Media

Mistakes, Not Criminal Wrongdoing, in Pat Tillman's Death in Afghanistan

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The military's verdict on its role in the friendly fire death of the Afghan/Iraq War's most famous casualty:

Four generals and five other officers in Cpl. Pat Tillman's chain of command were responsible for "a series of mistakes" in reporting his friendly fire death, and their actions will be reviewed by a top Army officer, officials announced Monday.

However, an investigation by Army Criminal Investigation Command found that Tillman's death was an accident, and there was no evidence of negligent homicide or aggravated assault.

"We as an Army failed in our duty to the Tillman family," Acting Army Secretary Pete Geren said. "I apologize to the Tillman family, but words are not sufficient."

Tillman, 27, an Army Ranger, was killed April 22, 2004, in Afghanistan. An Afghan soldier fighting alongside Tillman also was killed, and two U.S. soldiers were wounded in the incident.

More here.

The Tillman story is an amazing, haunting one, partly because the former football standout at its center defied virtually every stereotype ascribed to him, perhaps especially the notion he was some sort of on-a-mission-from-God war hawk.

One of the very best magazines stories of last year (IMO) ran in Sports Illustrated and focused on Tillman's death and the effect it had on one of his Ranger comrades. Take an hour today to read it.

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  1. From a news account:

    SAN JOSE, Calif. – Pat Tillman’s family firmly rejected the Defense Department’s findings into the former NFL star’s friendly-fire death in Afghanistan, calling for congressional investigations into what they see as broad malfeasance and a coverup.

    “Perhaps subpoenas are necessary to elicit candor and accuracy from the military,” his family said in a statement Monday night, after hearing the results of the latest probes.

    I am with the Tillman family on this. Given th prevalence of lies and coverups in gov’t I am a bit surprised that HnR is trying to have us buy into the whitewash, rather than questioning the integrity of the new probes, as all libertarians should.

  2. The SI article is most likely the best thing ever published by that magazine. I have it bookmarked and read it about once a month.

  3. I don’t understand why this issue won’t go away. It is not that hard. Someone screwed up and shot a .50 caliber machine gun at their own people and one of the rounds hit Tillman. It was a sensless tragedy but the kind of thing that happens sometimes. Did they Army try to cover that fact up and make it look like he died from enemy fire rather than through a friendly fire screw up? Absolutely. The Army is terrible at public relations and always looking to score PR points. It is no different than when they covered up the fact that Jessica Lynch fucked up and got captured. It is what it is. Let the poor guy rest in peace.

  4. I cannot help wondering how many similar stories have been successfully buried, because there was no “celebrity” factor.

  5. I definatly disagree that this was a Pentagon directive down to the field to make up a “pretty story” about a tragic accident.

    These things usually go in the other direction and until I see evidence otherwise I am going with guys on the ground not wanting to “look bad”, or something even less than that.

    No, not a criticism of what Nick wrote either.

  6. “It is no different than when they covered up the fact that Jessica Lynch fucked up and got captured.”

    Jessica Lynch didn’t fuck up. The “fuck up” that sent the convoy down the wrong road, leading to her capture as several deaths, wasn’t made by her, but by someone in one of the lead trucks.

  7. I was not endorsing the Pentagon’s version of events in any way, shape, or form.

  8. “Jessica Lynch didn’t fuck up. The “fuck up” that sent the convoy down the wrong road, leading to her capture as several deaths, wasn’t made by her, but by someone in one of the lead trucks.”

    That unit’s heavy weapons were inoperable. It was an absolutely terrible unit. She was a passenger, her humvee wrecked, she got knocked out and captured. In absolute terms, she was knocked out, so you are right Joe, she did not fuck up personally. Of course, there was a person in her unit, you never hear about who fought to the death and a black single mother who unlike Lynch actually fought back before being was captured. Those people never got million dollar book deals because they were not cute white girls that looked good on camera.

    You are right Joe. I shouldn’t say she fucked up. She just in no way deserved the media attention she got and what is worse she got it and her book deal at the expense of people who accorded themselves under fire much better than she did. Forgive me if that clouds my judgement of her.

