Pat Tillman & Jessica Lynch: The cover-up

042407tillman.jpg Kevin Tillman testifies Tuesday (AFP)
An Army Ranger who was with Pat Tillman when the former football star was cut down by friendly fire in Afghanistan said Tuesday a commanding officer had ordered him to keep quiet about what happened.

The military at first portrayed Tillman’s death as the result of heroic combat with the enemy. Army Spc. Bryan O’Neal told a congressional hearing that when he got the chance to talk to Tillman’s brother, who had been in a nearby convoy on the fateful day, "I was ordered not to tell him what happened."

"You were ordered not to tell him?" repeated Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

"Roger that, sir," replied O’Neal, dressed in his Army uniform.

The revelation came as committee members questioned whether, and when, top Defense officials and the White House knew that Tillman’s death in eastern Afghanistan three years ago was actually a result of gunfire from fellow U.S. soldiers.

The committee also heard from Jessica Lynch, the former Army private who was badly injured when her convoy was ambushed in Iraq in 2003. She was later rescued by American troops from an Iraqi hospital, but the tale of her ambush was changed into a story of heroism on her part.

Still hampered by her injuries, Lynch walked slowly to the witness table, took a seat alongside Tillman’s family members and said the heroism belonged to others who fought in Iraq, such as her roommate Lori Piestewa, who died in the same ambush in which Lynch was captured.

"The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals of heroes and they don’t need to be told elaborate lies," Lynch said.

Tillman’s death received worldwide attention because he had walked away from a huge contract with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

His family was initially misled by the Pentagon and did not learn the truth for more than a month. Tillman was awarded a Silver Star based on fabricated accounts — who fabricated them still isn’t clear after several investigations.

"We don’t know what the secretary of defense knew, we don’t know what the White House knew," Waxman said. "What we do know is these were not a series of accidents, these stories. They were calculatedly put out for a public relations purpose. … Even now there seems to be a cover-up."

Kevin Tillman was in a convoy behind his older brother, a former NFL star, on April 22, 2004, when Pat Tillman was mistakenly shot by other Army Rangers who had just emerged from a canyon where they’d been fired upon. Kevin Tillman didn’t see what happened. O’Neal said he was ordered not to tell him by then-Lt. Col. Jeff Bailey, the battalion commander who oversaw Tillman’s platoon.

"He basically just said, sir, that uh, ‘Do not let Kevin know, he’s probably in a bad place knowing that his brother’s dead,’" O’Neal testified. "He made it known that I would get in trouble, sir, if I spoke with Kevin."

O’Neal said he was "quite appalled" by the order.

Bailey’s superior officer, then-Col. James C. Nixon, has testified to the Defense Department’s inspector general that he ordered that information on the facts of Tillman’s death be shared with as few people as possible so that the Tillman family would not learn those facts through news media leaks. That, in turn, shaped Bailey’s guidance to his troops.

The Army said initially that Tillman was killed by enemy gunfire while trying to help another group of ambushed soldiers. The family was not told what really happened until May 29, 2004, a delay the Army blamed on procedural mistakes.

Kevin Tillman and Tillman’s mother, Mary Tillman, also testified Tuesday but were not in the room when O’Neal spoke.

After the hearing, Mary Tillman approached O’Neal, introduced herself, embraced him and sobbed.

Kevin Tillman, in his testimony, accused the military of "intentional falsehoods" and "deliberate and careful misrepresentations" in the portrayal of his brother’s death.

"Revealing that Pat’s death was a fratricide would have been yet another political disaster in a month of political disasters … so the truth needed to be suppressed," the brother said.

"Our family will never be satisfied. We’ll never have Pat back," Mary Tillman testified. "Something really awful happened. It’s your job to find out what happened to him. That’s really important."

Last month the military concluded in a pair of reports that nine high-ranking Army officers, including four generals, made critical errors in reporting Tillman’s death but that there was no criminal wrongdoing in his shooting — a conclusion the family has disputed. The Army is reviewing the actions of the officers.

In questioning what the White House knew about Tillman, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., cited a memo written by a top general seven days after Tillman’s death warning it was "highly possible" the Army Ranger was killed by friendly fire and making clear his warning should be conveyed to the president. President Bush made no reference to the way Tillman died in a speech delivered two days after the memo was written.

A White House spokesman has said there’s no indication Bush received the warning in the memo written April 29, 2004, by then-Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal to Gen. John Abizaid, head of Central Command.

Questioned by Waxman, Defense Department Acting Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble said he did not believe the memo ever went to the White House.

Gimble said that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sent him a letter around the time Rumsfeld left office last December saying he hadn’t known Tillman’s death was from friendly fire until around May 20, 2004. Abizaid told Gimble he was traveling in the war theater and didn’t see the memo saying Tillman’s death was possibly friendly fire until after Tillman’s memorial service.

