The critics of Cindy Sheehan say that she's not going about her protest the "right way." They say she is hurting troop morale. They say that she is unpatriotic. A traitor, even. They say that she should just shut up.
The mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, Sheehan got a lot of media attention in August when she camped out at the entrance to President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Since then she has led demonstrations against the war and the president's policies. On Monday she was arrested at a White House sit-in after she refused police orders to leave. Sheehan is being used, we've been told. She's nuts. She's dishonoring her son. Then again, to those who say that Sheehan might get the government to address her concerns if she only did things the "right way," I would offer two words: Mary Tillman.
Mary is also the mother of a soldier killed in the war on terror. Her son, Pat, the former Arizona Cardinals star, was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in April 2004. Since that time, neither Mary nor her former husband, Patrick Sr., nor Pat's wife has come out publicly against the war. Not even after they found out that they had been deceived about his death. It took five weeks before the Army told the Tillmans that Pat was killed by his own comrades during a confused and frighteningly mishandled mission.
That information, which investigators knew almost immediately, was withheld until after a very public funeral service for Tillman was broadcast across the nation.
Several investigations have followed, none of which has satisfied the family or thoroughly answered their questions. They have worked with members of Congress, including Arizona Sen. John McCain, to get the truth about the incidents that led to Tillman's death. They have done so quietly, for the most part. Respectfully. In a manner that any reasonable person would describe as "the right way."
It has gotten them nowhere.
On Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle published a lengthy article based on its review of nearly 2,000 pages of investigative documents that Mary Tillman has received from the military. Most of which only lead to more questions.
Questions about who knew what and when. Questions about altered testimony. Questions about delays and accountability. Now there is another investigation going on and the family isn't any more confident that the truth will surface.
The Chronicle quoted Pat Sr. as saying, "The administration clearly was using this case for its own political reasons. This cover-up started within minutes of Pat's death, and it started at high levels."
When I last spoke to Mary in late May she told me, "They could have told us up front that they were suspicious that it was a fratricide but they didn't. They wanted to use him for their purposes. It was good for the administration. It was before the elections. It was during the prison scandal. They needed something that looked good, and it was appalling that they would use him like that."
Although they have been approached by media representatives from every print and TV outlet in the country, the Tillmans have kept a relatively low profile. Working through channels. Not participating in public protests.
Their behavior should teach us a thing or two about the way we treat families who question their government's actions. For example, when we start demanding that people conduct themselves the "right way," it's not the mothers of dead soldiers we should be speaking to.
© 2005 The Arizona Republic