Profile: Pat Tillman
Pat Tillman was a participant or observer in the following events:
Corporal Pat Tillman. [Source: US Army / Public domain]St. Louis Cardinals safety Pat Tillman visits the team complex in Tempe, Arizona to tell his coach he will enlist in the Army. Although he has been offered a three-year, multi-million dollar contract, he wants to become a US Ranger and fight in Afghanistan. He clears his locker and sees to his insurance, but does not yet disclose his plan to teammates. [East Valley Tribune (Mesa), 5/29/2002] However, the story breaks the next day. [Orlando Sentinel, 5/26/2002] Both Tillman and his brother, Kevin Tillman, a former minor league baseball player in Cleveland, dodge media attention by refusing to be interviewed and driving to Denver, Colorado to enlist, rather than enlist in their home state of Arizona where they are better known. [Express (London), 5/30/2002; New York Times, 6/1/2002]
Tillman Does Not Want to Be 'Poster Boy' for Military - Tillman continues to refuse media interviews, denying requests from sources such as the New York Times and Sports Illustrated, as well as most major television networks. He asks that the Army not “use him as a poster boy.” [San Jose Mercury News, 5/29/2002] Nancy Hutchinson, a public affairs officer for Army recruitment in Phoenix, Arizona, confirms that Tillman has requested that the military not publicize his enlistment and says that this should ensure his privacy. [East Valley Tribune (Mesa), 5/29/2002]
Lionized by Media - Despite Tillman’s best efforts to avoid the limelight, the media gives the story widespread coverage, characterizing him as a “hero” and “an inspiration.” [Orlando Sentinel, 5/26/2002; Daily Herald(Arlington Heights), 5/27/2002] The Philadelphia Inquirer writes that his desire to join the Rangers is “a special calling,” and that both brothers are “volunteering to give up the life of privilege and perks for the opportunity to kill terrorists.” The Tampa Tribune describes Tillman as that “one in a million” who has “got your back.” The Tribune interviews former Rangers who recount the extreme hardships recruits endure, noting that “65 percent of would-be Rangers” do not complete the training. However, it predicts that the Tillmans will go on to “defend our country.” Former Education Secretary William Bennett calls Tillman “a patriot, somebody with a deep, abiding love for our people, our country, and constitution.” [Tampa Tribune, 5/26/2002; Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/27/2002] Although Tillman never discusses his reasons for wanting to join the Rangers publicly [East Valley Tribune (Mesa), 5/29/2002; New York Times, 6/1/2002] , several news stories see his choice as a patriotic reaction to the events of 9/11, with David Whitely of the Orlando Sentinel writing, “Oh, for Osama bin Laden to run a crossing pattern in front of Pvt. Tillman.” [Orlando Sentinel, 5/26/2002]
Within a week of NFL football player Pat Tillman telling his coach that he is joining the US infantry (see May 23-June 1, 2002), the story goes nationwide in the press. [New York Times, 6/1/2002] Sources abroad also cover Tillman’s decision, attributing it to his desire to be a part of the war on terror. London’s Express says that “this unnervingly selfless act was inspired… by the terrorist attacks against America last September.” London’s Daily Telegraph titles its feature article, “Footballer joins hunt for bin Laden,” and the Guardian reprises the narrative in “The man who wants to tackle terrorism.” [Express (London), 5/30/2002; Daily Telegraph, 6/4/2002; Guardian, 7/9/2002]
John McCain. [Source: Associated Press]Senator John McCain (R-AZ) says of Pat Tillman’s enlistment (see May 23-June 1, 2002), “Perhaps [those] last vestiges of the Vietnam War have disappeared in the rubble of the World Trade Center.” Recalling when it was “uncool” to join the military, McCain notes Tillman’s potential as a “recruiting tool,” saying that he will “motivate other young Americans to serve as well.” [Los Angeles Times, 5/31/2002]
Rumsfeld before the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform. [Source: AP]Three days before paying personal tribute to Pat Tillman (seeJune 28, 2002), Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld forwards a news article on the former football star’s recent enlistment in the US Army to the Secretary of the Army, Tom White, calling Tillman “world-class.” In the informal communication accompanying the June 2 story, Rumsfeld says, “We might want to keep an eye on him.” White responds, agreeing that Tillman is “a world-class American.” However, when testifying in 2007 before the Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, Rumsfeld will say that he does not remember when or how he learned that Tillman was not killed in action by the Taliban, but was a victim of fratricide. [House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, 8/16/2009]
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld writes to Pat Tillman, a former NFL star, congratulating his choice to leave a $3.6 million contract behind to join the Army (see May 23-June 1, 2002) and calling it “proud and patriotic.” Tillman had received laudatory press coverage worldwide and been noticed by Senator John McCain (R-AZ—see May 31, 2002). The letter will surface five years later, when a congressional hearing is held to ascertain if Rumsfeld was involved in the effort to conceal the true circumstances of Tillman’s death in Afghanistan. [House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, 8/16/2009]
New Army enlistees Pat and Kevin Tillman (see May 23-June 1, 2002), both former pro athletes, undergo the Army’s three-week “Ranger Indoctrination Program.” They then attend Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia, and are finally posted to Fort Lewis, Washington as members of the Second Battalion in the 75th Ranger Regiment, serving in the same unit. [ESPN (.com), 4/2006]
