Nick Juliano | July 14, 2008
The Bush administration willfully pushed fictional portrayals of Pat Tillman's death in Afghanistan and Jessica Lynch's capture in Iraq to create "compelling public narratives" at times when public opinion was starting to sour on the wars, Congressional investigators have found.
The House Oversight Committee on Monday released a draft report on the sagas of Tillman and Lynch. The public did not learn that friendly fire had killed Tillman, a former NFL player, until more than a month after his death, and an apocryphal tale of Lynch bravely battling her Iraqi captors circulated for more than two months before key aspects of it were revealed to be false.
"Our nation also has an inviolate obligation to share truthful information with a soldier’s family and the American people should injury or death occur.... That standard was not met in either Corporal Tillman’s or Private Lynch’s cases," the report says.
"Neither case involved an act of omission. The misinformation was not caused by overlooking or misunderstanding relevant facts. Instead, in both cases affirmative acts created new facts that were significantly different than what the soldiers in the field knew to be true. And in both cases the fictional accounts proved to be compelling public narratives at difficult times in the war."
The committee reviewed scores of e-mails and interviewed officials at all levels of the government. When their inquiry took them inside the White House though, it was stymied by a spate of faulty memories.
The Committee’s investigation adds many new details to the Tillman story. But on the key issue of what senior officials knew, the investigation was frustrated by a near universal lack of recall. The Committee interviewed several senior officials at the White House, including Communications Director Dan Bartlett, Press Secretary Scott McClellan, and chief speechwriter Michael Gerson. Not a single one could recall when he learned about the fratricide or what he did in response.Regarding Tillman's death, which came toward the beginning of President Bush's re-election campaign, the report found the White House was eager to portray the former Arizona Cardinal who joined the Army Rangers as a hero.
Similarly, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the Committee: “I don’t recall when I was told and I don’t recall who told me.”
The highest-ranking official who could recall being informed about Corporal Tillman’s fratricide was former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, who said, “I knew right at the end of April, that there was a possibility of fratricide in the Corporal Tillman death.” General Myers testified that it would have been “logical” for him to pass this information to Secretary Rumsfeld, but said “I just don't recall whether I did it or not.”
The apparent desire within the White House was so strong that they did not bother to even verify Tillman's death with the Pentagon before commenting, nor did Bush administration officials recognize a standard 24-hour delay the military observes before commenting on a soldiers' death to give families time to grieve privately.
Bush/Cheney campaign advisers also were eager to help with the response, the committee found.
Several high-level staff members of President Bush’s reelection campaign contacted White House officials to suggest public responses to Corporal Tillman’s death. Matthew Dowd, the campaign’s chief strategist, sent an e-mail to Mr. Bartlett, writing, “You hear about pat tilman? Potus should call his family or go to Arizona or his hometown.”
Mark McKinnon, the campaign’s media advisor, also e-mailed Mr. Bartlett, saying: “Realize President really shouldn’t do anything that he hasn’t done for any other soldier killed in the military, but certainly think he could say something about he exemplifies the ultimate in humility, heroism and sacrifice.