Inside the Labyrinth of Lies: the Cover-Up of Pat Tillman’s Death
Part 3 (concluding) of The Fog of Fame: the Death of Pat Tillman.
There is the cover-up (of the fratricide). There is the original lie (that Pat was killed in an intense combat engagement). There is the layering of plausible denial in case the stories unravel.
The motives of the spin-meisters were to pin a recruiting poster to Pat’s coffin. The motive of the cover-up (at least one of them) was to preserve the mystique of the US Army Rangers — the elite of the infantry — as flawless, disciplined, steely-eyed commandos.
Motives for covering up? Which part?
Now there is the lie that "we didn’t know until late May." Finally, there is the highly probable lie that President George W. Bush didn’t know until late May either.
The Waxman Committee was advised by the family to subpoena every scrap of paper from Rumsfeld’s or DeRita’s office beginning April 15 and ending May 15 2004. Therein is the likely paper trail of command directives to show the metrics of "progress in Afghanistan," and therein is the paper trail of notification about the circumstances of Pat’s death and the further directives on how to handle it. The subpoenas, as far as we can tell, were never issued.
The first key mistake in covering up was a paper trail to the false script: the Silver Star award, with its false narrative and its construction in violation of the process required by Army Regulations.
Silver Star citation:
During a ground assault convoy in Afghanistan Tillman’s platoon was split into two sections. Tillman was the team leader of the lead section when the trail section began receiving suppressive mortar and small arms fire. The nature of the cavernous terrain made it extremely difficult to target enemy positions and there was no room for the trail element to maneuver out of the kill zone.
Although Tillman’s element was already safely out of the area under fire Tillman ordered his team to dismount and maneuver his team up a hill towards the enemy’s location.
As Tillman crested the hill he maneuvered his team into positions and himself with the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) returned suppressive fire.
Through the firing Tillman’s voice was issuing fire commands to take the fight to the enemy on the dominating high ground.
Only after his team engaged a well-armed enemy did it appear their fires diminished.
While Tillman focused his efforts, and those of his team members without regard to his personal safety he was shot and killed
The second key mistake was the attempt to conceal the original investigation, conducted by Captain Richard Scott.
At the US Army Criminal Investigation Division briefing that I attended with the Tillman family in March this year, Army officials stated categorically that a report from the original investigation by Captain Scott "does not exist." They said that more than once, and they were emphatic.
Dannie Tillman now has a copy of the Scott Report, and so do I.
AORG-SN-CO (15-6) 29 April 2004
MEMORANDUM FOR Commander. 2nd Battalion. 75th Ranger Regiment
SUBJECT: AR 15-6 Final Report
Purpose: To investigate the events and circumstances surrounding the death of CPL Patrick D. Tillman
etc etc etc
When the Tillmans left that briefing calling them liars, the Army CID officials acted like Dannie Tillman had just shot their favorite dog. Amazing… like they were being victimized by this little woman.
The Army was perfectly justified in doing a second "AR-15-6 investigation." Scott’s report stated:
Serial Two [the Albatross Section, in particular Staff Sergeant Baker's vehicle] continued to fire their weapons systems without positively identifying enemy forces once they got out of the enemy’s kill zone and mistakenly fired on friendly forces on the ridgeline. Most notable was the lead GMV [ground mobility vehicle] led by SSG Baker. By the time they were approaching the ridgeline where friendly forces were positioned; [sic] Serial Two was not receiving enemy fire. In fact, Serial Two never received effective enemy fire throughout the entire enemy contact.
He states clearly that Baker violated the ROE at a minimum, resulting in the deaths of two men. He later uses the radioactive word "negligent." ROE violations and negligent homicide are charges that could result in a General Court Martial; and that requires by regulation an investigation by a minimum O-5 (Lieutenant Colonel). No rank below LTC can act as something called a General Court Martial Convening Authority (GCMCA). So tasking Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich (the 75th Ranger Regiment’s Executive Officer) with a subsequent investigation is strictly according to Hoyle.
The problem was the phony Silver Star citation (where the cover-up and lie converged on paper). The original report was “disappeared” and when the new report was finished, statements had been changed to "mitigate" for the shooters, and the "fog of war" fabrications about light conditions, combat intensity, and distances.