Pat and Kevin Tillman, pro athletes who joined the Army Rangers and participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom (see May 23-June 1, 2002), are presented with the annual Arthur Ashe Courage Award by ESPN. Both refuse to attend the awards ceremony, another example of their continued effort to avoid the public acclaim surrounding their joining the military. Younger brother Richard accepts on their behalf, and for the first time since their enlistment, their friends and parents speak publicly of the brothers in the ESPN televised tribute. ESPN senior vice president Ron Semiao says of the occasion: “The Tillman brothers’ story is remarkably inspiring. They turned their backs on stardom and potential fortune, dedicated themselves to a larger cause and never once sought glory or recognition. Pat and Kevin’s approach of leading by example is reminiscent of the way Arthur Ashe lived his life and like Arthur, the Tillmans’ decisions have had a profound impact.” [ESPN (.com), 7/2003]
Noam Chomsky, noted linguist and and “anti-imperialism” activist. [Source: Convencion Bautista (.com)]Pat Tillman (see May 23-June 1, 2002) enlists a friend, MIT graduate student Jared Schrieber, to email MIT linguistics and philosophy professor Noam Chomsky. Tillman wants to set up a meeting with Chomsky, an opponent of the Bush administration’s war on terror and someone Tillman has long admired. Later, Tillman’s mother, Mary Tillman, will say that Tillman and Chomsky were to meet after her son completed his military tour of duty in July 2005, a meeting later confirmed by Chomsky. [ESPN (.com), 4/2006] After Tillman’s death (see April 23, 2004), it will emerge that, like his brother Kevin, a philosophy major, he read widely and was known to family and friends as a deep and independent thinker. Russell Baer, a fellow Ranger who served with the brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan, will recall Tillman saying of the Iraq war, “this war is so f_cking illegal.” His mother will state that, while feeling that the Afghan war was “justified by the September 11 attacks,” her son was against “the whole Iraq war.” Further, a soldier who requests anonymity will say that Tillman “urged him to vote for Bush’s Democratic opponent in the 2004 election, Senator John Kerry.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/25/2005; Sports Illustrated, 9/11/2006] Ann Coulter, conservative political commentator, and Sean Hannity, co-host of the Fox News show Hannity & Colmes, will dispute reports that say Tillman respected Chomsky, endorsed Senator John Kerry, or opposed Bush. “I don’t believe it,” Coulter will say. “I don’t believe it either,” Hannity will agree. [Media Matters, 9/24/2005; Nation, 10/24/2005]
A news release issued from the headquarters of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in Florida heralds the start of a new offensive, Operation Mountain Storm (OMS), describing it as “the next in the continuing series of operations in the south, southeast, and eastern portions of Afghanistan designed to destroy terrorist organizations and their infrastructure while continuing to focus on national stability and support.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
OMS to Go after Bin Laden, Or Not To? - Elsewhere, the objective of Operation Mountain Storm is reported to be to “flush out militants, including members of the al-Qaeda terror network” and “insurgents led by remnants of Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime.” Although military sources have indicated that US forces are closing in on Osama bin Laden, according to US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, speaking from Kabul, this new operation is “not aimed at hunting for individuals.” All coalition troops, 13,000-plus, are to join the US-led campaign. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
The Measure of Success: Numbers - CENTCOM’s news release touts the success of the previous campaign, Operation Blizzard, enumerating its results thusly: “[W]e conducted 1,731 patrols, 143 raids and cordons and searches, killing 22 enemy combatants and discovering caches with 3,648 rockets, 3,202 mortar rounds, 2,944 rocket propelled grenades, 3,000 recoils rifle rounds, 2,232 mines, and tens of thousands of small arm ammunitions.” The CENTCOM news release then ticks off several areas where Operation Blizzard’s successor, Mountain Storm, has already found weapons caches. Concluding, it reports that “just yesterday afternoon, an Afghan citizen turned in to coalition forces in the vicinity of Deh Rawood a recoiless rifle, an anti-aircraft gun, a mortar, and machine guns, along with ammunition.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
The Numbers Game and Pat Tillman's Death - Later, Stan Goff, an analyst and critic of military culture, writing about Pat Tillman’s death while on patrol in OMS less than a month after its launch (See April 23, 2004 and Early April 2004), will cite “the Rumsfeldian ‘metrics’ of quantification” used to measure and then propagandize military progress, as driving the order to split Tillman’s platoon, a chain-of-command decision which many, including some in command, will later contend led to his death by friendly fire, or as some define it, fratricide (see April 22, 2004). [Huffington Post(.org), 8/2/2007; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007]
Ron Synovitz, a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFL/RL), reports on “how one commando team is contributing to the overall strategy” Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) employs in Afghanistan.
