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House panel to probe 'misinformation' on Tillman, Lynch

SAN FRANCISCO -- A US House committee announced yesterday that it would hold hearings on misleading military statements that followed the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan and the rescue of Private First Class Jessica Lynch in Iraq.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said an April 24 hearing, titled "Misleading Information from the Battlefield," would be part of its investigation into whether there was a strategy to mislead the public.

The plan comes two weeks after the Pentagon released the findings of its own investigations into Tillman's death, and three years after he was killed.

The committee has been quietly investigating the case since then and decided to add Lynch to the scope of its probe. It will "examine why inaccurate accounts of these two incidents were disseminated, the sources and motivations for the accounts, and whether the appropriate administration officials have been held accountable," the panel said on its website.

One or more members of the Tillman family will probably testify, the committee said. Tillman's mother and father did not immediately return calls for comment yesterday.

Lynch's spokeswoman, Aly Goodwin Gregg, said Lynch also will testify. "She was very interested in doing so," Gregg said. "She's used every opportunity to tell what really happened and to talk about the real heroes of that day."

Tillman's family has said the previous probes were inadequate and did not sufficiently address the role of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in hiding from them for five weeks the true circumstances of the former NFL player's death. The Army publicly maintained at the time that Tillman had been killed by enemy fire, when his fellow Rangers had shot him after a chaotic ambush -- and dozens of officers knew it.

Tillman's death received worldwide attention because he had walked away from a huge contract with the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Lynch, as a 21-year-old Army supply clerk, became one of the most visible faces of the war when she was rescued from an Iraqi hospital after being captured by Iraqi forces on April 1, 2003. She had been among six members of her convoy captured during an attack; 11 US soldiers were killed during the fighting.

Her videotaped rescue by special forces branded Lynch a hero at a time the US war effort seemed bogged down. It also stirred complaints of government media manipulation.

It wasn't clear if the committee planned to call officials with knowledge of the cases to testify during the hearing on possible cases of misinformation.

Chaired by Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat who has been a frequent Bush administration critic, the committee has launched several investigations since Democrats took power in Congress in January. It has not issued subpoenas in any of its probes, which have included one into the administration's claims that Iraq sought uranium from Niger and another into contacts between lobbyist Jack Abramoff and the White House.

The House Armed Services Committee is also considering Tillman hearings, a spokeswoman for the panel said Monday.

In all, the Army and Defense Department have conducted five investigations into Tillman's death on April 22, 2004, with the most recent one pointing toward high-ranking military officers knowing the circumstances of his death long before Tillman's family.

"After successive failed Department of Defense and Army inquiries, only a comprehensive, unrelenting congressional investigation can do justice to Pat's memory, and restore service members' confidence in their chain of command," said Representative Mike Honda, a Democrat whose district in San Jose, Calif., includes the Tillman family. "I will not rest until the unvarnished truth -- no matter where it leads -- is brought to light."

One top-ranking officer, Major General Stanley McChrystal, tried to warn President Bush a week after Tillman's death to avoid repeating in speeches the official Army line: that Tillman had been killed by enemy forces. McChrystal knew an investigation would probably conclude it was friendly fire, according to internal Pentagon memos obtained by The Associated Press.

The White House says Bush never got the message from McChrystal, who still heads military special operations. But General John Abizaid, chief of Central Command at the time, did get the information before the family.

"The deception surrounding this case was an insult to the family," Tillman's relatives said in a statement after the Pentagon's findings were disclosed March 26, "but more importantly, its primary purpose was to deceive a whole nation.

"Perhaps subpoenas are necessary to elicit candor and accuracy from the military."

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