Mary Tillman dismissed the suggestion Abizaid hadn’t seen the memo as "ridiculous," and said she believed Rumsfeld must have known. "The fact that he would have died by friendly fire and no one told Rumsfeld is ludicrous," she said.

The committee had wanted to hear from retired Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, who was in charge of Army special operations and came under the heaviest criticism from military investigators for misleading information about Tillman’s death.

Kensinger’s attorney sent Waxman a letter last week saying that if Kensinger were called to testify he would refuse to answer questions, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.



Associated Press writer Scott Lindlaw contributed to this report from San Francisco.

Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press


  1. SEAL

    As a former military officer with years of combat experience I have very strong feelings for the family of Pat Tillman. They did not deserve this. But the actions of the officers both in the field and out only point out how politically involved our military has become. That’s wrong. The military has always had its own internal politics but never was it involved with the national political scene except at the very highest level, The Joint Chiefs.

    I, or anyone who has been there and done that, will tell you that soldiers are killed or injured by “friendly fire” in combat quite frequently. There was never a policy that I knew of but the accepted practice was to report those deaths as KIA, killed in action, and that was all that was stated about it on the record. Normally, no one above the unit commanders knew any different. If that had been done in Tillmans case there would probably never have been a problem.

    It is frightening to me to think that our military is now fighting for political regimes instead of the American people. That means they are no longer defending America, they have become the enforcement arm of the political regime in power. That is a dictatorship. Rule by force. Calling it a “preemtive war” does not change the fact.

    The army’s botched attempt to use Tillman’s death for political milage has caused heartbreak for his family and abused them unmercifully. Those responsible should be punished. However, that will not happen. The responsibility goes all the way to the commander in chief. Only a few officers will be punished and those punishments will never be adequate to offset to pain and suffering of the family.

  2. Jenifer D.

    As much as I have read about this remarkable young man, his family should have been given more consideration. However, since Ranger Tillman was such a high-profile soldier, the political damage avoided was probably worth all the lies, deceit, attempts to obstruct justice, family suffering, and hinderance of an investigation by willful and intentional destruction of evidence; Bio-hazard or not, it was still evidence. Isn’t it illegal to order subordinates to disturb a crime scene (burning of uniform and body armor) or commit acts that go against their military training (AKA: Army Values)?

  3. WWLBadger

    As a former Army ADA (Air Defense Artillery) serviceman, I’m more familiar than most with concept of fratricide. Once our birds accept lock and fly, don’t be a pilot who accidentally mis-set his id box. But that is also a risk we all took when we accepted the honor of wearing the uniform. For a government to willfully manufacture evidence or stories about the death of a serviceman or woman is unconscionable. Both the service and their families deserve the truth.

  4. CintraWIlson

    I was at the DARPA Grand Challenge in 2005, interviewing the director, Tony Tether.

    Apparently, the $2M of DARPA’s $3.2B budget used to create the autonomous robot car challenge was secured when Tether passionately insisted, to Congress, that if robots had been driving the supply vehicle that Jessica Lynch had been in, the whole terrible Jessica Lynch thing never would have happened.

    Jessica Lynch + propaganda + emotional weepy power + Congress
    = DARPA millions in funding for war-toy robots of dubious value.

    Ah, DARPA, that old skunk-works. Still retroactively fixing the cold war with their erector sets, and saving fair damsels in hindsite distress.


  5. marinevet

    the problem with lies and coverups are they hide the reality of malfunctions in tactics weapons and leadership on the battlefield… read the jessica lynch story again and you find that a key part of the real story was… her M-16 was inoperable due to malfunction induced by accumulated dirt and sand… THIS HAS BEEN A CHRONIC PROBLEM WITH THE M-16 SINCE IT WAS INTRODUCED!… Now consider the fact that 11 other GIs died in the same ambush… anyone who knows about ambushes understands that the first and foremeost response of those ambushed must be returning a high volume of accurate fire so as to attain “Fire Superiority”… Fire Superiority is what keeps the enemy from approaching and executing/capturing those caught in the “killing zone” … This obviously did not occur in the ambush Lynch was involved in… The enemy maintained fire superiority… we know at least Lynch had a weapon malfunction… that is one weapon which did not return fire, unfortunately, this is not an unusual experience with this weapon ….. the M-16 must be kept meticulously clean to function properly, If one weapon was degraded due to dust and sand chances are good that other weapons in the unit also failed to operate properly… when malfunctions occur Gis have to manually eject spent rounds and manually chamber a new round, seat and lock the bolt on each round chambered all the while taking heavy fire from an enemy equipped with the reliable automatic AK 47 … the difference in fire put out and received in this case can easily be on the order of twenty or thirty rounds of incoming to one outgoing… or in worst case… 20 or 30 rounds of incoming to 0 rounds outgoing… Unable to achieve fire superiority the enemy no doubt was able to advance under covering fire until they could place the muzzles of their reliable AK 47s into the cab of each vehicle and shoot each US GI armed with malfunction prone unreliable M-16s they encountered… and for the military flaks who will respond saying jamming of the M-16 was a Viet Nam War problem but is not a problem in Iraq… i can assure you Jessica lynch was not the only GI who had malfunctioning M-16 problems…