The entire 2nd Ranger Battalion in Khowst (at least 400 men) knew before May Day — via the Ranger grapevine — what had happened. The whole unit was then given an order to speak to no one at any time under any circumstances about "the Tillman incident." They were threatened with jail if they did. The notice was even posted in the rear at Fort Lewis to silence rear detachment personnel. This battalion was due to rotate back to Fort Lewis, Washington (near Tacoma) in late May; and it finally dawned on the chains of command that this was an untenable secret. Rangers (mostly kids between 19-25) come home and vent to wives. They drink in local bars. They have loud conversations in public places. Anyone possessed of a bad conscience can make an anonymous call to the press.
This is likely when a certain panic began to set in. Anyone with a brain could figure out two things:
(1) the Army was going to have to ‘fess up before the Rangers returned, and
(2) the Silver Star award narrative was already out there, irretrievable… like a blood trail leading back to its authors.
Bush and Rumsfeld were already looking for some distance. The backup plan that developed was to announce the fratricide, then shut up and ride it out.
RELEASE NUMBER: 040528-01
DATE POSTED: MAY 28, 2004
MEDIA ADVISORY: USASOC to release Tillman investigation results during May 29 press statement, U.S. Army Special Operations Command Public Affairs Office
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (USASOC News Service, May 28, 2004) — The U.S. Army Special Operations Command will announce information about the death of Cpl. Patrick D. Tillman during a press statement here May 29.
Lt. Gen. Philip R. Kensinger, USASOC’s commanding general, will address the media at Stryker Golf Course at 9 A.M. The statement will concern a completed military investigation into the circumstances of Tillman’s April 22 death in Afghanistan.
Kensinger will depart after concluding his statement and will not be available to take questions.
FOR THE MEDIA: Members of the media who wish to attend the ceremony should arrive at Fort Bragg’s Stryker Golf Course no earlier than 8 a.m. Parking for media personnel will be reserved on the left side of Stryker’s parking lot, with the row closest to the clubhouse set aside for live trucks.
Live feeds will be permitted during the press statement. However, organizations wishing to conduct a live stand-up must depart Stryker prior to doing so.
Live stand-up locations are located at either end of Bragg Boulevard, in front of the “Welcome to Fort Bragg” signs. Media will not be allowed to remain at Stryker Golf Course, as this will disrupt golf course operations.
RELEASE NUMBER: 040529-01
DATE POSTED: MAY 29, 2004
PRESS STATEMENT: USASOC announces Tillman investigation results U.S. Army Special Operations Command Public Affairs Office
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (USASOC News Service, May 29, 2004) — The U.S. Army Special Operations Command announced information about the death of Cpl. Patrick D. Tillman during a press statement here May 29.
Lt. Gen. Philip R. Kensinger Jr., USASOC’s commanding general, addressed the media at Stryker Golf Course at 9 A.M. The statement concerned a completed military investigation into the circumstances of Tillman’s April 22 death in Afghanistan and is presented below in transcript format.
PRESS STATEMENT BY LT. GEN. PHILIP R. KENSINGER JR. DELIVERED AT 9:15 A.M., MAY 29 AT STRYKER GOLF COURSE, FORT BRAGG, N.C.
Good morning. I would like to make a brief statement on the events surrounding the death of Corporal Pat Tillman April 22 in Afghanistan. I will not be taking questions.
A military investigation by U.S. Central Command into the circumstances of the 22 April death of Corporal Patrick Tillman is complete.
While there was no one specific finding of fault, the investigation results indicate that Corporal Tillman probably died as a result of friendly fire while his unit was engaged in combat with enemy forces.
The results of this investigation in no way diminish the bravery and sacrifice displayed by Corporal Tillman. [This is a bald-faced effort to grandfather in a cover for the fraudulent Silver Star award narrative. -SG] Corporal Tillman was shot and killed while responding to enemy fire without regard for his own safety. He focused his efforts on the elimination of enemy forces and the protection of his team members. There is an inherent degree of confusion in any firefight, particularly when a unit is ambushed, and especially under difficult light and terrain conditions which produce an environment that increases the likelihood of fratricide.
Corporal Tillman’s platoon was ambushed with small arms and mortar fire at about 7:30 p.m. local time while conducting combat operations in the vicinity of Khowst, Afghanistan. The enemy ambush was immediately responded to by a coalition patrol including Corporal Tillman with direct fire, and an intense firefight lasting approximately 20 minutes ensued.
The ambush was conducted by 10 to 12 enemy personnel from multiple locations over approximately one kilometer in very severe and constricted terrain with impaired light conditions. Following initial contact, Corporal Tillman disembarked from his vehicle and, in support of his unit, moved into position to suppress enemy fire.
We regret the loss of life resulting from this tragic incident. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the Tillman family.
Thank you all for being here this morning.
