Rumsfeld Testifies in Hearing on Tillman's Death

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made his first appearance Wednesday on Capitol Hill since leaving that job last year. He spoke to a House committee investigating the military's bungled response to the friendly fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALEX COHEN, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up: We talked to a top American diplomat. U.N. troops are headed to Darfur. Can they make a difference?

COHEN: But first, on Capitol Hill today, questions for Donald Rumsfeld about how the military handled the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman. A House committee is investigating the death of the former NFL star in Afghanistan in 2004.

For weeks after his death, the Army maintained that Tillman was killed by enemy fighters, even though commanders knew within days of his death that he had been killed by a friendly fire. Lawmakers want to know how far up the chain of command the cover-up, so-called cover-up, went, and when Rumsfeld, who was then secretary of defense, learned about it.

NPR's Tom Bowman joins us now from the Pentagon. Tom, the Tillman family wasn't informed for weeks about the truth. When did Rumsfeld say that he learned about it?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, this is what Rumsfeld had to say today before Representative Waxman's committee.

Mr. DONALD RUMSFELD (Former Defense Secretary): I'm told that I received word of this development some time after May 20, 2004, but my recollection reflects the fact that it occurred well over two years ago. And as a result, I do not recall when I first learned about the possibility that Corporal Tillman's death might have resulted from fratricide.

BOWMAN: But there was a memo written right a week after Tillman's death, and clearly several top generals knew about it - a handful of generals - that it was highly probable that Tillman was killed by a friendly fire.

COHEN: And what about some of the other top officials in the military? Did anyone know about Tillman's death and the reality behind it any sooner?

BOWMAN: Yes. Well, this is an exchange between Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York. And she was talking to retired General Richard Myers, who at the time was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military officer.

Representative CAROLYN MALONEY (Democrat, New York): Why did you not come forward and tell the family and tell the public the truth? The family was not told the truth until the end of May.

General RICHARD MYERS (Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff): Well, first of all, I did not know that Corporal Tillman had been killed by friendly fire. I didn't say that. What I said was that I was informed that it's possibly friendly fire, and that there is an investigation ongoing. In terms of notifying the family, that is in Army channels, and we've just talked about the regret there is for the fact that that was not done properly.

BOWMAN: So there we have it. Myers is saying it was the responsibility of the Army to tell the family. And the Army yesterday punished Retired Lieutenant General Philip Kensinger, who received that memo a week after Tillman's death. And they punished him for not informing the Army leadership, including the secretary of the Army at that time.

COHEN: Do we expect the punishment to go any higher or any further beyond Kensinger?

BOWMAN: No, we don't think so. There was one other general who's still on active duty, Lieutenant General Stan McCrystal, who wrote that memo, and he was criticized in a Pentagon inspector general's report for being aware of some false information about Tillman's death, that he was killed by enemy fire, that was part of a Silver Star citation for Tillman. But the Army has said it will not punish McCrystal.

COHEN: Is there any indication that any concealment of information might have gone on as high up as the White House and the president?

BOWMAN: Well, it's a good question. And Myers and Rumsfeld, they were both asked about that. And they said around the time - this is late April for Myers, and toward the end of May for Rumsfeld - he said he never talked to - both said they never talked to anybody at the White House about it.

COHEN: Tom, this was Rumsfeld's first appearance on Capitol Hill since he was replaced by Robert Gates. How did he seem to appear?

BOWMAN: As always, he's pretty calm and collected. He'll dissect questions from members. And he's pretty cautious and careful about what he says.

COHEN: I understand that Pat Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, was there as well. Any response from her?

BOWMAN: We have not heard any response from her yet. The Tillman family were sitting in the back of the hearing room. And I would assume when the hearing is over in the next hour or two, we'll likely hear from them.

COHEN: Tom Bowman is speaking with us from the Pentagon. Thank you so much, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

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

Related NPR Stories

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.