Wouldn't Want to Mess up a Good Funeral

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The Washington Post reviewed 2,000 pages of Army investigation into the death of pro football player-turned Afghan war volunteer Pat Tillman, who was eventually found to have died from friendly fire, and found:

[O]fficers made erroneous initial reports that Tillman was killed by enemy fire, destroyed critical evidence and initially concealed the truth from Tillman's brother, also an Army Ranger […]

An initial investigation found fratricide just days later. Top commanders within the U.S. Central Command, including Abizaid, were notified by April 29—four days before Tillman's memorial service in San Jose, where he was given a posthumous Silver Star Award. Jones concluded that Tillman, who was bravely leading his fire team into battle, was given the award based on what he intended to do.

The family learned about Tillman's fratricide over Memorial Day weekend, several weeks later.

Link via Sploid.

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  1. We only know about this because Tillman was so famous. Believe me, the initial attempt at a cover-up is SOP in the military. For every one the press uncovers, thousands of others are buried forever.

  2. The post needs to be more careful about using the term “fratricide” in an article that also contains discussions about Tillman’s actual brother. The excerpt above was a touch confusing.

    Anyway, who cares how he died. Does that make him any less of a soldier? I still appreciate his sacrifice.

  3. Whoah, you mean that a government agency may have tried to cover tragic mistakes made by government employees? I’m shocked!

    What’s ironic is that I think most people would be understanding about friendly fire casualties. I certainly don’t have any less respect for a dead GI just because the entry wound was in the back and not the just. Battles are dangerous places to be, and anybody who goes into one to defend our country and dies as a result deserves our respect.

    So I’m not sure what the rationale for the cover-up would be. I guess the government just instinctively denies any mistakes.

  4. Kid Handsome, the way he died shouldn’t make us think of Tillman any differently, but it should make us (and when I say “us,” I mean the folks who look at the military the way liberals look at public education) remember that the military is as practiced at deception and fraud and incomptency as it is in battle.

  5. thoreau,

    I’m not sure whether they cover these things up for mistake-related (shooter-related) or sympathy-related (victim-related) reasons. I actually kind of get the impression that it’s the latter. They go through the trouble to find out the truth internally and record it for posterity; the firing party knows and is dealt with accordingly. The mere fact that a soldier died at all is indicative of a mistake, and that fact is not hidden from the public. They were simply feeding BS to the family and media. They like to be able to tell the family that their hero was mowing down bad guys and was overcome by the enemy in valiant combat. That’s equally shameful as covering up the mistake, because, as you indicate, those who die in accidents or via friendly fire are equally heroic, and there should be no taint of shame surrounding their death whatsoever. Military culture seems to not completely accept that yet.

  6. The post needs to be more careful about using the term “fratricide” in an article that also contains discussions about Tillman’s actual brother.

    Yeah, that bothered me too. Especially as I’ve never been very keen on the use of the word “brother” to mean anything other than, well, brother.

  7. “Anyway, who cares how he died. Does that make him any less of a soldier? I still appreciate his sacrifice.”

    Amen. This reflects badly on the Pentagon, not on poor Cpl. Tillman.

    phocion, I think it’s significant to note that, as in the Jessica Lynde case (I hope I’ve got the name right), the phoney story was pushed by the Pentagon PR people. They didn’t just release the information, they tried to paint a picture for PR reasons.

  8. joe,

    Absolutely. There’s no question the military fabricates stuff for PR, or at least massages the truth a bit to make a hero story. When you’ve got dead bodies — martyrs — that stuff gets even more out of hand.

    It’s Lynch you’re thinking of. Gets confusing with Lyndie England on trial and John Lindh in prison. We need more syllables in theater.

  9. Cover-up conspiracies are always juicier than the truth, which (as in this case) is often not as exciting as the story that initially gets told.

    Reading the rest of the article it becomes pretty clear that it was fratricide, the soldiers on the ground didn’t want to admit it for a variety of reasons (some understandable, others not so much) and it took a while for the official investigation to be completed. (Example: ‘I mean, it’s horrible that Pat was dead. Absolutely horrible. But it hurts even more to know that it was one of our own guys that did it…,’ one soldier told Jones. ‘We just, we didn’t want to get anything, you know, bad said about the regiment or anything like that. That was my guess to what the whole thing was about. We didn’t want the world finding out what actually happened.’)

    This is the most clueless paragraph, IMO: “After the shooting, Tillman’s brother was not informed about what had happened and was flown back to the United States with his brother’s body. Officers told the soldiers not to talk about the incident ‘to prevent rumors’ and news reports.”

    It’s clueless because during an investigation, witnesses and participants are asked not to discuss the events other than with investigators. No conspiracy theories necessary. The same holds true in civilian investigations. Until the investigation is completed, information regarding the investigation isn’t released to prevent it unduly influencing the rest of the investigation.

    Picture yourself in the commander’s chair. You’ve got to decide whether to report this as a fratricide before the official investigation is completed, days before the memorial service or to wait and see if it turns out to be more like the initial reports.

    I doubt anyone here who is commenting on gov’t conspiracies has actually read the 2,000 page report, but I think it’s a bit odd to talk about conspiracies to cover up when the investigation into the incident (and there’s ALWAYS an investigation) resulted in disciplinary action and the truth of the events being brought to light by the Army.

    This is editorializing: “The documents also show that officers made erroneous initial reports that Tillman was killed by enemy fire, destroyed critical evidence and initially concealed the truth from Tillman’s brother, also an Army Ranger, who was near the attack on April 22, 2004, but did not witness it.”

    This, on the other hand, is fact: “Seven soldiers were given administrative reprimands for their actions, the most serious of which were for dereliction of duty and failing to exercise sound judgment and fire discipline in combat operations.”

    Yep, another successful cover-up by the Cigarette Smoking Man. Cue the X-Files theme…

  10. So what, exactly, is an “administrative reprimand?”

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