Ex-Defense Head Rumsfeld Testifies About Tillman

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee about the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman — the pro football star turned Army Ranger killed in Afghanistan. The Army told his family that he died in a gun battle with enemy fighters.

Rumsfeld Defends Himself in Tillman Death

Cpl. Pat Tillman is seen in this 2003 photo. Lawmakers are escalating their inquiry into his death. i i

Cpl. Pat Tillman is seen in this 2003 photo. An Army Ranger, he was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. Congressional investigators are escalating their inquiry into the high-profile friendly fire case. AP Photo/Photography Plus via Williamson Stealth Media Solutions hide caption

itoggle caption AP Photo/Photography Plus via Williamson Stealth Media Solutions
Cpl. Pat Tillman is seen in this 2003 photo. Lawmakers are escalating their inquiry into his death.

Cpl. Pat Tillman is seen in this 2003 photo. An Army Ranger, he was killed in Afghanistan in 2004. Congressional investigators are escalating their inquiry into the high-profile friendly fire case.

AP Photo/Photography Plus via Williamson Stealth Media Solutions
Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is sworn in prior to testifying. i i

Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, left, and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers, right, are sworn in prior to testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigating the friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. AP Photos hide caption

itoggle caption AP Photos
Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is sworn in prior to testifying.

Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, left, and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers, right, are sworn in prior to testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigating the friendly-fire death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.

AP Photos

Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld defended himself and took no personal responsibility Wednesday for the military's bungled response to Army Ranger Pat Tillman's friendly fire death in Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld, in his first public appearance on Capitol Hill since President Bush replaced him with Robert Gates late last year, reiterated previous testimony to investigators that he didn't have early knowledge that Tillman was cut down by fellow Rangers, not by enemy militia, as was initially claimed.

Rumsfeld conceded to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the military — under his watch when Tillman was killed in 2004 — botched the way the matter was handled. But he rejected any notion of efforts to cover up the truth.

"It was badly handled and errors were made, but in no instance has any evidence of a cover-up (to use the phrase you use) been presented or put forward. I know of nothing that suggests that," Rumsfeld said.

He told the committee hearing that he had always impressed upon Pentagon underlings the importance of telling the truth.

Before testifying, Rumsfeld watched from the witness table — hands clasped, shoulder-to-shoulder with other high-ranking former Pentagon officials — as Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, opened the hearing on the issue.

"The concealment of Cpl. Tillman's fratricide caused millions of Americans to question the integrity of our government, yet no one will tell us when and how the White House learned the truth," said Waxman, D-Calif.

Rumsfeld along with other former Pentagon top brass were called before the committee to tell who knew what about Tillman's death and when.

The committee's ranking Republican Tom Davis pressed Rumsfeld: "How and when did you learn that Cpl. Tillman had been killed?"

"I don't recall precisely how I learned that he was killed," Rumsfeld replied. "It could have been internally, or it could have been through the press. It was something that obviously received a great deal of attention."

Tillman's death received worldwide attention because he had walked away from a huge contract with the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army after the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

His mother Mary and other family members watched from the last row in the committee room.

The congressional inquiry comes a day after the Army laid most of the blame for the response to Tillman's death on Philip Kensinger, a retired three-star general who led Army special operations forces after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Army censured Kensinger for "a failure of leadership" and accused him of lying to investigators probing the aftermath of Tillman's death.

For five weeks the Army knew Tillman was cut down by his fellow Army Rangers, but told the public and Tillman's own family that he died in a fire fight with enemy militia.

Among possible evidence of White House knowledge, lawmakers have cited a memo written April 29, 2004, by a top general seven days after Tillman's death warning it was "highly possible" the Army Ranger was killed by his own comrades and making clear his warning should be conveyed to the president.

From NPR and The Associated Press reports

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