The worst way you can further exacerbate the pain survivors of a fallen soldier feel, is to keep them wondering why and how their loved one died. Now past three years since former NFL star Pat Tillman died in Afghanistan, his mother, Mary Tillman, and her family do not have answers. Unfortunately, documents meant to put the investigation into his death to rest are only bringing up more painful questions, rather than calming them. What's worse is that the case could start to have serious repercussions with internal confidence in the Armed Forces.
Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that among the files on the case that the news agency obtained were details of Army medical examiners being unable to convince the military to look into whether Tillman was intentionally killed. According to the documents, the wounds they found were inconsistent with the government's original official story that Tillman was cut down by Afghan fighters and looked more like he was killed by an American M-16 just a mere 10 yards away.
After an investigation, the government changed the story -- that Tillman was a victim of friendly fire, an honest mistake, because he was mistaken for the enemy. The recent revelations now cast this conclusion into serious doubt. You don't mistake someone from 10 yards away. But, was it murder or negligence? Was this a deliberate homicide?
President Bush is not helping at all. With these new details, and his decision to invoke executive privilege in the Tillman investigation, the president is certainly sending the signal that he has something to hide.
It is inevitable, then, that unless the president comes clean, rumors about Tillman's death will take hold. By stonewalling, there is no way to stop people from wondering, "Was the man the White House used to promote the war ordered to be killed because he was becoming increasingly critical of the war in Iraq?" It was well known that Tillman was critical of the decision to go to war, and had often read and quoted Noam Chomsky. I don't personally believe such a conspiracy to be the case, but until the president comes clean, rumors like that will continue to grow. Every officer knows that if a soldier in their command is killed they must write the family and tell them the truth, for exactly that reason. Why can't the man who sent Pat Tillman to war, and used his death for political gain, have the courage to tell a family what happened to their son?
Ultimately, besides causing unfair pain to the Tillman family, the president is perilously close to doing severe damage to the military with his bullheadedness. If America looks at the Tillman case and concludes that the military cannot be trusted to tell the truth and take care of its own, and that the White House is an enabler of that behavior, public confidence in our fine military will wane.
Recruiters rely on the family members like mothers and fathers to allow their 18-year olds to sign up. The longer this festers and the longer questions linger, these families and our young people will lose their will to serve our country. Who gives their child to country that doesn't honor their sacrifice? We don't need new hurdles to recruiting like that, at a time when we desperately need to increase the size of our active duty component. Additionally, those already in the military will lose faith that the leadership actually gives a damn about them, as the Tillman case becomes a hot topic in chow halls. Morale and confidence in the institution will crumble.
In the Army, we have a saying: Good units have problems, but great units fix them. In other words, we're largely judged in the military by how we are able to step up, accept responsibility, and correct problems, because problems that are allowed to fester are unacceptable. Unfortunately, the Tillman case just extends the pattern from this president of being unwilling or unable to step up and fix problems.
In that sense, this president, everyday, firms up his legacy as the worst Commander-in-Chief this nation has ever seen.
(Crossposted at ThinkProgress)