Report Relies upon Department of Defense Sources - Synovitz appears to base his observations of the “one commando team” solely on audio clips provided by a US Department of Defense (DoD) video; an undocumented description of same; the fact that an unidentified RFE/RFL correspondent “saw the team leave the Kandahar Air Field in camouflaged humvees,” bearing the DoD video cameramen; unnamed “US officials;” and a press conference in Kabul with the US military’s chief spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty. It is unclear if the eyewitness to the team’s departure is Synovitz himself or some other RFE/RFL reporter. What the article does clearly imply is 1) this OMS-participant team is representative of an overall well-coordinated and carefully planned strategy 2) the strategy, using “unconventional warfare” tactics, has the potential to prevail against any remaining “terrorist” threat in a wide-sweeping area 3) the strategy underlies a “new” operation, OMS, but continues the US Department of Defense’s military success, a success rooted in the effective strategy.
Article Highlights OMS Break with Tradition - Reporting on Hilferty’s description of the “counter-terrorism tactics designed to keep pressure on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” the article points out that, as distinguished from the use of “methods of conventional warfare,” in which units by the thousands amass “on the ground”—OMS combat forces—at times consisting of US Special Forces and Afghan National Army soldiers; at others, of US, Marines, Navy SEAL commandos, and CIA paramilitary officers—carry out “search and destroy” missions in small “commando teams,” operating along a large swath of Afghanistan’s interior as well as the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, to seek out enemy fighters and their weapons hidden in the mountains. For OMS, “there are no Bradley armored personnel carriers or Abrams tanks,” as used in the Iraq war, but rather, armored humvees and “fast-moving military trucks,” Special Forces employ all-terrain vehicles in desert regions.
Hilferty Touts Conventional Support for New Strategy - Still, Hilferty claims these departures from tradition are supported with the continuation of “patrols and vehicle checkpoints.” He also notes the “close air support” by “fighter jets, AC-130 Spectre gunships, and A-10 Warthog attack planes,” at the ready to intervene if OMS commandos run into problems. Hilferty touts this air support as available “24 hours a day circling overhead, ready to assist coalition forces.” In smaller airborne operations that military planners refer to as “heliborne insertion,” Chinook helicopters transport commando teams into the heart of the mountain posts guerrilla fighters claim. All of these tactics are custom-fitted to Afghanistan’s battlefield, primarily a mountainous terrain not well-served by a “heavy, mechanized force,” and are conducted simultaneously, so that the sum of the parts is what, mission by mission, adds up.
Article Echoes US Central Command's Focus on Quantity - Synovitz’s approach to reporting on the new offensive echoes that of US Central Command’s in its focus on discrete incidents, itemizing specific weapons recovered or enemy combatants killed. Synovitz contends that the unconventional nature of the conduct of warfare in Afghanistan calls for reporting “a stream of isolated incidents—like the announcement today by Hilferty that US-led soldiers had killed three suspected Taliban members this weekend while searching a cave in Qalat, in Zabul province.” [Radio Free Europe, 3/15/2004]
Pat Tillman Death Investigations Will Bolster Critics' View of OMS Strategy - Critics of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s reliance on what former solider and journalist Stan Goff will call “the metrics of quantification,” exemplified by OMS in its design and in reporting on it, will argue that, as with the “body counts” former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara boasted to claim success in Vietnam, much publicized hauls from “search and destroy” missions amount to little in terms of valid results. Further, promised support from conventional combat operations often does not materialize. For instance, Goff will point to a mission botched on several fronts as causing Pat Tillman’s death near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (seeApril 23, 2004 and April 22, 2004). Regimental chain of command denied Tillman’s Ranger platoon the use of a helicopter to airlift a disabled humvee that became a link in a series of foul-ups leading to the “friendly fire” killing of Tillman and an Afghan Militia soldier while on patrol in OMS. In adddition, command denied the beleaguered Rangers air support in the “search and destroy” mission Tillman’s platoon was forced to conduct as night fell. Command’s urgency that there be “boots on the ground by dusk” stemmed from a need to fulfill the very sort of “checklist” Rumsfeld offered to document military progress. [FromTheWilderness, 6/23/2006; Associated Press, 11/9/2006; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007]
Entity Tags: Operation Mountain Storm, US Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, Bryan Hilferty, US Army Rangers, US Central Command, Stan Goff, Radio Free Europe, Pat Tillman, Ron Synovitz, Taliban
Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan
As the US Defense Department launches Operation Mountain Storm (OMS—see March 13, 2004 and March 15, 2004), a major planner for the Afghan resistance reveals the insurgency’s counter-strategy in an “exclusive meeting” with Asia Times Online.
Coalition Vs. Resistance Plan - In his article, “Afghan offensive: Grand plans hits rugged reality,” Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, describes the plan behind OMS: “US-led coalition forces would drive from inside Afghanistan into the last real sanctuary of the insurgents, and meet the Pakistani military driving from the opposite direction.” If the widely publicized operation were to go according to plan, Shahzad writes, “There would then be no safe place left to hide for the Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants, or, presumably, for Osama bin Laden himself.” However, according to the unnamed insurgent, the resistance has a plan of its own: to waylay US-led forces with a series of small-scale, local skirmishes and to divert Pakistani allies from joining the coalition’s new surge.