May 29, 2004. The die is cast. Kensinger is placed in the center. Sworn statements in the investigative documents suggest the Kensinger kicked and screamed not to be the one to deliver this press briefing. But he was given his orders; he recited dutifully; and now he will be looking for his out.
Meanwhile, Kevin Tillman was reassigned to Headquarters Company in his battalion. He is no longer comfortable working in Alpha Company, knowing that one or more of his fellow Alphabots took his brother’s life. Headquarters Company Commander is none other than Captain Richard Scott.
Kevin had begun to interrogate anyone and everyone about what happened. He had been separated from his unit on the scene — before what had happened was sorted out — and redeployed stateside. His unit was commanded not to talk to him about what happened.
Neither he nor his family knew Pat had been killed by fratricide until five weeks after the fact; and he was livid. In a casual conversation with Captain Scott, Kevin repeated a remark he had heard about the investigation. Captain Scott, before he thought, commented, "That’s not what I found in my investigation."
Kevin was stunned.
Another cat was out of the bag.
Cats every damn where.
The tough cat, however, was "Mama T." Dannie. Now that her mistrust of the government was aroused, she sank her teeth into the investigation and has not to this day let go of it. She won’t either. In May,2006, she asked me if I would help "interpret" the military documents. Shortly afterwards, she sent me two news stories she’d tracked down.
General Myers Visits Afghanistan
April 16, 2004
KABUL, Afghanistan – Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, headed to Afghanistan on Friday amid a stepped up campaign to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and a growing urgency to stabilize the country for historic elections.
His visit comes one day after an audiotape purportedly recorded in the past few weeks by bin Laden offered European nations a truce if they pull troops out of Muslim countries and vowed violence against the United States and Israel.
The al-Qaida chief and his right-hand man, Egyptian surgeon Ayman al-Zawahri, are believed hiding in the craggy mountains between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but a 2 1/2 year dragnet has failed to catch them. The military recently pulled back from predictions that bin Laden would be caught sometime this year.
In the past month, Washington has sent 2,000 Marines to Afghanistan to beef up a U.S.-led force that had already numbered 13,000 soldiers. The military has vowed a sweeping spring offensive to crush Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for September.
The United Nations and others have warned that the elections will fail if security cannot be improved.
Taliban insurgents attacked Afghan soldiers in eastern Khost province, along the border with Pakistan, killing two soldiers and injuring two others, Gen. Khial Bas, the local Afghan military commander, told The Associated Press on Friday. He said nine militants were killed in the exchange of rocket and machine-gun fire on Wednesday …
Okay, pay attention here. “Taliban insurgents attacked Afghan soldiers in eastern Khost province, along the border with Pakistan, killing two soldiers and injuring two others, Gen. Khial Bas, the local Afghan military commander, told The Associated Press on Friday. He said nine militants were killed in the exchange of rocket and machine-gun fire on Wednesday … ”
Now read this:
Ex-NFL star Tillman makes ‘ultimate sacrifice’
Safety, who gave up big salary to join Army, killed in Afghanistan
NBC, MSNBC and news services
Updated: 3:39 a.m. ET April 26, 2004
WASHINGTON – Pat Tillman, who gave up the glamorous life of a professional football star to join the Army Rangers, was remembered as a role model of courage and patriotism Friday after military officials said he had been killed in action in Afghanistan.
“Pat Tillman was an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. His family is in the thoughts and prayers of President and Mrs. Bush,” Taylor Gross, a spokesman for the White House, said in a statement.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the author of a recent book about courage, said he was “heartbroken” and raised the prospect that “the tragic loss of this extraordinary young man” could be a “heavy blow to our nation’s morale, as it is surely a grievous injury to his loved ones.”
Tillman, 27, was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, based at Fort Lewis, Wash. The battalion was involved in Operation Mountain Storm in southeastern Afghanistan, part of the U.S. campaign against fighters of the al-Qaida terror network and the former Taliban government along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, military officials told NBC News.
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Matthew Beevers said Saturday that Tillman was killed Thursday night in a firefight at about 7 p.m. on a road near Sperah, about 25 miles southwest of a U.S. base at Khost.
After coming under fire, Tillman’s patrol got out of their vehicles and gave chase, moving toward the spot of the ambush. Beevers said the fighting was “sustained” and lasted 15-20 minutes.
Beevers said Tillman was killed by enemy fire, but he had no information about what type of weapons were involved in the assault, or whether he died instantly.
An Afghan militiaman fighting alongside Tillman also was killed, and two other U.S. soldiers were wounded.
