thought some Rangers "could be charged for criminal intent." For reasons that are not clear, the officer's investigation was taken over by a higher-ranking commander. That officer's findings, delivered the next month, called for less severe discipline than the initial investigator thought was warranted.

Tillman's death was the subject of four reviews -- two by the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment, one by U.S. Army Special Forces Command and one by the Army's Safety Center, which focused on preventing a similar case.

Seven soldiers received administrative reprimands, but no high-ranking officers have been disciplined. Tillman's parents, who obtained heavily redacted versions of the investigations from the Army, complained publicly that the documents showed that Pentagon commanders -- including Gen. John Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command -- had known soon after Tillman's death that friendly fire had killed him.

The Army apologized in June 2005. But Tillman's family, with the support of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and of Rep. Honda, demanded a further review of the case, and the inspector general agreed in August to conduct the review that led to Friday's request for a criminal investigation.

"The U.S. Army remains committed to thorough death investigations of all soldiers killed on the battlefield overseas," Army spokesman Paul Boyce said Saturday. "They are looked at each one on its merits and in its details. And we continue to keep the families apprised of these. It is our commitment and our obligation to them to do so."

Honda, expressing his concerns over the Army policing itself, said, "Given today's situation and the kind of things that don't become apparent, I'm highly suspicious, and I want to make sure every base is covered," he said. "In this day and age, I have very little trust in the institutions we have investigating themselves, and I want the public to have the utmost confidence in its outcome."

To that end, Honda said he plans to discuss with congressional colleagues the possibility of Congress investigating Tillman's death, as well as whether the circumstances of the death were covered up by people high in the military chain of command.

"We ought to move forward for an independent investigation with full powers of subpoena," Honda said. "My bottom line is to get to the truth and make sure that Mary Tillman and her family have the investigation and the outcome they are seeking, and justice, No. 1, is served and the truth comes out."

The results of the Army's criminal investigation will be available to Tillman's family and Congress and to the media through the Freedom of Information Act, the Army official said. A Tillman family member said the inspector general's investigation will continue separately and is expected to last several more months.

The Humanist : Who Killed Pat Tillman?

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Who Killed Pat Tillman?

by Michael I. Niman | January/February 2006

The American mass media are like tired old dogs, dutifully fetching official lies on command and dropping them like bones at the feet of an unsuspecting public. We in turn reward them by buying both the products and the myths they sell us. Eventually, however, the products fail and the myths unravel. When the government's popularity wanes sufficiently, despite the support of a compliant press, even old dogs can come up with new tricks, reviving the lost art of investigative reporting.

Take the Pat Tillman story. Remember him? He was the star National Football League defensive back who, after the 9/11 attacks, walked away from his $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist as an elite U.S. Army Ranger and go off to Afghanistan to whip some terrorist ass. No matter what your opinion on the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, or your theory on who was ultimately responsible for the 9/11 attacks, Tillman was clearly acting as a selfless hero in the traditional sense of the word. The media sang only one song at the time-dirtbags in Afghanistan did this to us-and "deterrence" through violent retribution was the only discussable response. Both Tillman and his brother Kevin, like most every American, bought into the program-but they actually volunteered to fight.

After joining up, however, they weren't shipped off to Afghanistan, where they believed terrorists were holed up, but to Iraq to fight in a newly minted war that didn't exist when they signed away control of their lives. Here's where the recruiting poster image deviated from the script. There was a lot more depth to Tillman, who was pursuing a master's degree in history, than one would normally expect of an NFL gladiator. Afghanistan had been an easier sell, but Tillman would never buy the official line on Iraq. At one point, according to a San Francisco Chronicle article published nearly a year and half after his death, he told fellow Rangers fighting in Iraq that the war was, "so fucking illegal." A close friend told the paper, "That's who he was-he totally was against Bush." Tillman's mother clarified, explaining that her son believed the Afghanistan war was justified by the September 11th attacks but "Pat was very critical of the whole Iraq War." Another friend, who served with him, recalled how Tillman admonished fellow Rangers to vote Bush out of office in the forthcoming presidential election.

The Chomsky Factor

Tillman, we now know, was also in contact with one of his favorite authors, America's leading intellectual dissident, Noam Chomsky. According the Chronicle, Tillman had set up a meeting with Chomsky to take place when he returned from Afghanistan, where he eventually wound up after serving his tour in Iraq.

