Where is the outrage over the Tillman ‘friendly fire’ cover-up?

Tue, 08/07/2007 - 4:04pm
By: Letters to the ...

As a 30-year Army veteran and retiree, I read the press reporting concerning the events surrounding the death of Corporal Pat Tillman, and its subsequent investigations, with what was initially disbelief followed shortly thereafter with growing incredulity and then sheer outrage.

What has happened to the senior levels of what was once a proud officer corps? The unbelievable scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison, once thought difficult to top in terms of a scam investigation and cover-up, pales in comparison with what is happening to the entire Army, in general, and the Tillman family, in particular.

Unless something has changed since I retired 15 years ago, each and every officer, regardless of rank or position, takes a solemn oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, not what is proving to be an imperial presidency.

How far can the Bush/Cheney regime (having served in the then-Soviet Union as a military attache in the late 1970s, I chose this term carefully) go on totally ignoring the basic tenets of what holds this country together and sets it apart from others, the aforementioned Constitution? Unless I am mistaken Bush and Cheney took the same solemn oath and have proceeded to view it as a mere hindrance, not as the law of the land.

As a result of the neoconservative element of the Bush/Cheney regime holding sway, we have an administration which considers the establishment of a permanent neoconservative ruling regime to be of far greater importance than following the law of the land, the Constitution. Message: if the truth must suffer, so be it.

How does the treatment of the death of Pat Tillman factor into the above? Remember, Pat Tillman, forsaking a most lucrative multi-million-dollar professional football career, volunteered as a true patriot for duty as an Army Ranger in June 2002, following the events of 9/11; Iraq was not yet an issue. His enlistment was covered widely by the national press; he was truly a “poster boy” for the Army and, unlike 99.999 percent of Army enlistees, received a personally signed letter from the then- Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

And let us not forget that he enlisted to fight against those who actually caused the tragedies of 9/11, not against the people of Iraq. By all accounts he became disillusioned with the events in Iraq and was getting ready to speak out. He never got the chance.

Was his death, initially reported as caused by enemy fire, truly an accident? In all likelihood, yes. But, by the way his death has been handled to date, we may never know the true circumstances, and hence, due to a lack of candor and truthfulness, there is a natural tendency to question just what did transpire.

Why is the White House pleading “executive privilege” in refusing to release e-mails which were generated by White House staffers shortly after the death of Cpl. Tillman on April 22, 2004?

Why was the recommendation for the award of a Silver Star, citing hostile fire as the cause of Cpl. Tillman’s death, approved by an Army lieutenant general when he has admitted, under oath, that there was a definite possibility that, at the time he forwarded the award recommendation, Cpl. Tillman’s death was a result of accidental friendly fire and was actually being investigated as such?

Why did it take from April 29 until May 6, 2004 for Gen. Abizaid, the theater commander, to receive a “Personal For” message from the same general officer informing him that there was the possibility that Cpl. Tillman’s death was from friendly fire?

The dedicated “Personal For” general-officer-only channel of communications is a highly compartmentalized system for basically “eyes only” viewing by the recipient and contains time sensitive, often highly classified, personnel, administrative, operational and intelligence information.

To think that such a state of the art, heavily depended-upon system would be nonfunctional (under oath Gen. Abizaid testified that there was some “type of problem,” not further defined) for a week and a redundant backup system (even good old military air) was not utilized during time of war is, to put it mildly, disturbing.

Was the “Tillman cable” the only message lost or not delivered during this one week period or were there others? Was someone at the headquarters of Gen. Abizaid told not to inform him? If so, who?

Adding to what can be only described as a growing mystery are the actions of the attending medical doctors on the scene( their names were redacted from the official report — why?) and the Army attorneys, also noted in the investigation report, who congratulated themselves for the cover-up and cursory initial investigation.

The actions of yet another general officer, Lt. Gen. Kensinger, who knew that at the time of the memorial service (attended by 3,500 mourners and on national TV) for the Tillman family in May 2004, that their son’s death was caused by friendly fire and yet did not inform them of the truth, can only be described as abhorrent and disgraceful.

Having admitted to lying under oath, Lt. Gen. Kensinger, who refused to testify at a House Oversight Hearing on Aug. 2, and could not be located by the U.S. Marshal’s Service, is presently due to receive as punishment no more than a one-rank reduction in grade.

What is truly confounding and unexplained is the performance of former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and his civilian inner circle. Here is a man, Donald Rumsfeld, who by all reporting was a true micro manager and demanded “no surprises” from his subordinates.

To accept as unquestioned that Rumsfeld was not informed of the true circumstances surrounding Pat Tillman’s death far before he has publicly acknowledged such defies all logic.

Equally challenging to accept is his “lack of memory” as to when the White House was first informed of the truth as it concerned Cpl. Tillman’s tragic death.

When was the then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, a self-admitted pro football fanatic whose dream job is to be the National Football League commissioner, first told of the actual truth concerning the Tillman incident?

The testimony of the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, before the House Oversight Committee, also on Aug. 2, is amazing for the indifference/nonchalance exhibited by his view that the circumstances and subsequent investigation surrounding the death of Cpl. Tillman, while bureaucratically correct, were solely an Army issue/problem. Gen. Myers, it should also be noted, had “difficulty” in remembering just when he, similar to Secretary Rumsfeld, was informed of the true circumstances of Cpl. Tillman’s death.

In summary, where is the outrage? What is being said and done by the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Association of the U.S. Army and other military and civic-minded and patriotic organizations? Why do I not see senior retired officers, both commissioned and noncommissioned, of all services demanding the truth?

What are the positions of senators Chambliss and Isakson and Rep. Westmoreland, who represent thousands of active duty and retired military personnel, concerning the search for truth concerning Cpl. Tillman?

We owe it to all service members, especially those who have paid with their lives and permanent injuries, to determine just what is the full and true story. They, the American people and, most of all, the Tillman family, deserve nothing less.

Wade J. Williams, Colonel, USA (Ret)

Peachtree City, Ga.

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