Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Pat Tillman: American Hero, American Tragedy

Robert Collier of The San Francisco Chronicle published a detailed account on Sunday of Pat Tillman's death by friendly fire, the investigation that followed and the evidence of a cover-up. It is both surprising and horrifying, as these few brief excerpts suggest:

...A Chronicle review of more than 2,000 pages of testimony, as well as interviews with Pat Tillman’s family members and soldiers who served with him, found contradictions, inaccuracies and what appears to be the military’s attempt at self-protection.
For example, the documents contain testimony of the first investigating officer alleging that Army officials allowed witnesses to change key details in their sworn statements so his finding that certain soldiers committed “gross negligence” could be softened.
Interviews also show a side of Pat Tillman not widely known — a fiercely independent thinker who enlisted, fought and died in service to his country yet was critical of President Bush and opposed the war in Iraq, where he served a tour of duty. He was an avid reader whose interests ranged from history books on World War II and Winston Churchill to works of leftist Noam Chomsky, a favorite author. ...

Tillman had been a great football player, and more:

Moved in part by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Tillman decided to give up his career, saying he wanted to fight al Qaeda and help find Osama bin Laden. He spurned the Cardinals’ offer of a three year, $3.6 million contract extension and joined the Army in June 2002 along with his brother Kevin, who was playing minor-league baseball for the Cleveland Indians organization.
Pat Tillman’s enlistment grabbed the attention of the nation — and the highest levels of the Bush administration. A personal letter from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, thanking him for serving his country, now resides in a storage box, put away by Pat’s widow, Marie.
Instead of going to Afghanistan, as the brothers expected, their Ranger battalion was sent to participate in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. The Tillmans saw combat several times on their way to Baghdad. In early 2004, they finally were assigned to Afghanistan.

The account of precisely how Tillman died at the hands of men who were in fact his friends and admirers is the most succinct and persuasive I've seen:

... Although the Rangers are an elite combat group, the investigative documents reveal that the conduct of the Tillmans’ detachment — A Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment — appeared to be anything but expert as it advanced through a remote canyon in eastern Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, on a mission to search for Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in a village called Manah.
According to the files, when one of the humvees became disabled, thus stalling the mission, commanding officers split Tillman’s platoon in two so one half could move on and the other could arrange transport for the disabled vehicle. Platoon leader Lt. David Uthlaut protested the move as dangerous, but he was overruled. The first group was ordered out in the late afternoon, with Pat Tillman in the forward unit. Kevin’s unit followed 15 to 20 minutes later, hauling the humvee on an Afghan-owned flatbed truck. Both groups temporarily lost radio and visual contact with each other in the deep canyon, and the second group came under attack from suspected Taliban fighters on the surrounding ridges.
Pat Tillman, according to testimony, climbed a hill with another soldier and an Afghan militiaman, intending to attack the enemy. He offered to remove his 28-pound body armor so he could move more quickly, but was ordered not to. Meanwhile, the lead vehicle in the platoon’s second group arrived near Tillman’s position about 65 meters away and mistook the group as enemy. The Afghan stood and fired above the second group at the suspected enemy on the opposite ridge. Although the driver of the second group’s lead vehicle, according to his testimony, recognized Tillman’s group as “friendlies” and tried to signal others in his vehicle not to shoot, they directed fire toward the Afghan and began shooting wildly, without first identifying their target, and also shot at a village on the ridgeline.
The Afghan was killed. According to testimony, Tillman, who along with others on the hill waved his arms and yelled “cease fire,” set off a smoke grenade to identify his group as fellow soldiers. There was a momentary lull in the firing, and he and the soldier next to him, thinking themselves safe, relaxed, stood up and started talking. But the shooting resumed. Tillman was hit in the wrist with shrapnel and in his body armor with numerous bullets.
The soldier next to him testified: “I could hear the pain in his voice as he called out, ‘Cease fire, friendlies, I am Pat f—ing Tillman, dammit.” He said this over and over until he stopped,” having been hit by three bullets in the forehead, killing him.
The soldier continued, “I then looked over at my side to see a river of blood coming down from where he was … I saw his head was gone.” ...

There is much more, all of it sad, much of it infuriating.

Thanks to Jesse Kornbluth's Swami Uptown and The Cunning Realist for bringing the article to our attention. - CD
Post a Comment