2 years after soldier’s death, family’s battle is with Army

Pat Tillman's family wants answers

Corporal Pat Tillman, KIA in Afghanistan from Friendly Fire

by Monica Davey and Eric Schmitt, NY Times

SAN JOSE, Calif. Patrick K. Tillman stood outside his law office here, staring intently at a yellow house across the street, just over 70 yards away. That, he recalled, is how far away his eldest son, Pat, who gave up a successful N.F.L. career to become an Army Ranger, was standing from his fellow Rangers when they shot him dead in Afghanistan almost two years ago.

Seven Rangers have received administrative disciplines a pay cut, a loss of rank or a return to the rank-and-file Army but the criminal inquiry is for the first time examining whether the soldiers broke military law when they failed to identify their targets before firing on Corporal Tillman’s position. The earlier reviews found that a chain of circumstances and errors had led to the deaths of Corporal Tillman and an Afghan soldier fighting alongside the Americans.

The decision to split the unit into two convoys, for example, was a crucial, and perhaps fatal, one. Brig. Gen. Gary M. Jones, who led the most recent of the three Army reviews, concluded that the decision was a result of “miscommunication” among several officers…

But at least one Army officer, the records show, changed his sworn statements about which supervisor had actually ordered the split and what conversations had occurred before the order was given.

Even the soldier who conducted the military’s first review of Corporal Tillman’s death in the hours and days immediately afterward expressed concern about the changes in the accounts.

That soldier, whose name, like many others, was redacted from the Army files provided to The Times by Mr. Tillman, said he believed Rangers had changed their versions of what happened and were not receiving the “due just punishment” for what he concluded was “gross negligence.”

The stories, he said in a sworn statement as part of General Jones’s subsequent review, “have changed to, I think, help some individuals.”

“The other difficult thing, though, was watching some of these guys getting off with what I thought was a lesser of a punishment than what they should’ve received,” the soldier who conducted the first inquiry said.

Among a number of conflicts in the descriptions of what happened, some Rangers said that in the dusk they could see nothing more than “shapes” and “muzzle flashes” even as Corporal Tillman tried to tell his colleagues who he was, waving his arms, setting off a smoke grenade signal and calling out. Others said they had seen and aimed for the Afghan fighter, his “dark face” and his AK-47.

After the shooting, the Rangers destroyed evidence that would be considered critical in any criminal case, the records show. They burned Corporal Tillman’s uniform and his body armor.

Months later, the Rangers involved said they did not intend to destroy evidence. “It was a hygiene issue,” one soldier wrote. “They were starting to stink.”

Another soldier involved offered a slightly different take, saying “the uniform and equipment had blood on them and it would stir emotion” that needed to be suppressed until the Rangers finished their work overseas.

“How could they do that?” Mr. Tillman said. “That makes no sense.”

The family still wants to know, he said, what became of Corporal Tillman’s diary. It was never returned to the family, he said.

Ms. Tillman said her family could not rest until they knew what really happened. All of it, Ms. Tillman said, has left her wondering what other families who have lost service members in Iraq and Afghanistan may really know about the circumstances. In addition to Corporal Tillman, at least 16 service members have died in Afghanistan and Iraq as a result of shootings or bombings by fellow Americans, and none of the deaths, so far, have led to criminal convictions.

“This is how they treat a family of a high-profile individual,” she said. “How are they treating others?”

Col. Joseph Curtin, an Army spokesman, said the Tillmans deserved answers.

“We deeply regret their loss,” Colonel Curtin said, “and will continue to answer their questions in a truthful and forthright manner.”


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VIAby Monica Davey and Eric Schmitt
SOURCENew York Times
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