Pentagon Cowers Behind Wordplay
By Robert Scheer
C’mon! The Pentagon’s inspector general concludes that nine top officers were involved in the cover-up of NFL football star Cpl. Pat Tillman’s “friendly fire” death, yet insists that this apparent conspiracy to conceal the truth does not rise to the level of criminality? Rather, it was “missteps” that led four generals and five officers of lower rank to conceal from his family and the American public the truth known instantly in the field: Tillman died not, as the Pentagon first claimed, in a firefight with the enemy in Afghanistan but rather at the hands of his fellow Rangers.
That family includes Tillman’s brother Kevin, who fought alongside Pat in Iraq and Afghanistan after ending his own sports career as a professional baseball player and enlisting with Pat in response to the 9/11 attacks. Yet this family, which sent two of its sons to fight in President Bush’s wars, was rewarded for its sacrifice with officially inspired fabrications enshrined in a Silver Star commendation.
For five weeks of mourning, from Tillman’s death on April 22, 2004, through his nationally televised memorial on May 3, the U.S. government—from the president on down—used the tale of Tillman’s heroism to deflect the nation’s attention from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the escalating American casualties in Iraq. Four generals were cited by the inspector general as sacrificing the truth in Tillman’s death. But another Central Command chief, Gen. John Abizaid, who knew about the friendly fire death a week after it occurred, was noticeably absent in the report released Monday.
The one officer who did pursue the truth was then-Capt. Richard Scott, now a major, who had been assigned within 24 hours of Tillman’s death to investigate the fratricide. His report, submitted May 10, 2004, concluded that possible criminal actions occurred. It was never officially accepted. He later testified that witnesses had been allowed, in subsequent Pentagon investigations, to change their testimony as to key details in the shooting.
As the Tillman family put it in a statement Monday: “The Army continues to deny the family and the public ... access to the original investigation and the sworn statements from that [Scott] investigation. ... His investigation contained the unaltered statements, taken when memories were still fresh, by witnesses to the events surrounding Pat’s death. We know ... that more than one of the original statements was altered, after Capt. Scott’s investigation ‘disappeared.’ This is not a misstep. It is evidence tampering.”
Brig. Gen. Rodney L. Johnson, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, left, listens to
Defense Department Inspector General
Thomas Gimble as he answers questions
from the media
about the recent investigation into
the death of Army Ranger Cpl. Pat Tillman.
The two were at a news
conference Monday at the Pentagon.