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 ESPN.com.
"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. ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com, 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 ESPN.com.
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 ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com shows that, besides the three bullets in his forehead, Tillman had shrapnel in his left forearm and wrist.
Asked by ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com. "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 ESPN.com, "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 ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com, 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 ESPN.com, 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 ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com. 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 ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com, 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 ESPN.com'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. ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com said they were told that a nondisclosure agreement they signed upon entering the regiment precludes them from talking about the incident. Others told ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com, "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, ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com 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.
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 ESPN.com.
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 ESPN.com. "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 ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com. "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 ESPN.com, "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 ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com 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 ESPN.com, 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 ESPN.com, 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 ESPN.com. "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 ESPN.com. "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.
Filed under Bryan O'Neal, David Uthlaut, Donald Rumsfeld, Gary Jones, Greg Baker, Jessica Lynch, memory, Michael Baden, Pedro Arreola, Ralph Kauzlarich, remember, Richard Scott, Ryan Mansfield, William Saunders, worm dirt by Winter Patriot on Wednesday, July 19, 2006 | link | email | WKPDT home | SHATASM home | WP home