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An Investigation Reopens

Why Did Pat Tillman Die?


Paging Mr. Orwell. In explaining why the Army was finally launching a criminal investigation of the April 2004 friendly fire death of NFL star-turned-Army-Ranger Pat Tillman, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace sighed, "Although there is no evidence there was criminal activity the investigators did not specifically look at whether there was criminal activity. In other words, the previous four investigations were flawless except for the fact that they didn,t investigate anything. Now the Army has committed publicly to reexamining the circumstances around Pat Tillman,s death as a formal criminal probe.

The reopening of the case represents a triumph for the Tillman family, particularly Pat,s parents Patrick Sr. and Mary, who have been pushing for a criminal probe for almost two years.

Mary Tillman told the Washington Post Saturday, "The military has had every opportunity to do the right thing and they haven’t. They knew all along that something was seriously wrong and they just wanted to cover it up."

Patrick Sr. has also said, in the past, "They purposely interfered with the investigation, they covered it up. [T]hey 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."

Both Tillmans have remained convinced that there was an extensive and significant cover up around Pat,s death and they don,t need an investigation to tell them so. What they want to know is why. They want to know why it took five weeks for the military to tell them the truth after Pat died. They want to know why Pat,s journal, which he had kept assiduously for years, was destroyed in the aftermath of his death. They want to know why his clothes and other surrounding evidence were burned. They want to know why Pat,s brother, an Army Ranger in close proximity to the incident, was lied to immediately about how Pat fell. They want to know why Pat was given the Silver Star posthumously, which is supposed to be a medal earned for active combat. They want to know why someone concocted the story repeated by endless eulogizers at Pat,s nationally televised funeral about Pat charging up a hill, and falling in a brutal firefight vs. "Taliban guerrillas. They want to know why the truth was withheld from them at their son,s burial even though the completed preliminary investigation had already found that his death had been caused by "an act of gross negligence. The Tillmans want to know why they weren,t told of an early investigator,s report that stated the actions of Tillman,s unit were "characterized by secrecy, mishandling of evidence, and delays in reporting crucial facts about what had happened.

The Inspector General’s review was launched because the Tillmans, by all accounts a private family, chose to reveal an image of their son very at odds with the GI Joe image concocted inside the Pentagon. The Pat Tillman his parents unveiled felt the war in Iraq was "f"ing illegal and counted among his favorite authors anti-imperialist critic Noam Chomsky. He even had a meeting set up with Mr. Chomsky that he was never able to make. This is the same Pat Tillman who turned down the NFL,s millions to join the Army Rangers and "kick ass in Afghanistan. Clearly he was in the process of questioning this. Clearly he was coming to the conclusions that most of the United States – along with the majority of soldiers, not to mention the majority of Iraqis that in the Middle East, the US is not on a project of liberation but occupation.

The Tillmans are justifiably skeptical that the probe will reveal anything new. As Patrick Sr. said, "I think it’s another step. But if you send investigators to reinvestigate an investigation that was falsified in the first place, what do you think you’re going to get?" He,s right, of course, but the fact that the US Army is launching this criminal probe only demonstrates how effective the Tillmans have been in challenging the Pentagon, while being armed with nothing but their outrage. As Col. Joseph Curtin, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon said, "We want to do the right thing for the family. We owe it to the family. We owe them the truth." It,s an amazing admission. With over 2,300 US troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis killed for a Presidential administration,s ambitions and lies, now one family is at last owed "the truth. It,s a start, I suppose.

DAVE ZIRIN’s new book "What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States" is published by Haymarket Books. Check out his revamped website You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by e-mailing Contact him at