  9. Honestly? I believe that it was an extremely patriotic,brave and honorable decision that Pat Tillman made in dropping everything and joining the service like he did. Yes, he was killed by friendly fire in the line of duty. Unfortunately that is a by product of war. People die in war. It is not pretty and it is not nice. However, I believe that his family by behaving the way that they are, weather it is out of grief or not, are doing their son an extreme injustice and are tarnishing who he was. I cant help but think that as pro-military as he was, and given the fact that he volunteered, he might have been aware of the risks involved and willing to make that sacrifice for something that he believed in strongly. He died honorably in the service of his country during wartime. Had the circumstances been criminal I could see some type of further action. But war is a very stressful, high adrenaline, kill-or-be-killed situation. Zero tolerance for mistakes or errors in that type of atmosphere is unrealistic.

  10. I’m a bit confused about the idea of a white wash here. A guy was killed as a result of friendly fire. The pentagon is now saying it was friedly fire. What is the charge that this version is a cover up? Cover up of what? Is someone suggesting that we was shot by friendlies on purpose?

  11. “These things usually go in the other direction and until I see evidence otherwise I am going with guys on the ground not wanting to “look bad”, or something even less than that.”

    Good point Guy. I think in this case because of who Tillman was, the Pentegon was a lot more willing to swallow the line from below than they would have been normally. I am sure the guys on the ground did not want to admit to shooting one of their own and because it was Tillman the higher ups were very willing to believe whatever story came up from the bottom.

  12. Don’t get sucked in to Dave’s foolishness, Nick. He’ll take your denial of endorsing the the Pentagon’s version as proof of your secret endorsement of the Pentagon’s version.

  13. John,

    “At the expense of?” I agree with most of the rest of what you wrote, but “at the expense of?”

    Yes, the skinny white blonde woman got more media attention, but that reflects badly on the media, Pentagon, and White House, not on her.

  14. The best tool in modern war is the radio. It gets you help when you desperately need it.

    The worst curse in modern war is the radio. It lets someone who can’t see or smell the situation, and whose ass isn’t on the line, make decisions based on criteria inferior to accomplishing the mission and surviving.

  15. But Nick, without the stereotyped view of Tillman, how would we get left-wing screeds which show that their writer has no clue that Tillman’s opinions on a lot of issues are ones that writer would agree with? They’d have to go somewhere else for material.

  16. Re: Jessica Lynch.

    I thought the big lie wasn’t how she was captured (though that doesn’t surprise me). I thought the issue was that she was at a hospital that tried to release her a couple times, and the U.S. forces needlessly went in and shot up the hospital in some brave “rescue” attempt that they really didn’t need to undertake.

    I never really followed it all that closely, though.

  17. The Army screwed the pooch on this investigation. It screws the pooch on a lot of investigations, and that’s just the way that a bureaucracy “functions” (to use the term loosely). Add battlefield conditions and competing agendas to that bureaucratic incompetence equation and it all – unsurprisingly to realists – goes to hell in a handbasket faster than a politician can pick your pocket.

    Having said that, Pat Tillman died in a tragic friendly fire incident that should never have happened but happens in war-time all-too-frequently.

    Most of us look at the entire sad episode with the same kind of regret any tragedy compounded by gov’t incompetence as par for the course.

    Thankfully enough of the story surfaced to show that, as it turns out, Pat Tillman was a real, three-dimensional person rather than one of the 2-dimensional cardboard cut-outs that both right and left tried to squeeze him into for their own political agendas.

    Rest in peace, brother. You certainly have earned it.

  18. Seiltz,

    Originally, the Pentagon gave her a Silver Star for fighting off the attackers.

    Which, as it turns out, she didn’t do (no shame to her – her gun jammed and she couldn’t do anything). But the award was clearly a PR stunt, and it was unfair to those people who were with her that day who did distinguish themselves.