Afghan Resistance Leverages Tribal Loyalty and Harsh Landscape - The insurgent claims that tribes people, familiar with the increasingly forbidding territory, can exhaust their much stronger opposition through “a classic guerrilla strategy” designed by “foreign resistance fighters of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Arab origin.” Hidden in a dizzying array of seemingly endless mountains, they can “regroup,” then emerge to carry out “hit and run” battles against coalition forces while under the protection of villagers loyal to their cause. In turn, according to Asia Times, these local tribes “are now the protectors of the Taliban and al-Quaeda fighters” ranged along and across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Pakistani Army De-Railed - Meanwhile, Pakistani troops are occupied in South Waziristan with Wazir tribes and their neighbors. And Asia Times reports that “the South Waziristan fighting has spread to other areas,” flaring up in North Waziristan, for instance, where recently an attack on the Pakistani army resulted in the death of an officer and his soldiers. Effectively, the insurgency has stopped Pakistan from helping the US clean out “remnants” of its opposition, while more guerrilla fighters join in. This, in only the first week of the official launch of OMS.
Based on his interview with the opposition strategist, Shahzad concludes that, thus far, “the operation that began as a hunt for Osama bin Laden has already degenerated into sideshows against rebel Pakistani tribes people.” [Asia Times Online, 3/20/2004]
Critics Point Finger at US Defense Secretary for Poor Planning - Later, critics of the US military strategy in Afghanistan will cite numerous problems in the design and conception of OMS. Some will blame the high-profile death of Pat Tillman while on patrol for OMS, or on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s flawed strategy, one designed to boast quick results so as to help re-elect President George Bush in the upcoming November 2004 elections (see March 15, 2004).
After a tour of duty in Iraq, the Army Ranger platoon containing Pat and Kevin Tillman, the Black Sheep—officially, 2nd Platoon, A Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment—ship out from Fort Lewis, Washington, to Afghanistan. It is to participate in a new offensive codenamed Operation Mountain Storm (OMS) (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and Early 2003).
Tillman 'Battled Steadfastly' - The year before, the Tillman brothers’ platoon had been sent to Iraq (see March 2003). There, in place of his fallen lead gunner, Pat Tillman stepped up to his first firefight and “battled steadfastly.” Although Tillman voices opposition to the war in Iraq, he originally joined the military because he wanted to fight in Afghanistan (see Early 2004).
Redeployed for Operation Mountain Storm - Assigned to the newly-minted OMS campaign, the infantrymen in the Tillmans’ platoon are to act as “special operators,” tasked to “flush out and entrap enemy guerrillas,” sweeping zones “grid by grid,” and traveling in “small, mobile, lethal units.” As Rangers, the soldiers are trained in the use of unconventional, commando-style tactics in which small units conduct search-and-destroy missions rather than larger combat operations. The US Department of Defense has developed a strategy designed to eliminate insurgents along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border relying on searching for weapons and guerrilla fighters by “sweeping and clearing” villages. It is while on such a search and destroy mission during OMS that Pat Tillman will meet his death under circumstances triggering a military criminal probe (see April 23, 2004). [Washington Post, 12/5/2004]
The Army notifies the Tillman family that Pat Tillman (see May 23-June 1, 2002) has been killed in combat in Afghanistan. It reports that Tillman, a 27 year old Ranger who gave up a lucrative football career to join the US Army, was airlifted to the nearest field hospital in Salerno, where he died an hour later. It will be another five weeks before the family learns Tillman died, not in combat with the enemy, but in a “friendly fire” incident. Eventually, they will also learn that the Salerno field hospital report, apparently written up the day of his death, stating that he died an hour after arrival, contradicts fellow soldiers who will testify that he was clearly dead at the scene of the attack. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/25/2005]
Cover of Mary Tillman’s book, titled after reason given for order to split platoon. [Source: Rodalestore (.com)]En route to its last “sweep and clear” operation on the 10th day of a combat patrol mission in southeastern Afghanistan, the Black Sheep, Pat and Kevin Tillman’s Ranger platoon, is forced to lay over in Magarah, a small town in “the heart of Taliban country,” because of a vehicle breakdown (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and April 20-22,2004). [Washington Post, 12/5/2004] Their young platoon leader, Lieutenant David Uthlaut, relays the situation to a tactical operations center (TOC) at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Salerno, near Khost, 65 miles away. There, the “Cross Functional Team” (CFT) works out platoon movements stationed in “a 20-by-30 tent with a projection screen and a satellite radio.” Already running late as a result of trying to repair and then tow the Humvee, the soldiers are low on supplies, “down to the water in their CamelBak drinking pouches, and forced to buy a goat from a local vendor.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006]
Warning in Magarah Ignored - Later, several soldiers will report that an ominous incident occurs in Magarah during their “down time.” They testify that a village doctor passes a note that the chain of command on the ground ignores. Although they will not all agree on the exact contents of the note, they concur that it warns of impending enemy action against them. [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
