Pentagon investigators have found that Army Ranger Pat Tillman's entire chain of command made critical errors in the aftermath of his death by friendly fire.
They have recommended the Army consider action against the officers.
Acting Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble said that those officers "bear the ultimate responsibilities for the inaccuracies, misunderstandings and perceptions of concealment that led to our review."
But Gimble said he doesn't believe there was a cover-up.
Pat Tillman was famous for deciding to leave his NFL career behind to join the Army Rangers with his brother after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He died on the afternoon of April 22, 2004, after his platoon got split up in the mountains of southeast Afghanistan.
In the waning daylight, part of the platoon came under enemy fire. Tillman went to give help, and other members of the platoon mistook him for the enemy.
He and an Afghan soldier aiding him died in the gunfire.
Army investigators have determined the shootings were an accident.
But acting Inspector General Gimble said Tillman's chain of command didn't immediately report that Tillman's death was suspected to be by friendly fire, even though clear evidence of that emerged the next day.
Because his superiors failed to report it as a suspected friendly fire incident, the Army didn't get to conduct legal and safety investigations that would have been independent of Tillman's command.
Instead, Tillman's commanders conducted two internal investigations.
Investigators found those inquiries "lacked credibility and contributed to perceptions that Army officials were purposefully withholding key information about Tillman's death."
Six months passed before anyone outside Tillman's command looked closely at the incident.
Pentagon investigators also looked at why it took the military 35 days to tell Tillman's family that it was investigating whether his death was caused by friendly fire.
Army rules require officials to let families know information about their loved one's death "as it becomes available."
Gimble said investigators found evidence that the general heading U.S. special operations command misled both investigators and Tillman's family about the friendly fire investigation.
That commander, Lt. Gen. Philip R. Kensinger, represented the Army at Tillman's memorial service 11 days after his death and could have informed the family about the friendly fire concerns, but did not. Kensinger retired last year.
Finally, the investigators looked at the circumstances under which Pat Tillman was nominated for a Silver Star. That award notes soldiers who act with courage under enemy fire.
The report says the Army justified the Silver Star with information that Tillman "performed heroically in the face of, and was killed by, enemy fire."
No one notified the officials who award the Silver Star that Tillman was suspected to have died by friendly fire.
Acting Army Secretary Peter Geren said that Tillman's Silver Star would stand, but that the army would correct the record. And he apologized for the Army's mistakes.
"We as an Army failed in our duty to the Tillman family, the duty we owe to all the families of our fallen soldiers: Give them the truth, the best we know it, as fast as we can," Geren said. "Our failure in fulfilling this duty brought discredit to the Army and compounded the grief suffered by the Tillman family."
The army will decide if its officers committed any crimes and, if so, how they will be held accountable.
Mary Tillman has conducted a long fight to expose the government's mishandling of important details of her son's death. Here, she speaks with students at Palo Alto High School in California in April 2006.
Michael Benson/'The Paly Voice'
Pat Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, faced Defense Department officials Monday as they offered the latest explanation of what happened to her son in Afghanistan. Mary Tillman says her family believes it was given "a very imbalanced presentation."
"A lot of the information they gave us was based on what the individuals that were actually in the shooter vehicle – that was their point of view," she says. "They didn't give any kind of information based on anyone else in the situation. I mean, it's a very complicated situation; that's why it's hard to put it in some kind of a nutshell. All I can say is that what we received was very imbalanced."
Steve Inskeep talks with Mary Tillman about the results of the investigation and her effort to learn the truth.
Well, I suppose there are at least two separate issues here. One is what actually happened to Pat Tillman on the battlefield.
And the other is what the U.S. military did with whatever information it had about that over time.
Well, and the thing that's also upsetting is that the original investigation, the one that was done within hours of Pat's death, or the one that was started immediately after he died... . And that particular officer indicated he saw evidence of homicidal negligence or criminal intent. That investigation was sort of put to the side. And then another investigation was put into place.
That original investigation we can't get our hands on, and they say it's because it was never signed. Yet, the officer himself said he gave a recommendation. You know, these kinds of things are very upsetting.
They told us that these soldiers drove by, in a matter four seconds, and shot up the ridgeline in a fog of war. Yet, when you go through the documents, it's very clear that witnesses indicate that these soldiers stopped the vehicle. Some of them got out of the vehicle. One for sure got out of the vehicle and was shooting. It's not like they drove by in a fog of war.
So on these two issues – what happened to Pat Tillman and what did the military do with the information that it had – the military says they made critical errors in reporting what they knew, but there was no criminal wrongdoing in the shooting. It sounds like you're not satisfied.
No, we're not satisfied with that. We're not saying that Pat was intentionally killed ... . We may have some questions about that, but that's nothing that we could ever prove. And I don't want to get into that. But, he died on [April 22, 2004]. His memorial service was May 3. They could have told us the truth. And if they didn't want to tell us the truth, they could have said that we don't know, we're doing an investigation. But what they did is they made up a story. That's not a misstep, and that's not an error. They made up a story. It was presented on national television. And we believe they did that to promote the war.
I imagine this meeting that you had with military officials yesterday must have been the latest, or perhaps the last of many meetings you've had where they've tried to explain what they know.
Right. And they always lie. And I'll be quite honest with you. The meeting was a travesty. I mean, we were lied to... . They told us that we were abusive. And I responded back that, you know, lying is a form of abuse, and we've been lied to for three years.
They said you were abusive to them.
They said we were abusive. And we were ...
Were you raising your voice?
I wouldn't have wanted to have been them. I mean, we got to the point where we were extremely rude to them, but they ... were just lying.