A local Afghan commander, Gen. Khial Bas, told The Associated Press that nine enemy fighters were killed in the confrontation.
Bas said six other enemy fighters were believed to have escaped. Beevers said he had no information about any enemy fighters killed.
Did you get that?
April 16, 2004, six days before Pat Tillman was killed, Afghan militia General Khial Bas is in contact, when two “allies” are killed along with two wounded, and nine “insurgents” are killed in the confrontation.
April 22, 2004, Afghan militia General Khial Bas was not only with Pat Tillman and the Black Sheep Platoon, but the two wounded are 1LT Uthlaut and RTO Jade Lane, the two killed are Pat Tillman and an Afghan militiaman – who even the Department of Defense hasn’t seen fit to identify with his actual name, and the intrepid militia of said General Bas prove again that they have the remarkable ability to kill exactly nine enemy in each confrontation.
The latter story was given out by the Public Affairs Officer in Kabul, Matthew Beevers. Some overworked, under-slept E-5 writing that day’s scripted message slipped up and mixed the boilerplates. The point is, there was no attention being paid to real events except to re-script them. The “official” statement is always, first and last, designed to prop up a public perception, not inform or educate the public … far from it.
This kind of thing happens when too many cooks are in the kitchen and supper is late. There were already a lot of cooks in the kitchen in April 2004, and Pat’s death by fratricide constituted a major emergency for them all.
This was triage by committee.
Bas was not with Pat; and nine enemy were not killed during the engagement on April 22nd.
Dannie Tillman was now onto them, and onto them good.
We cannot claim perfect accuracy for this account any more than any other journalistic organ can, because the witnesses themselves were making eyewitness accounts, the original statements by the participants were not made for days after the incident, and the original investigation was torn up when it proved too politically sensitive to ever see the light of day. The statements taken during the second investigation, where the investigating officer had a tremendous conflict of interest, had been altered.
The case that we are making here is – in legal jargon – circumstantial. The case for which the Department of Defense has settled so far is based on eyewitness statements, some of which have changed and many of which were obviously being coached and led when one reads the transcripts of the interviews – and we have all of them from the second and third iteration of investigation. It needs to be pointed out, since the military is hiding behind legal customs and cultural biases about evidence, that the record of accuracy for circumstantial evidence is acutely stronger than that for eyewitness testimony.
The association of physical evidence with time-space correlations is what circumstantial evidence is. If I have purchased a gun at store X at 3:15 PM on a given day, twenty miles from my home, and an ATM machine records a withdrawal by me one block from the store at 3 PM, that does not “prove” that I bought the gun… but it sure as hell places me within range of the gun store at the right time.
If the gun store owner is asked who was at the store at 3:15 on that day, and can he identify me, when even a few days have passed, what exactly will he remember… really? How many readers can remember exactly what happened yesterday at 3:15 PM?
In fact, studies suggest that as many as 5,000 wrongful convictions happen in the US each year based on eyewitness testimony.
That is why I made the provocative claim that law – and the legalism that is used as a cover by public officials – is not science-based. It is the manifestation of custom and precedent, and it has a deeply religious character – complete with church-like courtrooms designed to inspire awe and obedience, incantations to ritualize its activity, and even priestly robes for the presiding judges.
A trial, for example, is one exercise of the law. The so-called objectivity of the law, which pretends it has no point of view, renders the law a mirror of the status-quo.
Every assumption that holds sway, with or without the formal recognition of the law, enters the courtroom, then, as a fact of nature – a universality, something above and immune from the actual living bodies and all their turbulent histories in the courtroom. This is why every trial that purports to be objective is a lie. This reflection of the status quo that calls itself objectivity, and pretends it has no point of view, reflects power … then surrounds that power in a force field of invisibility.
I want to look behind that legalism, to establish, as far as possible, what the circumstances were before, during, and after the actual firefight, and give the public a peek at the muttering functionaries behind the legal curtain of the Great Oz.
There is no way to understand what happened once Pat Tillman fell on April 22 without tearing down that curtain, without rejecting the myth of legal “objectivity.”
We will begin, instead, with the denied reality that Pat Tillman’s death was an “emergency” on multiple scales. We will not begin with the disingenuousness and selective amnesia of the boss.
What were these emergencies, and for whom?
On April 22, the day Pat was killed, Rumsfeld was chastising the press for not telling the public the “good news” about what was happening in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said that because there was no good news… unless you were a partisan of the Iraqi resistance or an opium farmer in Afghanistan.