Soldiers Want to Get Rid of the Humvee - Some of the men, among them Kevin Tillman, think they should dispose of the $50,000 Humvee and “blow the b_tch up.” [ESPN, 10/12/2006; Tillman and Zacchino, 2008] Army regulations won’t allow it. And if they abandon the gun-mounted vehicle, base command is worried that guerrilla fighters could take propagandist pictures of themselves in possession of it. [Tillman and Zacchino, 2008, pp. 51]
Uthlaut Goes over Options with Command: They Leave Him Only One - Uthlaut offers an option: as previously, tow the disabled Humvee using another Humvee, but this time “on two wheels instead of four.” This would mean the platoon as a whole would bring the Humvee up to paved road for a wrecker to haul it back to the base. Command at TOC nixes this solution as it is concerned that additional stress to the Humvee’s rear suspension could further damage it. Uthlaut asks for a helicopter sling load for the Humvee. His request is denied. An officer at TOC tries to arrange for airborne support for the platoon. This request is also denied. [Associated Press, 11/9/2006; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ] As Uthlaut messages the cross-functional team at TOC, locals are “coming out of the village” to ascertain what is going on. An Afghani “Jinga” (flatbed tow truck) driver offers to haul the vehicle out of the valley and up to a hard-topped road for a price. Uthlaut helps to negotiate the deal.
Now, reporting in to base command again, he enumerates three possible options to save both the vehicle and the mission. Uthlaut will later testify: “The first option was to split the platoon and send one element to deal with getting the broken HMMWV to the hardtop and the other element would move to the village and begin clearing operations. The second option was to keep the whole platoon together, move with the HMMWV up to the hardball [sic] road, drop the broken HMMWV off with the escort platoon and the wrecker, then move as a platoon to start clearing Manah. The third option was not to worry about meeting a wrecker or escort platoon and move as a platoon with the ‘Jinga’ truck towing the broken [redacted] and then take further orders from there.” Uthlaut continues, “From there, the response I got back from [REDACTED] was to go with option one, which was to split the platoon.”
Uthlaut "Pushes the Envelope" - Uthlaut questions the order. He messages CFT the following: “I strongly recommend not splitting the platoon… for several reasons.” Mainly, Uthlaut is concerned for the safety of the platoon. He feels its security will be undermined by the split. Part of the platoon will be without a satellite radio. In addition, half of the soldiers will be without his immediate command. He brings up these concerns and also asks if it is not a problem that one of the two “serial” convoys will have less firepower in that there is only one heavy weapon—a .50 caliber machine gun—between the entire platoon. This fact does not persuade command to alter its order. In addition, Uthlaut will testify that he is aware that standard operating procedure had changed since two Rangers were killed in ambush recently—“our clearing procedures were to clear the villages in the day time”—so as to be a less visible target. He asks if the platoon element that is to go ahead to Manah will begin a night operation. Even as he makes plans to re-configure his men into separate convoys, he is still “disagreeing with… the course of action.” His concerns about communication are met with the information that there is another satellite radio on one of the vehicles in addition to his own, as the company commander’s vehicle is being used. Then he learns that “the clearing was not to start at night.” Instead, serial one proceeding in advance of serial two is to “set up an assembly area,” outside of the village, wait for two, and clear the next morning in daylight.
Command Wants Boots on the Ground before Nightfall - Uthlaut presses for clarification. He asks if the whole purpose of sending one element ahead of the other is “to get boots on the ground before nightfall.” He will say that he is told “yes, that was the intent.” [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ] Although exactly who gives the order to split the platoon will remain in contention across several future investigations, the record will show that soldiers on the ground and even some back at TOC do not think it wise. [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ] But Uthlaut will later testify that he “figured I had pushed the envelope far enough and [I] accepted the mission.” It will be dark soon. After a six hour stop over, Ulthaut must hurry his men to their respective destinations. Sergeant Trevor Alders, later identified as one of the shooters in that day’s friendly fire incident (see April 23, 2004) will tell Army investigators that his convoy, serial two, escorting the Afghani tow truck driver, does not even have a chance to glance at a map before “we were rushed to conduct an operation that had such flaws… which in the end would prove to be fatal.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006]
Ordered by command to split up into two convoys, Kevin and Pat Tillman’s platoon leaves Magarah (see April 22, 2004 and May 23-June 1, 2002) en route to clear the village of Manah near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Both convoys must move through a narrow canyon, presided over by steep cliffs where they are easy targets for enemy fighters.
Brothers in Separate Convoys - The brothers ride in separate convoys, Pat in designated Serial One, advancing to the village; Kevin, in designated Serial Two, escorting a local tow truck with the platoon’s disabled Humvee (see April 20-22,2004).