  19. Following the demand for a Congressional review, one can expect the inevitable civil lawsuit for a gajillion dollars. The new lottery. Welcome to America.

    CB

  20. I was not endorsing the Pentagon’s version of events in any way, shape, or form.

    I was suggesting that as a journalist, specifically as a libertarian journalist, your duty might include raising reasonable doubts about the pentagon’s version.

    It depends on how you see wahat the media’s responsibility, especially the libertarian media’s, duties are vis-a-vid the US government.

    I am not saying that you need to be a 9/11 conspiracy theorist or anything like that, but in this particular instance, something more than a no-comment and a disclaimer of veracity would seem to be appropriate. Especially because the linked story that you just happen to be so fond of raises none of the doubts that should be raised here either.

  21. Jessica Lynch didn’t fuck up.

    I would wait until Estate of Flynt is hashed out before jumping to that conclusion.

  22. I thought the issue was that she was at a hospital that tried to release her a couple times, and the U.S. forces needlessly went in and shot up the hospital in some brave “rescue” attempt that they really didn’t need to undertake.

    The Iraqi army had pulled out earlier the day of the rescue. Given their recent departure and the war-time conditions, it would have been the height of foolishness for the US forces not to go in hot. I don’t recall any Iraqis were killed or seriously injured during the rescue.

    I also have no idea how you could release a badly injured person from a hospital and transfer them across an active war front, at least not without calling a cease-fire first, which was never done or attempted, as far as I know.

  23. Is someone suggesting that we was shot by friendlies on purpose?

    I do think this is what the Tillman family is suggesting.

  24. What is the charge that this version is a cover up? Cover up of what? Is someone suggesting that we was shot by friendlies on purpose?

    Like Dan T. said, there is the suggestion that he was shot on purpose. he may not have died in anything remotely resembling the circumstances now claimed by the official story and SI.

    There is also the possibility that somebody shot under criminally negligent circumstances, like firing when there was a clear and clearly understood order not to fire. Some friendly fire incidents violate the rules of engagement and others do not. Some friendly fire incidents violate the rules of military justice, while others do not. Even, the presence of armed enemies (if any were really there) do not mean you can just shoot whoever you want, however you want.

    I don’t think it incumbent on the Tillman family to explain exactly what happened before getting a decently transparent investigation. I do think it is incumbent on Mr. Gillespie to evince a bit more curiosity about the fishy story here than he yet has.

  25. I think the two interesting questions that have been barely touched in this discussion, and never fully explored, are:

    1. Anyone who ever handled an automatic weapon knows how hard it is to get two bullets to hit the same location on a target. Pat Tillman died from THREE shots to the head, fired supposedly by someone who was far enough not to recognize him as a US soldier. Should that raise any questions?

    2. Is the fact that the Army has given both Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman medals for actions they never took something to be concerned about? Does this reflect on other medal-recipients?

  26. Is the fact that the Army has given both Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman medals for actions they never took something to be concerned about? Does this reflect on other medal-recipients?

    Not even the slightest bit…

  27. “1. Anyone who ever handled an automatic weapon knows how hard it is to get two bullets to hit the same location on a target.”

    True.

    “Pat Tillman died from THREE shots to the head, fired supposedly by someone who was far enough not to recognize him as a US soldier. Should that raise any questions?”

    Say WHAT? Can you source this? maybe give a citation, a web-site, or something to back this up? I hadn’t hear this.

    “2. Is the fact that the Army has given both Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman medals for actions they never took something to be concerned about? Does this reflect on other medal-recipients?”

    Yep. Especially considering how many people do truly amazing things and are never credited for it. It’s definitely a problem – and apparently has been since Washington started handing out Purple Hearts.

  28. Say WHAT? Can you source this? maybe give a citation, a web-site, or something to back this up? I hadn’t hear this.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_Tillman

  29. Further to previous:

    Sometimes best not to limit media sources to Sports Illustrated and Fonzie.

  30. eeehhhhhhhhhh

  31. The 3 bullets to the head was just plain new to me… That’s bizarre.

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