Pentagon: Errors Were Made After Tillman's Death

Nine Army officers, including as many as four generals, will be held accountable for mistakes made in the aftermath of the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan after leaving pro football to serve as an Army Ranger.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Three years ago, Pat Tillman, an NFL player who became a soldier, died in Afghanistan. The Pentagon's inspector general has now concluded in a report that's expected to appear on Monday that senior U.S. Army officials helped to conceal the true circumstances under which Pat Tillman died.

Within hours after the incident, top commanders apparently knew that Corporal Tillman had been killed by friendly fire, but they waited more than five weeks to inform his family. The report recommends that the officers involved, including several generals, be held accountable. NPR's Guy Raz has been following the story and joins us. Guy, thanks for being with us.

GUY RAZ: Good morning.

SIMON: Now this report coming out on Monday is actually a criminal investigation?

RAZ: That's right. And it's been going on for about 18 months now. But I should say at the outset, Scott, the report found no criminal intent at all among anybody involved. What it did find was a series of mishaps, bad decisions, that led to circumstances where Pat Tillman's family, and essentially the country, wasn't notified about the circumstances of his death more than five weeks after he was killed. We now know, of course, he was killed in a friendly fire incident.

SIMON: Remind us what happened and maybe what seemed to happen at the time.

RAZ: Well, we all know the story about Pat Tillman, of course. This NFL player turned Army Ranger. He was a national hero, essentially the most high-profile military enlistee after 9/11.

SIMON: He said my country needs me.

RAZ: That's right. He joined in May 2002, he served in the initial stages of the Iraq War, and then right after that he was sent essentially to Afghanistan. On April 22, 2004, his - the story went that his unit came under fire, an ambush, in the Paktia Province of Afghanistan; that's on the eastern edge along the border with Pakistan. And he was killed. He was awarded the Silver Star, he was subsequently promoted to the rank of corporal, given a Purple Heart.

His family was given a full report about the heroic circumstances under which he died, there was a national funeral that was televised. But by that point, it's now clear, that several senior Army officials actually knew that he was killed in a friendly fire incident and that in fact his unit never came into contact with enemy fighters at all.

SIMON: I want to ask you a quick question about possible criminal penalties, but I have to ask, does this in any way endanger the Silver Star that he received?

RAZ: It doesn't, as far as I understand, no.

SIMON: What happens in an investigation now? And you say that there seems to be no criminal intent, but was there a public relations intent?

RAZ: Well, that's the big question. Pat Tillman's family has accused the Army of trying to cover this up for public relations purposes, essentially to create this sort of mythological character. Now, it doesn't minimize what he did and what he accomplished and how he died. But ultimately it is very embarrassing for the Army. And we do understand that nine officers, including some generals, will be held accountable for what happened.

SIMON: NPR's Guy Raz. Thank you very much for bringing us up to date.

RAZ: Thank you, Scott.

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