Platoon Leader Did Not Want Split - The platoon’s leader, Lieutenant David Uthlaut, who has strongly resisted the split-up—believing it compromises security in terms of weapons, communications, personnel, and command—leads Serial One. Sergeant Greg Baker commands “the heaviest armed vehicle” in Serial Two. Subsequent investigations will determine that two of Baker’s men have never been under fire before. [CounterPunch, 8/9/2007; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Serial One is the first to go through a dangerous canyon en route to complete a combat patrol mission (see 6:00 p.m. April 22, 2004). Military writer Stan Goff will describe the extremely narrow canyon as acting “like a funnel, a megaphone.” In a later book, Where Men Win Glory, author Jon Krakauer will write that Pat Tillman’s convoy must “move at an excruciatingly slow pace,” taking 20 minutes to do so because “the slot [is] so tight that the Humvees’ fenders scraped against its sheer walls.” [CounterPunch, 8/9/2007; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
US Army soldiers in Afghanistan at dusk. [Source: ESPN (.com)]Pat Tillman’s part of the Black Sheep Platoon, known as Serial One, gets through a perilous canyon passage without incident. But just as it emerges—after missing a turn—at the far mouth of the canyon, to an open area on the edge of a nearby village, it receives what will be described as “a highly-amplified, and highly-alarming acoustics-and-light show.” This is the effect of the other part of the platoon, known as Serial Two, engaging apparent guerrilla fighters from within the depths of the canyon (see April 22, 2004, 6:00 p.m. April 22, 2004, 6:18 pm April 22, 2004, and 6:14 p.m.-6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004). In his book on Pat Tillman, author Jon Krakauer will write that “from behind them, gunfire erupted inside the canyon. The Rangers in Serial One [look] back to see red tracer bullets blasting out of the passage, and [scramble] to provide cover for their embattled fellow soldiers.” [Associated Press, 11/9/2006; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Kevin and Pat Tillman. [Source: IraqHeroes (.com)]The Tillman brothers (see May 23-June 1, 2002) ride in separate convoys to complete a mission, Pat Tillman in designated Serial One and Kevin Tillman in Serial Two; while One moves safely through a dangerous canyon, Two, following shortly behind, runs into an ambush ( see April 22, 2004 and 6:14 p.m.-6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004).
Trapped in 'Kill Zone' - Serial Two—in the canyon only a minute—hears an explosion. Thinking they have hit a land mine or that an IED has been detonated, Sergeant Greg Baker and his men follow Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and dismount their “machine gun-laden” vehicle. Baker, in command of that vehicle, will later testify that he “noticed rocks falling,” and “then… saw the second and third mortar rounds hit.” He also will say that he could hear the “rattle of enemy small arms fire.” Now, realizing they are in an ambush, Two tries to get out of the “kill zone,” but the tow truck, which has been at the head of the convoy, blocks the way, its driver “cowering behind rocks.” Baker grabs the driver, throws him back in the truck, and gets him to move out, while he unloads his weapon “up the canyon walls” until it is out of ammunition. He dismounts the tow truck, racing back to his own vehicle—a roofless Humvee open on all sides—reloads, and continues firing. [Washington Post, 12/5/2004; Krakauer, 2009, pp. 264]
Serial Two 'Trigger-Happy' - Ranger Corporal Jason Parsons, a Serial Two member, will describe a scene of “tunnel vision” and “panic,” as his “trigger-happy crew”—men in the convoy’s last vehicle—fire at dark shapes they perceive above, to their north. Both Black Sheep soldiers, Pedro Arreola and Kyle Jones, shoot multiple rounds at this area, the northern ridge line. Kevin Tillman, riding atop Parson’s Humvee, holds his fire, fearing a ricochet effect will land his ordinance on a fellow Ranger’s head, but when he does finally see an opportunity to get off a shot, he finds his Mark 19 machine gun jammed, perhaps due to all the jostling, and he cannot get off a grenade during the entire incident. [Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
Half of Pat Tillman’s platoon, the Black Sheep, attempts to exit a narrow canyon-slot in southeastern Afghanistan where it has been ambushed (see 6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004). Coming out of the ambush, the part of the platoon known as Serial Two, in which Tillman’s brother Kevin rides, fires on Serial One, Pat Tillman’s convoy (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and 6:34 p.m. April 22, 2004).
