Monday, May 23, 2005

Dead Soldier's Parents Strike Back

The Washington Post has a major story on the front page today: Tillman's Parents Are Critical Of Army
Former NFL player Pat Tillman's family is lashing out against the Army, saying that the military's investigations into Tillman's friendly-fire death in Afghanistan last year were a sham and that Army efforts to cover up the truth have made it harder for them to deal with their loss.

More than a year after their son was shot several times by his fellow Army Rangers on a craggy hillside near the Pakistani border, Tillman's mother and father said in interviews that they believe the military and the government created a heroic tale about how their son died to foster a patriotic response across the country. They say the Army's "lies" about what happened have made them suspicious, and that they are certain they will never get the full story.

"Pat had high ideals about the country; that's why he did what he did," Mary Tillman said in her first lengthy interview since her son's death. "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."
Sure it is! How could it not be? The fact that lying has become a way of life for the military doesn't make it any less disgusting, does it?
Tillman, a popular player for the Arizona Cardinals, gave up stardom in the National Football League after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to join the Army Rangers with his brother. After a tour in Iraq, their unit was sent to Afghanistan in spring 2004, where they were to hunt for the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Shortly after arriving in the mountains to fight, Tillman was killed in a barrage of gunfire from his own men, mistaken for the enemy as he got into position to defend them.

Immediately, the Army kept the soldiers on the ground quiet and told Tillman's family and the public that he was killed by enemy fire while storming a hill, barking orders to his fellow Rangers. After a public memorial service, at which Tillman received the Silver Star, the Army told Tillman's family what had really happened, that he had been killed by his own men.

In separate interviews in their home town of San Jose and by telephone, Tillman's parents, who are divorced, spoke about their ordeal with the Army with simmering frustration and anger. A series of military investigations have offered differing accounts of Tillman's death. The most recent report revealed more deeply the confusion and disarray surrounding the mission he was on, and more clearly showed that the family had been kept in the dark about details of his death.

The latest investigation, written about by The Washington Post earlier this month, showed that soldiers in Afghanistan knew almost immediately that they had killed Tillman by mistake in what they believed was a firefight with enemies on a tight canyon road. The investigation also revealed that soldiers later burned Tillman's uniform and body armor.

That information was slow to make it back to the United States, the report said, and Army officials here were unaware that his death on April 22, 2004, was fratricide when they notified the family that Tillman had been shot.

Over the next 10 days, however, top-ranking Army officials -- including the theater commander, Army Gen. John P. Abizaid -- were told of the reports that Tillman had been killed by his own men, the investigation said. But the Army waited until a formal investigation was finished before telling the family -- which was weeks after a nationally televised memorial service that honored Tillman on May 3, 2004.

Patrick Tillman Sr., a San Jose lawyer, said he is furious about what he found in the volumes of witness statements and investigative documents the Army has given to the family. He decried what he calls a "botched homicide investigation" and blames high-ranking Army officers for presenting "outright lies" to the family and to the public.

"After it happened, all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this," Patrick Tillman said. "They purposely interfered with the investigation, they covered it up. I think they thought they could control it, and they realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out. They blew up their poster boy."
Patrick Tillman isn't the first one to accuse "people in positions of authority" of "scripting" scenes from this war. And your lowly and nearly frozen blogger has written about this kind of thing before, too (here and here, for example). Funny how the more things change the more they stay the same.
Army spokesmen maintain that the Army has done everything it can to keep the family informed about the investigation, offering to answer relatives' questions and going back to them as investigators gathered more information.
Yeah, sure they did! What do you expect them to say? Do you expect them to admit the truth?

No, you should never expect them to admit the truth. Telling the truth is not their job. Their job is killing people. That's what the military is, and that's what it's for. It's not for liberating people from their dictatorial regime. It's not for nation-building. It's not even for peace-keeping. It's for ruining things and destroying people. Let's never forget that.
Army officials said Friday that the Army "reaffirms its heartfelt sorrow to the Tillman family and all families who have lost loved ones during this war." Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, an Army spokesman, said the Army acts with compassion and heartfelt commitment when informing grieving families, often a painful duty.

"In the case of the death of Corporal Patrick Tillman, the Army made mistakes in reporting the circumstances of his death to the family," Brooks said. "For these, we apologize. We cannot undo those early mistakes."
I love the smell of bullshit in the morning! It smells like ... victory!!

Oh come on, General Brooks. Why don't you throw away your cushy job and your hefty retirement package and tell the bloody truth for a change? Mr. and Mrs. Tillman were not supposed to notice that the death of their son was being used to create a fictional heroic aura about the bumbling bloody fools who accidentally killed their own guy, and one of their best guys, too. It's bad enough that the military refuses to admit its mistakes until it is absolutely cornered. But trying to spin one of their worst mistakes into a heroic tale... is enough to make any honest patriot sick! Fortunately there are still a few of those around.
Patrick Tillman Sr. believes he will never get the truth, and he says he is resigned to that now. But he wants everyone in the chain of command, from Tillman's direct supervisors to the one-star general who conducted the latest investigation, to face discipline for "dishonorable acts." He also said the soldiers who killed his son have not been adequately punished.

"Maybe lying's not a big deal anymore," he said. "Pat's dead, and this isn't going to bring him back. But these guys should have been held up to scrutiny, right up the chain of command, and no one has."

That their son was famous opened up the situation to problems, the Tillmans say, in part because of the devastating public relations loss his death represented for the military. Mary Tillman says the government used her son for weeks after his death, perpetuating an untrue story to capitalize on his altruism -- just as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal was erupting publicly. She said she was particularly offended when President Bush offered a taped memorial message to Tillman at a Cardinals football game shortly before the presidential election last fall. She again felt as though her son was being used, something he never would have wanted.
I have to say I think Mr. Tillman is right. Lying really isn't a big deal anymore ... the military lies without compunction [and sometimes they will even admit it], and the White House does it too. Then the major American media echoes the lies until it seems that they will reverberate forever.

Most of the time. But not always. Every once in a while a brave an honest patriot steps forward. And every now and then a member of the major media pushes a story about the war-deception to the forefront of the nation's news diet. Or tries to anyway. Thanks and best wishes to the Tillman family. And thanks to the Washington Post, not only for running this story but especially for putting it on the front page.

Perhaps the country will start to realize how badly it has been misled, and how horribly it has been abused. Perhaps this very sad story will be one of the many forces which move the country in the direction it now needs to go: toward skepticism about its government, toward a renewal of interest in its foreign and domestic policies, toward a badly-needed increase in energy for things political. Perhaps, this very ill nation will begin to regain its mental health. If all these things happen -- if any of these things happen -- then perhaps Pat Tillman will not have died in vain.