Obama chops Afghanistan commander. Gen. David McKiernan replaced by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, for commander of Joint Special Operations Command. McChrystal tried to warn Bush administration about sensitive details in the Pat Tillman killing in Afghanistan but he was ignored.
August 1-2, 2007 -- SPECIAL REPORT -- The Tillman killing: Fratricide or homicide?
Three former high ranking Pentagon officials and one active duty general testified under oath on August 1 before Rep. Henry Waxman's Government Oversight and Government Committee on the April 22, 2004 death in Afghanistan of NFL star-turned-US Army Ranger Pat Tillman. All four witnesses, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, defaulted to the commonly-used and overly-lawyered phrases by Bush administration officials testifying before Congress: "I don't recall" and "I have no recollection of that."
What was witnessed on August 1 concerning the Pentagon's failure to inform the Tillman family and the public about the facts concerning the death of Tillman was an exercise in obfuscation and rampant amnesia by individuals who at one time ran the U.S. war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Even ranking Republican member Tom Davis used the dreaded "conspiracy" word to describe the Pentagon's handling of the Tillman case. Davis said, "There are no good answers to the necessarily tough questions raised about how the facts of this friendly-fire incident were handled, by whom and when. Testimony from our previous hearing, and the results of six separate Army investigations, all show the tragic truth can only fall somewhere between screw-up and cover-up, between rampant incompetence and elaborate conspiracy. And once you're descending that continuum, it almost doesn't matter whether the failure to follow Army regulations about updated casualty reports and prompt family notification was inadvertent, negligent or intentional."
The facts brought forward in today's hearing strongly suggest that the Tillman matter was handled by a cover-up that was intentional.
Rumsfeld testified he does not remember when he learned that the Tillman death was a possible fratricide. Rumsfeld's memory certainly seems to be foggy, at best. Rumsfeld said he recalled that he first learned about the fratricide angle on or about May 20, 2004, from his civilian assistant Robert Rangel who had been informed about it by Rumsfeld's military assistant, Army Colonel Steve Bucci, who had heard about the Tillman fratricide in Iraq, from where Bucci had just returned. It is important to note that Tillman was killed in Afghanistan but details of the Tillman killing were known by some U.S. military personnel in Iraq before Rumsfeld claimed he knew about it. Democratic Rep. Diane Watson of California pointed out that Rumsfeld had often repeated "I don't recall" during his testimony.
The Tillman family was not notified about the fratricide until May 26, 2004.
Rumsfeld also said that he did not recall informing the White House, known for its micro-managing of almost every facet of the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, including the Abu Ghraib and Jessica Lynch cover-ups, about the Tillman fratricide. More amazingly, Rumsfeld testified that he first learned of Tillman's death in the press in April 2004.
Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers said he regretted that the Army "did not do its duty" in the Tillman case and revealed that the Army did not follow its own regulations. However, Myers claimed that he was not in the chain of command for the Tillman matter since it was an Army issue and he served in a joint command activity answerable to the Defense Secretary and National Security Council. Myers said he did not recall talking to the White House about the Tillman matter, although he conceded that public affairs channels may have circulated information about the fratricide between the Pentagon and White House. Brown also said he did not inform the White House about Tillman.
Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, the former commanding general of the US Army's Special Forces Command, was formally censured yesterday by Army Secretary Pete Geren for his "failure of leadership" in the Tillman investigation. Kensinger appears to be the White House's and Republicans' scape goat for the Tillman matter. Kensinger refused to accept a subpoena to testify before the House committee today and his current whereabouts, according to Committee Chairman Waxman, are unknown. Waxman said that U.S. Marshals were unsuccessful in locating Kensinger or serving the subpoena. An independent panel is considering whether to recommend that Kensinger be busted from three stars to two stars as punishment. The star removal was strongly supported by California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, someone whose record includes car theft.
There was much discussion of an April 29, 2004, "P-FOR" or "Personal For" message sent by then-Major General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command and Afghan Task Force, to Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command General Bryan "Doug" Brown, General Kensinger, and Commander of U.S. Central Command Gen. John Abizaid, both headquartered in Tampa, Florida. Abizaid was an "action" addressee on the P-FOR and Kensinger and Brown were "Info" addressees, similar to a cc: addressee. The Tillman P-FOR, a high priority, sensitive, and rare message sent to the commanders and which was not for general distribution, stated that there was a strong likelihood of fratricide in the Tillman death. Rumsfeld testified that he did not recall seeing the P-FOR.
