Army Secrecy Over Tillman Death Sparks Congressional Investigation

Army Secrecy Over Tillman Death Sparks Congressional Investigation
April 21st, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Army Secrecy Over Tillman Death Sparks Congressional Investigation

Army Secrecy Over Tillman Death Sparks Congressional Investigation
Miami Herald
April 21, 2007
Pg. 1
When NFL player-turned-Army Ranger Pat Tillman died from friendly fire, the Army threw a veil of secrecy over the case.
By Scott Lindlaw, Associated Press
Within hours of Pat Tillman's death, the Army went into information-lockdown mode, cutting off phone and Internet connections at a base in Afghanistan, posting guards on a wounded platoon mate and ordering a sergeant to burn Tillman's uniform.
New Army investigative documents reviewed by The Associated Press describe how the military sealed off information about Tillman's death from all but a small ring of soldiers. Officers quietly passed their suspicion of friendly fire up the chain to the highest ranks of the military, but the truth did not reach Tillman's family for five weeks.
The clampdown, and the misinformation issued by the military, lie at the heart of a burgeoning congressional investigation.
''We want to find out how this happened,'' said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House oversight committee, which has scheduled a hearing for Tuesday. ``Was it the result of incompetence, miscommunication or a deliberate strategy?''
It is also a central issue as the Army weighs punishments against nine officers, including four generals, faulted in the latest Pentagon report on the case of the former NFL player.
Gen. William Wallace, who oversees training for the Army, is to report on possible punishments. He told Acting Army Secretary Pete Geren this week that he was working as quickly as possible on recommendations, but could provide no timetable, Army spokesman Paul Boyce said.
In the meantime, promotions and awards have been suspended for the seven officers still in the Army, Boyce said.
It is also a central issue as the Army weighs punishments against nine officers, including four generals, faulted in the latest Pentagon report on the case of the former Arizona Cardinals safety who joined the Army after Sept. 11. Military officials said those recommendations could come in the next several weeks.
It is well known by now that the circumstances of Tillman's April 22, 2004, death were kept from his family and the American public; the Army maintained he was cut down by enemy bullets in an ambush, even though many soldiers knew he was mistakenly killed by his own comrades. The nearly 1,100 pages of documents released last month at the conclusion of the Army Criminal Investigation Command's probe reveal the mechanics of how the Army contained the information.
For example, the day after Tillman died, Spc. Jade Lane lay in a hospital bed in Afghanistan, recovering from gunshot wounds inflicted by the same fellow Rangers who had shot at Tillman. Amid his shock and grief, Lane noticed guards were posted on him.
''I thought it was strange,'' Lane recalled. Later, he said, he learned the reason for their presence: The news media were sniffing around, and Lane's superiors ''did not want anyone talking to us,'' he said.
Inside Forward Operating Base Salerno, near Khowst, Afghanistan, a soldier heard the dreaded call come across the radio: ''KIAs.'' There were two killed in action, one allied Afghan fighter and one Army Ranger, identified only by his code name.
The soldier checked a roster and discovered the Ranger was Tillman. He rounded up four others and broke the news but withheld Tillman's name. ''The phones and Internet had been cut off, to prevent anyone from talking about the incident,'' he told investigators.
Nearby on the same base, a staff sergeant was in his tent when a captain walked in and told him to burn Tillman's bloody clothing.
''He wanted me alone to burn what was in the bag to prevent security violations, leaks and rumors,'' the staff sergeant testified. The superior ''put a lock on communications'' in the tent, he testified. Other Army officers said this was probably a directive to the staff sergeant to keep the conversation to himself.
Several Army officers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan said pulling the plug on base phones and e-mail was routine after a soldier died. The practice was meant to ensure the family was notified through official channels, said Army Maj. Todd Breasseale, chief spokesman for ground forces in Iraq until last August.
But the truth was quickly becoming evident to a small group of soldiers with direct access to the evidence. Two other sergeants who examined Tillman's vest noticed the bullet holes appeared to be from 5.56-caliber bullets -- signature American ammunition.
The higher ranking of the two men told the other to ''keep quiet and let the investigators do their job,'' the subordinate sergeant testified. He was not to go ``informing unit members that Spc. Tillman was killed by friendly fire.''
This was the same reason top-ranking officers cited in trying to explain why they waited to tell the Tillman family: They wanted to have the definitive investigation results.
Army regulations, however, dictate that the next of kin be informed of additional information about a service member's death as it becomes available.
Then-Col. James C. Nixon, Tillman's regimental commander, ordered an investigation but directed that the information gathered be shared with as few people as possible until the results were finalized, acting Defense Department Inspector General Thomas Gimble found in a separate probe also completed last month.
Nixon, now a brigadier general and director of operations at the Center for Special Operations at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, said he was not aware of all regulations governing such a case and that his missteps were unintentional.
Congressional investigators will try to determine how high up the chain of command the information lockdown went.
Five investigations and three years later, the gap in information is what's driving the congressional probe, which is also looking into misinformation surrounding the capture and rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch in Iraq.

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