By: E&P Staff
A House committee queried former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and three top generals this morning about the mishandling of information about the friendly fire killing of former NFL star Pat Tillman. Rumsfeld apologized to the Tillman family, and others admitted the incident was mishandled and that the Army had not followed rules.
But Rumsfeld claimed he did not learn about the fratricide for nearly a month after an investigation began in late April 2004 and after dozens of others at the Pentagon had learned about it. He said that in such a large institution “you can’t be aware of everything.”
One congressman quoted Tillman’s mother, Mary Tillman, previously expressing the view that given her son’s fame that this was virtually impossible. Rumsfeld calls those “the words of a grieving mother” who had admitted she had “no facts.”
Asked if there was “a coverup,” Rumsfeld said there were indeed “no facts” to suggest that, “no evidence…. I know that I would not engage in a coverup and that no one in the White House would suggest such a thing…Of course there is a difference between an error and a coverup.”
Later he added, “Human beings make mistakes.” He claimed that he was not upset that he had not been notified more quickly about the suspicions of fratricide.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich asked Rumsfeld if he had any discussions at the White House about “press management” of the Tillman case. He said no. Kucinich claimed that there was indeed a “coverup” in the Tillman episode. “I have not been involved in a coverup of any kind,” Rumsfeld replied testily.
Regulations required that the public and press be told that an investigation was underway, even before a final finding came. The three generals also at the hearing also denied a coverup.
Much of the questioning concerned the message sent by General Stanley McCrystal, Chief of the Army Special Operations Command, a week after Tillman was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004 that the White House should be informed of the real circumstances of the shooting. Rumsfeld said he did not know about that memo until recently.
Two of the generals, Gen. John Abizaid and Gen. Richard Myers, today admitted they had been told that Tillman was possibly killed by friendly fire three weeks before the family was notified and before a memorial service took place (which did not make note of the friendly fire probe). Tillman had been killed on April 22, 2004.
No one said they had talked to President Bush personally about this to advise him that a fratricide probe was ongoing.
Rumsfeld said he took no steps to influence media coverage of the Tillman case, in fact, “to the contrary.” He said he did not learn about the friendly fire suspicions until at least May 20, but did not take any special action to notify the family. “My recollection is that it was at a stage when an investigation was underway so would not tell someone at this point?.A matter the Army was handling and not something I would inject myself.”