This image of a Chomsky-loving, anti-Bush, anti-Iraq-war hero (at a time when most of the U.S. population supported the administration's foreign policy), flew in the face of the official Bush administration portrait of Tillman, painted by dutiful media whores like Ann Coulter, who once described him in near-racialist terms as "An American original-virtuous, pure and masculine, like only an American can be." (Max Blumenthal, blogging for the online Huffington Post, asked if we could have Coulter's line in the original German).

As both wars droned on, Tillman, the picture perfect poster boy, evolved into something of a wild card. With a Chomsky meeting on the horizon there existed a very real possibility that Tillman, in the weeks leading up to the 2004 presidential election, might go public with his anti-war, anti-Bush views, dealing a critical blow to the very foundation of the Bush administration's propaganda pyramid. That day never came, however. On April 22, 2004, Tillman was killed while on patrol in Afghanistan by three American bullets to the head.

Jessica Lynch Redux

Immediately, evidence surrounding the killing began to disappear. One day after his death someone burned his body armor. Two days later someone burned his uniform. At some point his journal, which he religiously wrote in, went missing. With that journal disappeared Tillman's voice.

Meanwhile the Bush administration's professional liars began spinning one of their tallest tales, with their cohorts in the Pentagon explaining how the hero Tillman was killed by enemy fire. Bush himself chimed in to announce that Tillman was "an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror." The Pentagon, as it did with the Jessica Lynch story, spewed forth so many lies as to bury itself under an obvious pile of bullshit. The Army issued Tillman a postmortem Silver Star for bravery, explaining in the process how, "through the firing Tillman's voice was heard issuing fire commands to take the fight to the enemy on the dominating hill ground." And this is the story the media reported to the world.

Reports of Fratricide

But files obtained by Tillman's mother, from three Army investigations into the killing, document a different set of last words. According to testimony issued by a fellow Ranger, who was at Tillman's side when he was killed, the last words Tillman shouted before being shot were, "Cease fire, friendlies, I am Pat Fucking Tillman, dammit!"

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Ranger commanders received a report the day after his death stating that Tillman died in a suspected act of fratricide, the crime of killing members of your own group. But the more they were confronted with the truth of what happened, the harder Army officials stuck to the official lies. One week after his death they pulled the Silver Star move, successfully milking the hero dying in action myth in a compliant media environment. Two weeks after his death the Army's official casualty report stated that he was killed by enemy forces. Six weeks later, however, with the mythic version of Tillman's killing firmly embedded in the American conscious, and with the Tillman story safely buried in the ashbin of "old news," the Army finally told Tillman's family that the official cause of death was "fratricide."

By all accounts, Tillman was popular and loved by the troops with whom he served-supporting the theory that his death was in fact a tragic accident. One of the Army investigations, however, suggested leveling charges of criminal intent against the killer or killers, prompting Tillman's mother to ask, "I want to know what kind of criminal intent there was." But all she has been able to glean from over 2,000 pages of official reports are contradictions, continuously changing stories, and countless blacked out lines.

Putting It All Together

What we have with the Tillman case is a cover-up and a fabrication. What was covered up was the embarrassing reality surrounding the futility of his death-the wasting of an iconic American hero. What was fabricated was a fairy tale story of a heroic battle, one that would support the Bush administration's global war effort while not undermining its military recruiting. What was deliberately ignored was an incident at his funeral-reported in the May 4, 2004, San Francisco Chronicle and New York Daily News-when Tillman's youngest brother, Rich, took offense at words that Tillman was now "with God"; he stated to the gathering, "Pat isn't with God. He's fucking dead. He wasn't religious." More importantly, what was buried was the complex story of Pat Tillman's opposition to the Iraq war and the Bush agenda. Murdered in this fabrication and cover-up, therefore, was the real Pat Tillman. According to his father, "The administration clearly was using this case for its own political reasons. This cover-up started within minutes of Pat's death, and it started at high levels."

Only now, as a flood of public opinion is forcing the media to report critically about the Bush administration, will we possibly see a real investigation into how Pat Tillman died. And if we are persistent enough we might even see a proper investigation into why Tillman, and thousands of other Americans, and tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis, had to give up their lives.

Michael I. Niman is a professor of journalism at Buffalo State College in New York. This article is adapted from the version appearing in the November 10, 2005, issue of ArtVoice. Dr. Niman's previous articles are archived at

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