Lawrence Di Rita will be remembered, if at all, by history as the guy who was selected to publicly deny that there was any evidence available to the Pentagon that desecration of the Koran, including putting them in the toilet, was a regular part of detainee abuse in the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp.
Di Rita is the Principle Deputy Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs; but he is also one of Rumsfeld’s closest advisors, a veteran of the Heritage Foundation, one of the premier neo-con think-tanks leading the charge to invade Iraq. Di Rita is a very influential character. There is little doubt that he was intimately involved in the damage control over Pat Tillman being killed by fellow Rangers. Rumsfeld runs the entire Department of Defense; and Lawrence Di Rita is specifically assigned to the chief coordinator of Pentagon perception management.
“In the battle of perception management,” said Di Rita said in December 2004, “where the enemy is clearly using the media to help manage perceptions of the general public, our job is not perception management but to counter the enemy’s perception management.” This was Di Rita’s defense of the Information Operations Roadmap, the same program that replaced the Office of Strategic Influence, the first Pentagon program to plant false stories in the news as part of “operations.”
When Pat Tillman was killed on April 22, 2004, the stories about detainee abuse at Guantanamo Bay were already boiling over, and Di Rita was putting in a lot of late nights on this story. The four “civilians” that were killed and burned in the ambush at Fallujah were not having the desired effect of mobilizing outrage so much as they were drawing attention to the extensive use of mercenaries by the Department of Defense.
That incident then obliged the Rumsfeld Pentagon to demonstrate its collective masculinity by attempting the destruction of the entire city of Fallujah. The attack failed, and a second front opened up in Najaf after US troops killed Shia demonstrators protesting the Coalition Provisional Authority that had arbitrarily shut down one of their newspapers. The Abu Ghraib scandal was to be broken by 60 Minutes on April 28, though the televised news magazine had informed the Pentagon of their intent to air two weeks prior … around April 15.
By the time the news that Pat Tillman had been killed by friendly fire arrived at Di Rita’s and Rumsfeld’s offices, presumably around April 24, the Public Affairs Office was overwhelmed, and the issue had to be triaged. In fact, two forms of triage were in demand:
(1) they had to step on bad news – especially anything that ran counter to the tale of ubiquitous professionalism they needed to counter the recurring stories of US abuse, and
(2) they needed, as Rumsfeld noted on the fateful day, “good news.”
John Abizaid, commander of Central Command, was embroiled in the breaking Abu Ghraib scandal even as he was losing a two-front campaign in Najaf and Fallujah. Someone who was not similarly tangled up would have to handle the Tillman episode for the moment, with only general guidance: no reports on fratricide, not right now, and turn this into something that re-kindles American patriotic feeling for the war.
General Kensinger, presumably, was given the guidance from Abizaid’s staff. Kensinger passed it along to the logical person. Colonel Nixon, who passed it along to the second investigator, his XO, LTC Ralph Kauzlaurich. Before the after-action review was even conducted … commanders had worked out the outlines. A Silver Star and a tale of American heroism. It wouldn’t be until CPT Richard Scott, the HHC/2-75 Company Commander, filed his Article 15-6 investigation findings that people would begin to appreciate how bad this was going to make the entire chain of command look.
He had an emergency. And with that emergency, another troop had one, too. SSG Greg Baker, the NCO in charge of the killer vehicle outside of Manah on April 22nd. Hodne’s creation of a “false sense of urgency” amid the pressure from Rumsfeld’s Pentagon to “show success,” was now paired with Baker’s fate under the cloud of a possible criminal negligence charge that could spread to his whole crew that day, in one report – written by Captain Richard Scott. That report – which was the result of an Article 15-6 investigation that was completed – had to disappear.
And disappear it did.
Until Dannie Tillman, after three years of relentless badgering, choked the "non-existent" report out of the Army. And after three years, Dannie continues to hang on.
Of all the things the Army, the Department of Defense, and the Bush administration didn’t see through the fog of fame that drifted in around the broken body of Pat Tillman, the most formidable danger to their fraudulence, their criminal ambition, and their skulking evasions of responsibility, was a woman. One woman, who could not rescue her son, but who still has it in her power to rescue his memory as the actual person she once pushed into the world.
My rambling here is a rushed and feeble attempt to protect and support her efforts. It’s not tidy. But I had to put some of these things out there. I hope it helps.
STAN GOFF is the author of "Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti" (Soft Skull Press, 2000), "Full Spectrum Disorder" (Soft Skull Press, 2003). He is retired from the United States Army. His blog is at www.stangoff.com.
Goff can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org