    I remember watching a television imbed film of marines in iraq during the same timeframe as the jessica Lynch ambush… the newsvideo showed a marine squad moving across a courtyard in assault formation… firing their weapons as they moved… one of the marines was clearing rounds out of his m-16, one at a time, manually chambering the next round, seating and locking the bolt, falling behind his fellow marines, leaving himself exposed in the open to enemy fire and leaving a hole in the assault line…

  6. Steve Horn

    Ahh Tillman – I don’t mean any disrespect to his family or his memory – but if he hadn’t been a football star would anyone really give a shit?
    Are we impressed that he was a Ranger (I’ve gone through the training – it ain’t easy folks) or by the fact that he turned down a multimillion dollar contract in order to serve?
    What about the 3200+ other men and women (many of whom also made it through serious, some would say harsh, training in advance of leaving for their assignments) – many of whom interrupted their careers as well in the wake of 9/11, or felt a sense of duty to their nation and joined the military before that fateful day – who have perished in these two useless “wars” – started by our commander in chief – why are there no calls for investigations into their deaths?
    Oh – I know – they were just regular people – citizens – not multi-million dollar football stars.

  7. EdEKit

    Pat Tillman was getting the hero treatment before his death, at least here in Arizona. And Jesica Lynch became a “tin Star” hero as well.
    I intend no disrespect for either of these people, the fallacious war stories were cooked up by people who wanted to “sell” the war to the American People.
    First, and this cannot be repeated too often, “Truth is the first casualty of war.” And Second, “When there is no pride to feed the war, pride in the warrior feeds the hounds of war.”
    Men will battle without compensation for a Just cause. When the cause is not just, glory and medals become the motivation.

  8. TRUTH 101


    You make a great point….and you are correct but here is the real point that ALL should be keenly aware of …AND NOBODY SEEMS TO BE but the posters here.

    GWB has yet to attend ONE…JUST ONE funeral of any of the 3200+ dead soldiers fighting the War for OIL or CONTROL of the world through OIL

    We need to stop all the talk and analysis and have the media and CONGRESS start to call it like it really is. NOT JUST KUCINICH but all 535 members of Congressional House and Senate and see it for what it really is

    The Bible to the BUSH crowd is “just a GD Book” much like the CONSTITUTION is “Just a GD piece of paper”

    These Criminals need to be Charged, tried, found guilty and let the punishment fit the crime in WARTIME:

    That is why nothing is being done i think as the penalty for Treason in wartime is DEATH: is it not? There’s your answer as to why nobody wants to be the first to bring it up !!!

  9. Steve Horn

    As a young officer in the ANG GW took an oath to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States – he did not honor that oath.
    As President of the United States, GW once again took an oath to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States (TWICE!) – yet he tramples on that document like it was a bit of trash blowing down Pennsylvania Ave (or a dirt road outside of Crawford Texas) –

    I belive the Vice President takes an oath as well, although it’s not specified within the constitution, since 1884 it’s been the following:

    “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

    Obviously this oath didn’t mean much to Cheney either –

    a Traitor is commonly defined as A person who betrays the nation of their citizenship and/or reneges on an oath of loyalty – note that this is not treason as limited by the consitution – which is more restrictive – the individual must be trying to aid an enemy or bring down the government – so the charges may or may not stick (it’s pretty subjective as to what the ultimate motives of the current administration may have been / are) – but to see that corpulent bastard in handcuffs …. zowie!

  10. Boots

    I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I knew about the Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman lies for years. Now they are having a congressional hearing? What took them so long? Are they all braindead? The Pentagon is pussywhipped. The Bushies are going through generals like peanuts. The White House doesn’t know which way is up and the media is interested more in Don Imus, Rosie O’Donnell etc. etc.. I hear Peter Pace say that he works at the pleasure of the president. I thought he took an oath to protect and uphold the constitution of the USA, first and foremost? He also has to follow the (legal) orders of the CIC, but kissing his butt is purely optional. Jr. Bush has turned this country into a tinderbox. And if there is anyone who still supports his regime they should all be wrapped in a straitjacket and shipped off to the cookie factory.

    I say,Impeach Bush and Cheney, and do it now!!!

  11. Doubtom

    To my knowledge that phrase is absent from the oath of office for the President and it may well be for the Vice-President also.

  12. Jenifer D.

    The system of Checks and Balances cannot do enough to make certain entities accountable for their misdeeds; especially if the perps-in-question are very well-heeled (financially affluent) and have friends in foreign places who will happily harbor them if and when they leave office and claim political exile (Extradition?! What’s that?).