The mother of former NFL player Pat Tillman suspects the military’s account of how fellow Army Ranger comrades shot and killed her son in Afghanistan is still not the true story, four years later, according to her new book.
The Army told the family and public that Pat Tillman died in an enemy ambush April 22, 2004. The military knew within hours that friendly fire was involved but waited five weeks before disclosing it, in violation of military regulations.
The Associated Press and other news organizations have reported on the investigation into Tillman’s death, but lawmakers granted Mary Tillman access to uncensored versions of some documents that were not available to journalists.
“Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman,” just issued by Modern Times books, is based on her review of those documents and charts the Tillman family’s efforts to cut through misleading official accounts of how the former football player died. Tillman had walked away from a contract with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist after the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
Citing documents and eyewitness accounts, Mrs. Tillman says she strongly suspects the men who shot her son stepped out of a Humvee to aim carefully at him. They were not, as official accounts have asserted, speeding by on a bumpy mountain road. The shooters denied this.
At one Army briefing, Mrs. Tillman vents frustration and incredulity at lead investigator Brig. Gen. Gary Jones. He had dismissed the account of Spc. Bryan O’Neal, who was just a few feet away from Tillman when the Rangers lit up their position with gunfire.
“No one got out of the vehicle. That early information is incorrect, and O’Neal is the least reliable witness because he was so traumatized,” Jones tells Mrs. Tillman, according to the author.
“You won’t believe O’Neal, but you’ll believe the guys who were shooting at him!” Mrs. Tillman says.
The book reveals that Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bailey, the battalion commander who oversaw Pat Tillman’s platoon, wrote an angry e-mail to O’Neal last year when O’Neal told a congressional committee Bailey had ordered him to keep quiet about what he had seen.
Mrs. Tillman reserves special contempt for Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, currently the commander of the “black ops” Joint Special Operations Command. Just a day after approving a Silver Star medal claiming Tillman had been cut down by “devastating enemy fire,” McChrystal tried to secretly warn President Bush that the story might not be true. The AP obtained and published the memo last year.
“Not only is he lying about the circumstances surrounding Pat’s death, as enemy fire had ceased many minutes before, he is proposing false language for the Silver Star narrative,” Mrs. Tillman writes of the Silver Star language. “The false narrative, which McChrystal clearly helped construct, diminished Pat’s true actions.”
Last year a Pentagon inspector general investigation recommended that the Army review its award of the Silver Star to Tillman, but the Army said the award would stand.
The Pentagon recommended last year that McChrystal be held accountable for “misleading” actions, but the Army overruled the recommendation.
Last year the Army censured a retired three-star general, Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, for misleading investigators in the Tillman case. Specifically, a military review found “compelling evidence that Kensinger learned of suspected fratricide well before the memorial service (about two weeks after Tillman’s death) and provided misleading testimony” on that issue.
New documents obtained by The AP under the Freedom of Information Act may explain why the Army felt so confident Kensinger had lied.
In a November 2006 written response to investigators, Col. James Nixon, Tillman’s regimental commander, said he recalled telling Kensinger almost immediately of the possibility of friendly fire.
“I thought I did notify LTG Kensinger that there was a potential for fratricide and that we were beginning an investigation but can not recall the specific conversation,” Nixon wrote in an e-mail message. It was a follow-up to investigators who had interviewed him previously.
Nixon also recalled telling Kensinger’s deputy, Brig. Gen. Howard Yellen.
Yellen has testified previously that he told Kensinger of the possibility of friendly fire the day after Tillman’s death.