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Friendly Fire Ambush
Sergeant Patrick R. McCaffrey, Sr. and First Lieutenant Andre D. Tyson died on this day two years ago in Balad, Iraq. Back then, military officials reported that enemy insurgents ambushed them. The Army subsequently conducted an investigation and learned the men were targeted and killed by Iraqi troops they were training.
Although the Army completed its investigation on September 30, 2005, it failed to clarify the initial notification to the families for nine months. It took a May 22 letter from Senator Barbara Boxer’s office to force the Army to finally come clean.
A month before he died, Patrick told his father that Iraqi forces they were training had attacked his unit. When he filed a complaint with his chain of command, Patrick "was told to keep his mouth shut," his mother said.
After Patrick died, his parents conducted their own investigations. The Army denied requests to see autopsy reports. The McCaffreys persisted. They talked to soldiers in their son’s unit and managed to learn what really happened.
Bob McCaffrey was informed by members of his son’s company that insurgents were offering Iraqi soldiers about $100 for each American they could kill. "Iraqi troops are turning on their American counterparts," Bob said. "That puts a knock in the spin that the White House is trying to put on this story — how the Iraqis are being well trained and are getting ready to take over."
Nadia McCaffrey learned that after her son was shot, a US truck arrived. It picked up Lt. Tyson, who was dead, but did not take her son who was still alive. The truck returned later and took him to the base, where he bled to death.
Yesterday, Brig. Gen. Oscar Hilman and three other officers visited Patrick’s mother to deliver the official report. "It was overwhelming," Nadia told me. I had to live through the whole thing again."
The officers "tried to patronize me as a good Mom," she added. "I said I won’t stand for that. I want the truth!"
When Nadia talked to Army officers yesterday she asked them, "How could you possibly let this happen"? They sat silent.
An Army official cited the "complexity" of the case as an excuse for the delay in telling the families how their sons really died, according to the Los Angeles Times.
"They never tell the family the truth," said Ophelia Tyson, grandmother of Andre Tyson. "You know how politics is."
"I really want this story to come out; I want people to know what happened to my son," Nadia said. "There is no doubt to me that this is still happening to soldiers today, but our chain of command is awfully reckless; they don’t seem to give a damn about what’s happening to soldiers."
The father of two children, Patrick joined the National Guard the day after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He was the first combat death in the 58 year history of California’s 579 Engineer Battalion, based in Petaluma, Ca. Patrick was listed as "Casualty number 848." That was 1652 deaths ago.
"He was killed by the Iraqis that he was training," Nadia said. "People in this country need to know that."
"It’s god-awful," said Bob, himself an Army veteran. "It underlies the lie of this whole situation in Iraq. It’s all to me a pack of lies."
Boxer noted, "You have to ask yourself, ‘What are we doing there with a blank check and a blind eye, when our soldiers are risking their lives for the Iraqi people and the Iraqis are turning around and killing our soldiers?’ We need an exit strategy."
MARJORIE COHN is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president-elect of the National Lawyers Guild.