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DERRICK Z. JACKSON

Shame on the Army

MARY TILLMAN told The Washington Post, ''If this is what happens when someone high profile dies, I can only imagine what happens with everyone else."

This was about the latest lie in the war on terrorizing the truth. The Washington Post recently reported that the Army did not tell the family of Pat Tillman that it knew for a month that Tillman was killed by friendly fire. Tillman was nationally known for exchanging the riches of the National Football League for the trenches of Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

When Tillman was killed on April 22, 2004, the Pentagon first blamed enemy fire. The Army reported that Tillman ''ordered his team to dismount and then maneuvered the Rangers up a hill near the enemy's location. As they crested the hill, Tillman directed his team into firing positions and personally provided suppressive fire. . . Tillman's voice was heard issuing commands to take the fight to the enemy forces."

An Army investigation quickly determined that Tillman was killed by friendly fire. Central Command's General John Abizaid was informed of the findings by April 29, according the Post's examination of 2,000 pages of reports.

Yet, on April 30, Abizaid gave a press briefing where he said, ''While I was in Afghanistan yesterday I had the opportunity to talk to First Lieutenant Dave Hutman . . . He was the platoon leader of Pat Tillman. I asked him yesterday how operations were going. I asked him about Pat Tillman. He said, 'Pat Tillman was a great Ranger and a great soldier, and what more can I say about him?' . . . I also probably bear some understanding that (the) lieutenant I was talking to . . . was still nursing a large number of wounds that he sustained in that firefight where Pat Tillman lost his life."

On May 3, a memorial service was held for Tillman while the story was still that he was killed in an ambush.

Even allowing the possibility that Abizaid did not know the details exactly by April 29 (a possibility hard to believe given the Bush administration's war of mass deceit in that other war in Iraq), the Army said nothing until, ironically, May 29, on Memorial Day weekend. At that time, the commanding general of US Army Special Operations, Philip Kensinger, insisted, ''The results of this investigation in no way diminish the bravery and sacrifice displayed by Corporal Tillman."

The bravery of the Army was another matter at a time when it needed no more bad news, with the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib staining the United States. It turned out that once US soldiers realized they accidentally had killed Tillman, some of them burned his uniform and body armor. Army investigator Brigadier General Gary Jones said that was destruction of evidence. The Post quoted soldiers in the documents as saying they weren't going to lie about the incident. ''We knew at the time, based on taking the pictures and walking around, it was a fratricide," a soldier said. ''We knew in our hearts what had happened."

In the early weeks after their son's death, Tillman's parents, Mary and Patrick Sr., accepted the Army's explanations with a stiff upper lip. By the winter, as the story kept changing bit by bit, from friendly fire blamed on an enemy ambush to just botched, unprovoked friendly fire, the parents began to boil over. Patrick Tillman told the Post in December, ''The investigation is a lie."

With the revelation that the Army knew almost immediately that the son died from friendly fire, the parents exploded in full fury this week in the Post. Mary Tillman said, ''Pat had high ideals about the country. That's why he did what he did. The military let him down. The administration let him down. It was a sign of disrespect. The fact that he was the ultimate team player and he watched his own men kill him is absolutely heartbreaking and tragic. The fact that they lied about it afterward is disgusting."

Patrick Sr., said, ''Maybe lying's not a big deal anymore." He also told the Post, ''All the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this. They purposely interfered with the investigation. They covered it up. I think they thought they could control it and they realized their recruiting efforts were going to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out. They blew up their poster boy."

And the truth.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is jackson@globe.com.


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