However, the P-FOR from McChrystal said that it was important to let the Defense Secretary and President know about the possibility of fratricide before they made an incorrect and potentially embarrassing statements concerning the death. Abizaid testified that he told Myers that it was "important to let the leadership know" about the P-FOR. Abizaid said he was referring to Rumsfeld and Bush. Abizaid testified that he did not inform the White House about the details of Tillman's death.
The P-FOR was sent four days before the memorial service for Tillman at which the public was told Tillman died as the result of "enemy fire."
Abizaid testified that on April 28, 2004, the day before the P-FOR was sent by McChrystal, Tillman's platoon leader told him that Tillman was killed by enemy fire. However, on the evening of April 22, Tillman's team member Private First Class Bryan O'Neal, reported that he suspected fratricide in Tillman's death. That statement appears in the Army 15-6 report required for all hostile combat deaths. However, someone, whose identity is yet unknown, re-wrote O'Neal's statement to reflect that "Corporal Tillman was killed by the enemy."
However, O'Neal's original statement had been altered to suggest Tillman's death was from enemy fire. O'Neal testified earlier about the alteration before Waxman's committee.
Even after the McChrystal P-FOR was sent to Abizaid and Brown, the Army announced that Tillman would be awarded the Silver Star at his memorial service in May 3, 2004. The Silver Star citation for Tillman said the honor was awarded for "gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States." In answer to a question from Democratic Rep. William "Lacy" Clay from Missouri, Rumsfeld said he did not know who awarded the Silver Star because the Secretary of Defense does not involve himself in that process. Rumsfeld and Myers said the decision was solely that of the Army. Brown and Abizaid also said they did not know who awarded Tillman the Silver Star. Clay informed the witnesses and the committee that the Silver Star for Tillman was awarded by the President of the United States.
Waxman suggested the White House was interested in spinning the Tillman death because it wanted to shift public opinion away from April revelations about prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib to something it could hype: the heroic death of a brave and well known American soldier at the hands of the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Waxman then asked the most famous question in Washington when it comes to scandals: "What did the White House know and when?" Waxman thought it odd that during the time of Tillman's death from what was thought to have been enemy fire, 97 White House officials sent and received hundreds of emails regarding Tillman. Waxman said that weeks later, after friendly fire was admitted, there were no emails from the White House concerning Tillman.
However, both Waxman and Davis agreed that further evidence about the Tillman death may be gleaned from personal email accounts from the field in Afghanistan. Today, the committee requested the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command and the Pentagon's Inspector General to inform the committee if "subjects and witnesses were asked about the use of personal email accounts to communicate about the Tillman matter, whether such communications were obtained and reviewed . . . and, if not whether [CID and the IG] intend to secure and review them now."
Waxman and Davis wrote to the two Defense activities that the committee had "received information from a former Department of Defense official that information from the field was often transmitted to DoD officials through personal email accounts."
Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich asked Rumsfeld if he ever coordinated press strategy with the White House concerning the war and specifically mentioned the contractor, the Rendon Group, which has been at the forefront of drafting and distributing pro-war propaganda on behalf of the Pentagon. Rumsfeld denied he discussed press strategy on the Tillman case with the White House but conceded that Rendon and other contractors had Pentagon contracts to develop press strategies. Kucinich maintained that the Pentagon had outsourced the management of the news to contractors like the Rendon Group and that it was Defense Department strategy to cover-up incidents like the Tillman, Abu Ghraib, and Jessica Lynch cases. Rumsfeld said there was no evidence of a cover-up in any of the cases mentioned by Kucinich.
However, a White House-to-Pentagon email released by the committee strongly suggests that there was a willful attempt to cover-up the Tillman fratricide in order to maximize positive spin. An email sent from White House staffer Jeanie S. Mamo to the Pentagon's Public Affairs chief Larry DiRita on April 23, 2004, a day after Tillman's death and after PFC O'Neal's report that fratricide was likely involved. Also, by April 23, suspected fratricide was also known by Tillman's other Alpha Company Rangers, including 1SG Fuller, CSM Birch, Maj. Scott, Col. Nixon, Maj. Hodne, LTC Bailey, and CPT Saunders.