Serial Two out of Canyon, Keeps Firing - As the men in Serial Two race out of the canyon, firing at an enemy they believe surrounds them, they do not know where One is positioned. And they do not know that One is trying to provide them with cover. Testifying in the Army’s later criminal investigation, Pat Tillman’s squad leader, Sergeant Matthew Weeks, will state that he “heard over the radio” of Two’s change in route. But he does not recall being able to get through to Two to coordinate their positions. Yet, he will state that because Two had been briefed as to One’s route, according to “Ranger training,” its men should have been able to maintain “situational awareness.” He will add that he does not think, however, that they “had any idea how close we were.” [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
Pat Tillman Leads Fire Team - Specialist Bryan O’Neal is nearest in proximity to Pat Tillman during the whole of the firefight. Initially, upon hearing an explosion, Lieutenant David Uthlaut orders the first convoy to dismount and “press the fight.” He assigns Tillman as one of the three fire team leaders. Tillman dismounts the second vehicle in the convoy and beckons for O’Neal, in the lead vehicle, to hurry up and follow him. One of the Allied Militia Forces (AMF) soldiers, an Afghani armed with an AK 47, has dismounted the vehicle he shares with four other AMFs and their interpreter, and he catches up with O’Neal and Tillman, the three of them then taking a position on a spur on the outskirts of a nearby village. Testifying in the third Army investigation which will, subsequent to this day’s events, be conducted by Brigadier General Gary Jones, O’Neal will state that he follows Tillman’s fire, opening up where he believes Tillman thinks the attackers are firing from. O’Neal can see muzzle flashes up on top of the ridge line. [Washington Post, 12/5/2004; ESPN, 7/19/2006; US Army, 7/19/2006 ; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ]
Serial Two Draws Fire; AMF Soldier Fires AK-47 over Road - Weeks will report seeing muzzle flashes and silhouettes and that the first convoy “received fire from across the valley as well.” Tillman runs back to his squad’s leader to ask him if he can take off his body armor and also to let him know where he is positioned. According to Army regulations, Weeks cannot allow him to drop his body armor. O’Neal will tell Army criminal investigators that while Tillman seeks orders from Weeks, the AMF soldier is “firing in all directions… firing over the main road.” Coming back to position, Tillman tells the small firing team that it will be running up a hill.
Squad Leader Weeks Gives Cease-Fire Signal; Sets off Flare - At this time, Weeks gets a radio transmission with the information that “Serial Two [is] mounting up to get around the tow truck vehicle.” He will state: “I remember the lead vehicle starting to make its way out of the canyon, after I had to stand up and look over the spur. I told everybody on the fire teams that friendlies [were] coming out of the low ground, and the lead vehicle was coming out of the canyon, and they mimiced [sic] the call. When I saw the vehicle coming out I also saw [Tillman’s] position. I knew Serial Two did not know where we were.” He will further relate that he rolls on his back and prepares a pen flare gun, then sees a vehicle carrying Sergeant Greg Baker and others stop and “the M240B gunner in the back… fire a burst of fire towards me.” Weeks sets off the flare and gives the cease-fire signal; although some of the soldiers will state to criminal investigators that there is no such signal known, others confirm that the signal is made by waving a hand and arm over the front of the face, palm out. As Weeks does this, he hears another burst, and then people in Baker’s vehicle shouting “cease fire.” [US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007, pp. 77-79 ]
A soldier posted close to Pat Tillman on a ridge-line fired upon by “friendlies” (see 6:34 p.m. - 6:44 p.m. April 22, 2004) will later testify that he, Tillman, and an Allied Forces soldier fighting with them, are fired upon in two incidents involving two different vehicles.
Account of Eyewitness in Nearest Proximity to Tillman - In Private Bryan O’Neal’s account, provided in the Army’s third investigation prior to its criminal probe, he recalls two encounters with friendly fire from two different vehicles, each of which he refers to as a “GMV.” He will testify that the first GMV fires an M-4 at the location where the AMF soldier, Tillman, and he are positioned on the spur, and that the AMF soldier is not hit until the “second encounter of friendly fire,” from a different vehicle. In an official inquiry conducted by Brigadier Gary Jones, O’Neal will detail the two encounters: “[M]y belief was that the first GMV that shot at us was like a cargo GMV, sir. It wasn’t—I didn’t, at that time, see any heavy—heavy weaponry on that sir. It was pretty much—you know there was nothing on it. And then the next one that came on us had a mounted fifty-cal and 240 and they were the ones that opened up on us, sir.” O’Neal will relate that in the initial confrontation with the first vehicle, the one he identifies as being a cargo transport, he and Tillman recognize friendlies, but not considering the situation serious, try to signal that they are friendlies by “a lot of waving.” O’Neal believes the shooters in the first vehicle realize they have made a “mistake,” and, as a result, “stop shooting… pretty instantaneously.” He will say the cargo GMV moves past them. Then the second vehicle “came and they pretty much stopped in the exact same spot… not too far forward of that spot.” But, according to O’Neal, “that one [the second, heavily armed vehicle] had a better angle on us.”
"I Guess They Figured We Were All Dead" - O’Neal will say that the second GMV “stopped and fired for a good 45 seconds to a minute,” but that “it felt like forever.” He will remember that “when they initially opened up… we were waving back and forth, back and forth,” but after GMV-2 hits them with “the fifty-cal and 240,” they stop moving, “and then they carried on after, I guess they figured we were all dead.” Asked about the distance of the second vehicle from his and Tillman’s position, he gauges it to be “no more than 30 meters,” possibly as far as 35. Although he will say he cannot see individual faces, the light is still good enough that he can see that “they were my friends.”
