Deliberate Acts of Deceit
Deliberate Acts of Deceit
Kevin Tillman, the brother of Corporal Pat Tillman who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, gave the following testimony to a congressional hearing in Washington:
Two days ago marked the third anniversary of the death of my older brother, Pat Tillman, in Afghanistan.
To our family and friends, it was a devastating loss. To the nation, it was a moment of disorientation. To the military, it was a nightmare. But to others within the government, it appears to have been an opportunity.
April of 2004 was turning into the deadliest month to date in the war in Iraq. The dual rebellions in Najaf and Fallujah handed the US forces their first tactical defeat as American commanders essentially surrendered Fallujah to members of Iraq resistance, and the administration was forced to accede to Ayatollah Sistani's demand for January elections in exchange for assistance in extricating US forces from its battle with the Mahdi militia.
A call-up of 20,000 additional troops was ordered, and another 20,000 troops had their tours of duty extended.
In the midst of this, the White House learned that Christian Parenti, Seymour Hersh and other journalists were about to reveal a shocking scandal involving massive and systemic detainee abuse in a facility known as Abu Ghraib.
Then, on April 22, 2004, my brother Pat was killed in a firefight in eastern Afghanistan. Immediately after Pat's death, our family was told that he was shot in the head by the enemy in a fierce firefight outside a narrow canyon.
In the days leading up to Pat's memorial service, media accounts, based on information provided by the army and the White House, were wreathed in a patriotic glow and became more dramatic in tone. A terrible tragedy that might have further undermined support for the war in Iraq was transformed into an inspirational message that served instead to support the nation's foreign policy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
To further exploit Pat's death, he was awarded the Silver Star for valour.
The abridged version went like this: only after his team engaged this well-armed enemy did it appear that the enemy's volume of fire into the kill zone diminished.
Above the din of battle, Corporal Tillman was heard issuing fire commands to take the fight to an enemy on the dominating high ground. Always leading from the front, Cpl Tillman aggressively maneuvered his team against the enemy position on a steep slope.
As a result of Cpl Tillman's effort and heroic action, the trail element of the platoon was able to maneuver through the ambush position of relative safety without suffering a single casualty.
In the fight that ensued, Cpl Tillman's position increased in intensity. Cpl Tillman focused all his efforts on keeping the men of his team safe while continuing to press the attack himself, without regard for his own personal safety.
In the face of mortal danger, Cpl Tillman illustrated that he would not fail his comrades. His actions are in keeping with the highest standards of the United States army.
This was an error that inspired countless Americans, as intended. There was one small problem with the narrative, however: It was utter fiction. The content of the multiple investigations reveal a series of contradictions that strongly suggest deliberate and careful misrepresentations.
We appeal to this committee because we believe this narrative was intended to deceive the family, but more importantly to deceive the American public.
Pat's death was clearly the result of fratricide. It was due to a series of careless actions by several individuals in our own platoon after a small harassing ambush. During this uncontrolled shooting, the driver of the vehicle himself recognized friendlies immediately, but kept driving for approximately 400 meters while the soldiers in the back of his truck continued to shoot at the hillside, where the US soldiers were - and civilians.
The vehicle saw arms and hands waving. An Afghan soldier was immediately recognized. They never felt threatened. And they still shot up the village unprovoked. The vehicle behind them clearly saw the US soldiers on the hillside and were calling cease-fire. The end result were the death of Pat and the Afghan soldier, as well as two more soldiers wounded in the village. The signs were available, but the decision to shoot was made.
This was not some fog of war. They simply lost control.
According to the sworn statement on April 26 by the fellow soldier who was right next to Pat - literally right next to Pat:
"I remember watching the friendlies just shooting at us. A .50 [calibre gun] rolled up into our sights and started to unload on top of us. They would work in bursts, .50 for 10 to 15 seconds, 240-B 10 to 15 seconds, back and forth.
"Specialist Tillman and I were yelling, 'Stop! Stop! Friendlies! Friendlies! Cease fire!' But they could not hear us.
"Tillman came up with the idea to let a smoke grenade go. This stopped the friendly contact for a few moments.
"And that's when I realized the AMF [Afghan Military Forces] soldier was dead.
"At this time, the GMV [Ground Mobility Vehicle] rolled into a better position to fire on us.
"We thought the battle was over, though, so we were relieved, getting up, stretching out and talking with one another, when I heard some 5.56 [millimetre] rounds coming from the GMV. They started firing again. That's when I hit the deck.
"Specialist Tillman at this time was hit by small-arms fire. I know this because I got - I know this because I could hear the pain in his voice as he called out, 'Cease fire, friendlies. I am Pat f---ing Tillman, damn it.'
"He said this over and over again until he stopped."
The facts of this case clearly show Pat and the Afghan soldier were killed by fellow members of his platoon as well as the wounded soldiers on the hillside, and they knew this immediately.
Revealing that Pat's death was a fratricide would have been yet another political disaster during a month already swollen with political disasters and a brutal truth that the American public would undoubtedly find unacceptable. So the facts needed to be suppressed. An alternative narrative had to be constructed.
Crucial evidence was destroyed, including Pat's uniform, equipment and notebook. The autopsy was not done according to regulation and the field hospital report was falsified.
An initial investigation completed with eight to 10 days before testimony could be changed or manipulated and which hit disturbingly close to the mark disappeared into thin air and was conveniently replaced by another investigation with more palatable findings.
