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When football star Pat Tillman signed up to fight in Afghanistan, it was big news. When he was killed there, the military said he died at the hands of the enemy. He was hailed as a hero and awarded the Silver Star, but within hours of his death there was evidence that Pat Tillman was killed not by enemy fire but by other American soldiers in a friendly fire incident. Yesterday the Pentagon's inspector general reported that nine Army officers made, quote, critical errors in the investigation into Tillman's death and misled his family. In a few minutes, we'll hear reaction from Mary Tillman, Pat Tillman's mother. First we have this report from NPR's Libby Lewis.
LIBBY LEWIS: It was never so much Pat Tillman's death that caused the military to spend nearly three years and millions of dollars investigating it. It was the way the Army handled his death from the moments afterwards, specifically Pat Tillman's chain of command. Acting Inspector General Thomas Gimble said those officers...
Mr. THOMAS GIMBLE (Acting Inspector General, U.S. Department of Defense): ...bear the ultimate responsibilities for the inaccuracies, misunderstandings and perceptions of concealment that led to our review.
LEWIS: 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 September 11th 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 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. The report 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 got to consider 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. 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, Lieutenant General Philip R. Kensinger, represented the Army at Tillman's memorial service 11 days after his death.
Mr. GIMBLE: At that time, he was in a position to ensure the family was notified of the friendly fire inquiry. However, he decided not to tell the family until all the facts concerning the incident could be verified.
LEWIS: 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-off 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.
Secretary PETER GEREN (Acting Secretary, U.S. Army): We as an army failed in our duty to the Tillman family, the duty we owe to all families of our fallen soldiers: give them the truth, the best we know it, as fast as we can. Our failure in fulfilling this duty brought discredit to the Army and compounded the grief suffered by the Tillman family.
LEWIS: The Army will decide if its officers committed any crimes, and if so, how they will be held accountable.
Libby Lewis, NPR News, Washington.
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