I remember where I was when I found out that American hero Pat Tillman had been killed in Afghanistan. The football star, who gave up his career to join the Army Rangers, was an inspirational story of American patriotism, and his untimely death shook the country.
I also remember where I was when I first heard that his death had been the result of friendly fire, not a firefight with the enemy, as the American people and the Tillman family had been led to believe.
And so I find it totally implausible that anyone at the DOD or the White House would have trouble recounting when they first learned that the Army's favorite son was killed by friendly fire, or what they did with that information. And yet, when they're not expanding the definition of executive privilege, administration officials seem to suffer selective amnesia:
According to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, "I don't recall when I was told and I don't recall who told me."
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers testified, "I knew right at the end of April, that there was a possibility of fratricide in the Corporal Tillman death." And despite it being "logical" for him to pass this news on to Rumsfeld, Myers said, "I just don't recall whether I did it or not."
Thanks to this "near universal lack of recall" by top White House officials and military brass, Congress is not even close to being able to answer the question of who was responsible for the web of misinformation surrounding the friendly fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman.
The few details that are clear about the Tillman cover-up are almost as awful as the cover-up itself. While General Myers can't remember if he notified Secretary Rumsfeld, he made sure his Public Affairs advisor was up to date on the investigation. I guess a PR nightmare in-waiting deserved more attention than fulfilling his most basic responsibilities to the family of the deceased. And insult was added to injury as the White House mismanaged its response, by rushing to put its press release out before the 24-hour grieving period mandated by the DOD was complete, and neglecting to find out whether information about his death was classified. Apparently, White House press releases can operate independently of OPSEC.
But what is worst, to me, is that all these years later, no one is willing to admit, "Yes. I was informed it might be friendly fire. I should have stopped the press release. I should have called up the chain of command. I should have spoken to the president. And I didn't."
The profound cowardice of some top brass stands in such marked contrast to the bravery of the men and women they commanded. These officials felt brave enough to send our military into battle, and yet not one of them has the strength of character to look Pat's mother, Mary Tillman, in the face, and say they are sorry. This is unconscionable.
After seven separate military investigations, numerous congressional hearings, and one exhaustive (if inconclusive) report from Congress, the Tillman family is still looking for answers. While we may never know what really happened on that fateful day in April 2004, we do know that Pat Tillman was an honorable and courageous American -- one that we will continue to mourn and honor.
For all those who want to do more, visit the Pat Tillman Foundation website here.
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