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.