Army Waited Weeks to Tell Truth About Tillman's Death

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Army officials knew within days of his 2004 death that a former professional football player serving in Afghanistan had been killed by friendly fire. The Army admitted on Wednesday that it withheld the information for several weeks from Army Ranger Pat Tillman's family. Tillman gave up a lucrative career in the NFL to serve in the Army.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The Army has completed an investigation into the death of US Army Ranger Pat Tillman. The former NFL player was killed last year in Afghanistan. The report concludes that the Army knew within days that Tillman had been killed by friendly fire, but it didn't tell his family for several weeks. NPR's Vicky O'Hara has the story.

VICKY O'HARA reporting:

Pat Tillman was killed last April during a firefight involving US Army Rangers near the Pakistani border. The Army at first reported Tillman had been killed by hostile fire. But several weeks after a memorial service for the former football player, the Army reported that Tillman likely had been killed by American bullets. His death was widely mourned. The NFL player had turned down a multimillion-dollar contract with the Arizona Cardinals in order to join the Army after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.

Brigadier General Gary Jones of the Army's Special Operations Command led the investigation of Tillman's death. His report says that soldiers who were with Tillman at the time of his death were convinced from the start that he died as a result of friendly fire. The report also says the first investigator who looked into the case found evidence of that, as well, and that top Army officials were informed of that fact; among them, General John Abizaid, the theater commander in Afghanistan. Based on the Army's own findings, its top officials knew the truth four days before a nationwide televised memorial service for Tillman, but they didn't inform the family until several weeks later.

The Army's investigation also found that shortly after Tillman was killed, US personnel burned his body armor and uniform. They said they did so because the blood-soaked material constituted a biohazard, but General Jones characterized it as destruction of evidence. According to Army spokesman Paul Boyce, the normal procedure in a combat death is to send uniforms and body armor home with the remains. According to the report, some soldiers told General Jones they did not want everyone to know that Tillman's fellow Rangers were responsible for his death. The report also says that some officers told soldiers not to talk about what had happened.

Members of the Tillman family could not be reached for comment on the findings. Vicky O'Hara, NPR News, Washington.

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