Pentagon Investigation Into Tillman Death Finds Missteps

Saturday, March 24th 2007, 1:51 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Nine officers, including up to four generals, should be held accountable for missteps in the aftermath of the friendly fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, a Pentagon investigation will recommend.

Senior defense officials said Friday the Defense Department inspector general will cite a range of errors and inappropriate conduct as the military probed the former football star's death on the battlefront in 2004, said one defense official.

The official, who like the others requested anonymity because the Army has not publicly released the information, said it appears senior military leaders may not have had all the facts or worked hard enough to get the facts of what happened on April 22, 2004, when Tillman was killed by members of his own platoon.

Dozens of soldiers _ those immediately around Tillman at the scene of the shooting, his immediate superiors and high-ranking officers at a command post nearby _ knew within minutes or hours that his death was fratricide.

Even so, the Army persisted in telling Tillman's family he was killed in a conventional ambush, including at his nationally televised memorial service 11 days later. It was five weeks before his family was told the truth, a delay the Army has blamed on procedural mistakes.

The latest investigation has focused on how high up the chain of command it was known that Tillman's death was caused by his own comrades. Officers from the rank of colonel and up will be blamed in the report, according to one officer who has been informed of the findings.

According to the officials, the report will not make charges or suggest punishments, but it will recommend the Army look at holding the nine officers accountable.

One defense official said it appears the inspector general will not conclude there was an orchestrated cover-up in the investigation.

Tillman's father, Pat, said Friday he had no intention of commenting on the inspector general's report until he had heard an Army briefing on Monday. That day, the Army plans to release the report and a second related to the killing.

The other report is by the Army Criminal Investigation Command, which will focus on whether a crime, such as negligent homicide, was committed when Tillman's own men shot him. One defense official said it appears the investigation did not find any criminal intent in the shooting.

Tillman's case drew worldwide attention in part because he had turned down a multimillion-dollar contract to play defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals in order to join the Army Rangers after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The report's release comes with the Bush administration under fire from the public and Congress for the war in Iraq. Though the Afghanistan conflict has not drawn nearly so much criticism, the report could add to the drumbeat of negative stories the administration has had to endure over the treatment of wounded soldiers and the long deployments of U.S. troops.

To date, the Army has punished seven people for the Tillman killing, but no one was court-martialed. Four soldiers received relatively minor punishments under military law, ranging from written reprimands to expulsion from the Rangers. One had his pay reduced and was effectively forced out of the Army.

The Army, which requested the inspector general review last year, said in a statement released Friday that it ``plans to take appropriate actions after receiving the inspector general's report.''

The officials declined to name any of the officers the report will implicate. The commander of Tillman's 75th Ranger Regiment was Col. James C. Nixon. Last year he was named director of operations at the Center for Special Operations at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.

Nixon knew within about two days that Tillman's death was fratricide, another officer involved in the investigations told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Previous investigations of the case have focused on the facts of the incident and sought to answer questions of whether it was a fratricide.

The report's findings were first reported on Friday by CBS News.

Tillman died in Afghanistan's Paktia province, along the Pakistan border, after his platoon was ordered to split into two groups and one of the units began firing. Tillman and an Afghan with him were killed. A specialist at the time of his death, he was posthumously promoted to corporal.

Since the incident, the Army has moved to improve the notification procedures and now requires an officer to review initial casualty information and verify that the families have been told the best, accurate information.

The congressman who represents the San Jose region where Tillman grew up and where his parents live said he regretted that the family did not have the chance to review the findings before they were leaked.

``In light of what they have undergone, giving them a reasonable opportunity to review the findings would have only been fair and just,'' said Democratic Rep. Mike Honda, who communicates with the Tillman family and has pressed for a swift and thorough resolution of the investigations.