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Pat Tillman's Parents Accuse General Of Covering Up Circumstances Of His Death

LARA JAKES   05/12/09 10:28 PM ET   AP

Afghanistan General

WASHINGTON — The parents of slain Army Ranger and NFL star Pat Tillman voiced concerns Tuesday that the general who played a role in mischaracterizing his death could be put in charge of military operations in Afghanistan.

In a brief interview with The Associated Press, Pat Tillman Sr. accused Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal of covering up the circumstances of the 2004 slaying.

"I do believe that guy participated in a falsified homicide investigation," Pat Tillman Sr. said.

Separately, Mary Tillman called it "imperative" that McChrystal's record be carefully considered before he is confirmed.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Defense Secretary Robert Gates has complete confidence in McChrystal, whom he hopes can be confirmed by the Senate before month's end.

"We feel terrible for what the Tillman family went through, but this matter has been investigated thoroughly by the Pentagon, by the Congress, by outside experts, and all of them have come to the same conclusion: that there was no wrongdoing by Gen. McChrystal," Morrell said.

Aides to the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will consider the nomination, said they were unaware of any opposition to McChrystal.

McChrystal, a former "black ops" special forces chief credited with nabbing one of the most-wanted fugitives in Iraq, was tapped Monday to lead U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. If confirmed by the Senate, he would replace Gen. David McKiernan, who was fired in an unusual wartime shake-up.

In April 2004, McChrystal approved paperwork awarding Tillman a Silver Star after he was killed by enemy fire _ even though he suspected the Ranger had died by fratricide, according to Pentagon testimony later obtained by the AP.

The testimony showed that McChrystal sent a memo to top generals imploring "our nation's leaders," specifically the president, to avoid cribbing the "devastating enemy fire" explanation from the award citation for their speeches. In 2007, the Army overruled a Pentagon recommendation that McChrystal be held accountable for his "misleading" actions.

In a book published last year, Mary Tillman accused McChrystal of helping create the false story line that she said "diminished Pat's true actions."

Her one-sentence e-mail to the AP on Tuesday said: "It is imperative that Lt. General McChrystal be scrutinized carefully during the Senate hearings."

Last year, however, the Senate unanimously approved promoting McChrystal from a two-star general to a three-star general as director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff.

Similarly, this time around, Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., "does not foresee any problems with Gen. McChrystal's confirmation" with the committee, a Levin aide said Tuesday.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the committee's top Republican, backs the decision to change leadership in Afghanistan and will support McChrystal's nomination, said Brooke Buchanan, a McCain spokeswoman.

McCain was highly critical of the Army's handling of the Tillman investigation, and in April 2007 he called the service's actions "inexcusable and unconscionable."

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Filed by Marcus Baram  |