Hill Panel Set to Investigate Tillman Case

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A congressional committee Tuesday will ask whether the Army tried to cover up details of the combat death of former NFL star Pat Tillman. He was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, but the Army was slow to acknowledge details.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

Later today on Capitol Hill, a House committee will try to learn why the Army gave out bad information in two high-profile incidents. One involves Army Specialist Jessica Lynch, whose convoy was ambushed by Iraqi soldiers. The other involves former NFL star turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire. Lawmakers want to know to what extent the Army tried to hide the truth in both cases.

Here's NPR's John McChesney.

JOHN MCCHESNEY: The hearing will be held before California Congressman Henry Waxman's House Oversight Committee. Waxman says these two cases are the most visible, high profile instances of misinformation given out about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Representative HENRY WAXMAN (Democrat, California) They were sensational stories. They were evidently made up, invented. I think it's important to know how this happened, whether there was incompetence or misinformation, or deliberate.

MCCHESNEY: Some of the most sensational details will involve former Arizona Cardinal safety Pat Tillman, who joined the Army Rangers after 9/11. Pat Tillman's mother Mary will be at the hearing. She and her family have stayed on the Army's case as they've been given different versions over the years about what happened to the famous Ranger.

Ms. MARY TILLMAN (Mother of Pat Tillman): Ultimately, I would like to trace where the orders to do a lot of these things came from. Who gave the orders to burn Pat's uniform? Who was the one who instigated the Silver Star? The Silver Star is very important because that's where the lies began.

MCCHESNEY: The Tillman family didn't learn that Pat had been killed by friendly fire until five weeks after the incident even though the Army clearly knew he had not been killed by the enemy. But the Silver Star decoration went ahead as scheduled at the memorial session. Someone ordered a clampdown on information about Tillman's death. Even President Bush was given a heads up not to mention the cause of Tillman's death in a speech because it might be embarrassing. Again, Mary Tillman.

Ms. TILLMAN: I believe that Pat's own actions should be what people know, not something that's contrived. I really believe that you're diminishing the actions of any soldier when you make some John Wayne narrative, because that's not what happens. Death is ugly; it's not glorious and dramatic.

MCCHESNEY: Kevin Tillman, Pat's brother, was also a Ranger and in the contingent of soldiers who killed Pat, but he wasn't told how his brother died. Specialist Russell Baer had seen Rangers shooting at Rangers. But when Bear was ordered to escort Kevin Tillman home from Afghanistan after the killing, he was told not to tell him that he likely cause of Pat's death was friendly fire. Baer later went AWOL in protest and was demoted.

Kevin Tillman has written one article about the incident but his appearance today will be the first time he has spoken publicly about his brother's death. Mary Tillman says she can't prove it, but she believes misinformation about Tillman's death went nearly to the top of the Bush administration.

Ms. TILLMAN: I personally think that it went to Rumsfeld. He had written Pat a letter when he enlisted, and it wasn't any, you know, extravagant letter. It was only a few sentences. But the fact that Pat was in his radar, I think, makes a difference. And Pat was, you know, the most high-profile soldier to be serving. And I think that the officers involved here would have been on a lot of trouble if they didn't tell him.

MCCHESNEY: Congressman Waxman insists that he's not holding this hearing just to cause the Bush administration more embarrassment.

Rep. WAXMAN: I think that one of our purposes is to try to restore people's trust so that the military knows that it has to be honest with people. They're risking their lives; we owe them at least honesty.

MCCHESNEY: Also testifying will be former Army Private Jessica Lynch, who was also initially portrayed as a hero. In her case, Army officials said she was wounded and rescued after a firefight. The Army later acknowledged that she was not shot and that Iraqi soldiers had fled before American rescuers arrived.

John McChesney, NPR News, Washington.

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