This freshly manufactured narrative was then distributed to the American public. And we believe the strategy had the intended effect: It shifted the focus from the grotesque torture at Abu Ghraib and a downward spiral of an illegal act of aggression to a great American who died a hero's death.
Over a month after Pat's death, when it became clear that it would no longer be possible to pull off this deception, a few of the facts were parceled out to the public and to our family.
General Kensinger was ordered to tell the American public May 29, five weeks later, that Pat died of fratricide - but with a calculated and nefarious twist. He stated: "There was no one specific finding of fault." And that he "probably died of fratricide".
But there was specific fault. And there was nothing probable about the facts that led to Pat's death.
The most despicable part of what General Kensinger told the American public is when he said: "The results of this investigation in no way diminish the bravery and sacrifice displayed by Cpl Tillman."
This is an egregious attempt to manipulate the public into thinking that anyone who would question this 180-degree flip in the narrative would be casting doubt on Pat's bravery and sacrifice. Such questioning says nothing about Pat's bravery and sacrifice, any more than the narrative for Jessica [Lynch] diminishes her bravery and sacrifice. It does, however, say a lot about the powers who perpetrated this.
After the truth of Pat's death was partially revealed, Pat was no longer of use as a sales asset, and became strictly the Army's problem. They were now left with the task of briefing our family and answering our questions. With any luck, our family would sink quietly into our grief and the whole unsavory episode would be swept under the rug.
However, they miscalculated our family's reaction. Through the amazing strength and perseverance of my mother, the most amazing woman on earth, our family has managed to have multiple investigations conducted.
However, while each investigation gathered more information, the mountain of evidence was never used to arrive at an honest or even sensible conclusion. The most recent investigation by the department of defense inspector general and the criminal investigative division of the army concluded that the killing of Pat was, quote, an accident. The handling of the situation after the firefight were described as a compilation of, quote, missteps, inaccuracies and errors in judgment which created the perception of concealment.
The soldier who shot Pat admitted in his sworn statement that just before he delivered the fatal burst from about 35 meters away, that he saw his target waving hands. But he decided to pull the trigger anyway.
Such an act is not an accident. It's a clear violation of the rules of engagement.
Writing up a field hospital report, stating that Pat was, quote, transferred to intensive care unit for continued CPR, after most of his head had been taken off by multiple 5.56 rounds is not misleading.
Stating that a giant rectangle bruise covering his chest that sits exactly where the armor plate that protects you from bullets as being, quote, consistent with paddle marks is not misleading.
These are deliberate and calculated lies.
Writing a Silver Star award before a single eyewitness account is taken is not a misstep. Falsifying soldier witness statements for a Silver Star is not a misstep.
These are intentional falsehoods that meet the legal definition for fraud.
Delivering false information at a nationally televised memorial service is not an error in judgment. Discarding an investigation that does not fit a preordained conclusion is not an error in judgment.
These are deliberate acts of deceit.
This is not the perception of concealment. This is concealment.
Pat is, of course, not the only soldier where battlefield realities reach the family and the public in the form of a false narrative.
First Lieutenant Ken Ballard died in the Najaf, Iraq, just one day after Pat's fratricide went public. His mom, Karen Meredith, was told that Ken was killed by a sniper on a rooftop.
Fifteen months later, she found out that he was killed by an unmanned gun from his own vehicle.
Private Jesse Buryj was killed May 5, 2004, in Iraq. His family was told he was killed in a vehicle accident. A year later, they received the autopsy report and they found that he was shot in the back. The army was forced to concede that he was accidentally shot by a Polish soldier.
Just recently, out of nowhere, a lieutenant showed up at their family's house and told them that an officer in his own unit had shot him. They are still looking for answers.
Sergeant Patrick McCafferty was killed June 22, 2004, from what the family was told was, quote, an ambush by insurgents.
Two years later, they found out that those, quote, insurgents happened to be the same Iraqi troops that he was training.
Before his death, he told his chain of command that these same troops that he was training were trying to kill him and his team. He was told to keep his mouth shut.
About a year ago, I received a phone call. I was at my mom's house. And it was an emergency breakthrough from the operator. It happened to be a woman named Dawn Hellerman from North Carolina.
It was two o'clock in the morning, her time. Her husband, Staff Sergeant Brian Hellerman was killed in Iraq. She was tired of receiving new official reasons why her husband had died. She was desperate for help, so she called us.
The system had failed her. Those soldiers deserve better. And their families deserve better.
Our family has relentlessly pursued the truth on this matter for three years. We have now concluded that our efforts are being actively thwarted by powers that are more interested in protecting a narrative than getting at the truth or seeing that justice is served.
That is why we ask Congress, as the sovereign representative of the whole people, to exercise its power to investigate the inconsistencies in Pat's death and the aftermath, and into all the other soldiers that were betrayed by this system.
The one bit of truth that did survive these manipulations was that Pat was and still is a great man. He is the most wonderful older brother to ever exist.
Pat wanted to leave a positive legacy based on his actions, and he did that.
But Pat's death at the hands of his comrades is a terrible tragedy. But the fact that the army, and what appears to be others, attempted to hijack his virtue and his legacy is simply horrific.
The least this country can do for him in return is to uncover who was responsible for his death, who lied and covered it up, and who instigated those lies and benefited from them; then ensure that justice is meted out to the culpable.
Pat and these other soldiers volunteered to put their lives on the line for this country. Anything less than the truth is a betrayal of those values that all soldiers who have fought for this nation have sought to uphold.
© 2007 The Guardian