Mamo's email to DiRita says that Larry Yeager, a "terrific" reporter for Sports Illustrated, needed to talk to someone at the Pentagon regarding Tillman. Yeager's email was also forwarded to DiRita. It requested Mamo to help him on what would be an "awesome piece" in Sports Illustrated. The Mamo email strongly suggests a close relationship between Yeager and the Bush White House. It states Yeager "had a one-on-one interview with President Bush and knows Gov. Bush [Florida Governor Jeb Bush] as well." Mamo also states that Yeager wrote a story about Qusay and Uday Hussein and "their torture of Olympic athletes" and "has since been back to Iraq to write a follow-up on the reorganization of the Olympic team." As if to signal to DiRita that Yeager was a trusted embedded journalist, she adds, "Don gets it." The Defense Department even redacted from the disclosed email Yeager's phone numbers at the Manhattan offices of Sports Illustrated, which is owned by AOL Time Warner.
One person who apparently was not as "in" as the Sports Illustrated reporter was General Bantz Craddock, Rumsfeld's senior military assistant. On July 27, 2007, Craddock, who as Commander of US Southern Command in Miami, oversees the operations at Guantanamo Bay, told the Waxman committee about being kept out of the loop by DiRita and Rumsfeld's other close advisers: "I will also tell you there could have been discussions and meetings that I would not have been privy to because occasionally that happens. The fact of the matter is -- and I'll just tell you that DiRita and I occasionally got into a bit of a dither over the fact that I felt that he was not informing me of military issues or that he felt I was usurping his authority to deal with political issues."
Craddock gave a picture of Rumsfeld and his civilian advisers keeping senior military officers out of the loop, something that has been confirmed to this journalist by other senior officers who served in the Pentagon under Rumsfeld. Craddock told that committee that Rumsfeld's office never contacted him for details about the Tillman killing.
The picture that is being developed from the Waxman hearings is that the death of Pat Tillman was advertised as an enemy combat death in order to create favorable spin for the White House and Pentagon and help both organizations recover from Abu Ghraib. Tillman's memorial service, Silver Star award, and Sports Illustrated "awesome" article were all part of a carefully designed spin, likely involving the Rendon Group and other professional contract spinmeisters, as suggested by Kucinich.
If the White House and Pentagon were able to cover up the details of the aftermath of Tillman's death, what could they have been prepared to do after they were informed that the star recruit was keeping a diary and was prepared to speak out against the Iraq war after his enlistment?
At least 30 people knew about the Tillman fratricide before Donald Rumsfeld said he was informed about it. General Bantz Craddock, Rumsfeld's chief military assistant, told the House Committee on July 27, 2007, that he heard about the Tillman fratricide from his next door neighbor in Fort Myer, General Jim Lovelace. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland said Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, said Rumsfeld's contention that he did not know about Tillman until much later was "not credible."
Cummings asked Rumsfeld if he believed there was a cover-up. Rumsfeld responded that "no one in the White House suugested there be a cover-up." Richard Myers said the White House, Joint Chiefs of Staff or Office of the Secretary of Defense were not involved in a cover-up. John Abizaid and Doug Brown also denied a cover-up.
Abizaid said he did not receive the P-FOR until May 6, 2004, although it was sent on April 29. On April 23, Abizaid said he was phoned by McChrystal and was told that Tillman had been killed. Abizaid said the P-FOR was sent to Tampa, CENTCOM's headquarters, but was not re-transmitted to Abizaid in the Middle East until May 6. Abizaid said he then called Myers and told him that Tillman had been killed by friendly fire.
Myers testified that he did not remember Abizaid's phone call and said he never saw the P-FOR. Myers also said that when he was informed of the incident he "was not sure" that fratricide was "common knowledge." Myers also said he could not recall whether he informed Rumsfeld of the fratricide.
Rumsfeld said that although he remembered drafting a letter to the Tillman family, he could not recall when he learned of Tillman's death. Although President Bush was to refer to the Tillman death in a May 1, 2004 speech, Rumsfeld said he could not recall discussing Tillman with the White House.