Kevin Tillman & Jessica Lynch (AP)
Facing accusations that it invented war heroes from Afghanistan and Iraq for propaganda purposes, the US military admitted Wednesday it had made mistakes but said the media was also to blame.
One of the soldiers at the center of the row and the brother of another "hero" killed in Afghanistan on Tuesday accused the military of peddling lies in both cases to rally a hero-starved American public.
And while the military admitted mistakes in the case of American football star Pat Tillman, killed by "friendly fire" in Afghanistan in 2004, it said the media had blown up the case of Jessica Lynch after her capture in Iraq in 2003.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said that the army had referred Tillman’s case to commanders for possible disciplinary action against officers accused of hiding the true circumstances of his death from his family.
"In the Tillmans’ case, it was clearly misleading and inaccurate information being provided by the department," he said.
The army first said that the former football star had died a hero’s death while fighting Taliban insurgents. Some weeks later they admitted that he had been killed in a "friendly fire" incident by fellow US troops.
Tillman gave up a lucrative professional footballing career after the September 11 attacks of 2001 to join the army, and his death immediately became a symbol of American sacrifice in the "war on terror."
But Tillman’s brother Kevin on Tuesday accused the army of lying about his brother’s death for propaganda purposes.
"It was utter fiction," he testified to Congress, accusing the military of "deliberate and careful misrepresentations."
"A terrible tragedy that might have further undermined support for the war in Iraq was transformed into an inspirational message that served instead to support the nation’s foreign policy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Wednesday that President George W. Bush felt "deeply sorry for the family and all that they have gone through."
An internal Pentagon report last month found that nine officers, including four generals, had committed serious errors in the way Tillman’s death was related to his family.
But only one officer, special forces commander General Philip Kensinger, was accused of intentionally deceiving the family.
Acting Secretary of the Army Pete Geren said at the time that he had asked General William Wallace to make recommendations within 30 days on what measures should be taken against the nine officers.
Whitman said the Pentagon’s investigations demonstrated "a strong desire by the leadership to get to the facts and to ensure in cases of this nature you don’t repeat some of the same mistakes that were made in this particular case."
But in the Lynch affair, Whitman accused the media of turning the then 19-year-old soldier into a heroine after she was captured by Iraqi forces during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
"What I recall specifically on that story was cautioning people with respect to what the facts were in that and that there were news media that were well in front of the facts that we knew," he said.
Nevertheless, Lynch was held up as a symbol of courage. She said Tuesday the Pentagon inaccurately portrayed her as a "little girl Rambo," firing her weapon down to the last bullet before being captured.
"It was not true … I’m still confused as to why they choose to lie and try to make me a legend," she told the Congress hearing.