Tillman: "I Have Something that Can Help Us" - O’Neal will describe Tillman’s attempt to save their lives: “Pat was behind some pretty good cover, to where he wasn’t really too much in danger, and I was completely open for getting shot. I was watching them as they were shooting at me, and I was watching the rounds where they were—and Pat could look around—and I was noticing that most of their fire seemed to be directed towards me. The AMF guy, he was dead at that time. He was lying down. I could see him lying down and I realized that they were predominantly shooting at me and I guess he [Tillman] did too. And he moved out from behind his cover to throw some smoke.… All I remember him telling me, ‘Hey, don’t worry, I’ve got something that can help us.’ And he popped a smoke, I guess, and that’s when he got shot—one of the few times he got shot, sir.” Questioned as to when GMV-2 stops firing, O’Neal will reply, “Not too long after Pat threw the smoke, because I just remember him throwing the smoke and then he started having a cry in his call, you know, and he started screaming, ‘My name is Pat Tillman,’ and he said that probably five to 10 times, and then he went silent completely.” O’Neal will confirm that the shooters continue firing all through Tillman’s repeated “cry.”
Shooters Stopped - Towards the end of his testimony, O’Neal will be asked several times about whether or not GMV-2 was stopped when “they were firing.” He will answer that “they pulled up, stopped, looked at our position directly… it was like, stop, acquire, okay that’s our targets, now we can start firing.” In subsequent investigations, O’Neal will not be questioned about his account of receiving fire from two different GMVs, and he will not reiterate it. [ESPN, 7/19/2006]
Serial Two Leader Only Sees 'a Figure Holding an AK-47' - Sergeant Gary Baker, leader of the convoy later established to have fired at Pat Tillman’s position, will state that when he sees “a figure holding an AK-47, his muzzle flashing,” who is not wearing a helmet that might identify him as a coalition force soldier, he “[gets] tunnel vision.” He will claim that he does not notice O’Neal, Tillman, or any other Serial Two soldiers on the ridge-line. He will recall that the bearded Afghan is lying on his stomach. Others in his convoy will say the Afghan is shooting standing up, which they know to be the traditional fighting stance of “the enemy.” Although men under Baker’s command will say they can see that the Afghan is not dressed in what they call “man-dresses” (traditional garb) worn by guerrilla fighters, and in fact the CIA-trained Afghans traveling with the Black Sheep are all in standard battle dress uniforms (BDUs), none of the soldiers have combat trained with the allied Afghan fighters, and “shifting alliances” in the province have previously led to fatal mistakes in identifying friend from foe. Baker will say he sees a man with a dark complexion firing “a rifle typically carried by the enemy.” He believes the Afghan is firing directly at him. Only later does he realize that fading light, distance, and angle compromised his vision. In fact, the AMF soldier is attempting to provide cover for Baker and his men.
First Investigation Reports Tillman Was Charged - Baker opens up on the AMF, who is standing about 10 feet to the right of Tillman. His men follow his fire. Baker will refute the first investigative report, which notes that he dismounted his vehicle and “charged 15 meters toward Tillman” before firing. Staff Sergeant Kellett Sayre, Baker’s driver, will say he is also initially wary of the AK-47, but he spots Ranger vehicles parked in the area and Rangers along the ridge. He sees hands thrown up in the air—O’Neal and Tillman frantically trying to signal they are friendlies. He hears shouts of “cease fire.” He yells cease fire and even pulls on Specialist Stephen Ashpole’s leg, while driving with one hand on the wheel, racing away hoping to deprive the squad of a stationary shooting platform. But Ashpole is busy unloading every round in the .50-caliber machine gun up in the turret. And the men will say that by the time their platoon mates are trying to stop the barrage of fire, they themselves have been deafened by it. [Washington Post, 12/5/2004; Associated Press, 11/9/2006; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
"They Just Wouldn't Stop Shooting" - According to Krakauer, “as Baker’s Humvee kept driving across the wadi [dry riverbed valley], the shooters continued to spew bullets with reckless disregard, raking the entire hillside.” Many of the Serial One Rangers under Weeks’s command are arrayed up on a slope above Tillman’s position. Private Will Aker sees Specialist Steve Elliott “shooting [his 240 machine gun] everywhere,” over the slope and into village buildings. Aker recalls one of the bullets as landing within 12 inches of his foot. Specialist Russell Baer will reflect on a moment during which he contemplates shooting at his own men to put an end to the deadly chaos: “You could see rounds impacting all around us… they just wouldn’t stop shooting. I came so close to shooting back at those guys. I knew I would be able to kill everyone of them with my SAW.” Although he does not act on his impulse, and is glad not to have, he will say “it didn’t seem like anything else was gonna stop them.” [Krakauer, 2009, pp. 250-276]
The Toll - When the shooters’ Humvee finally comes to a stop, the toll amounts to two dead—Tillman and the AMF soldier—and two seriously wounded—platoon leader Lieutenant Uthlaut and his radio operator, Specialist Jade Lane, who had been attempting to communicate with Regimental Command in Kabul from 100 yards up the road. Tillman is killed by three shots to the forehead. The AMF soldier dies of chest wounds. Uthlaut is shot in the mouth, Lane in the knee. [ESPN, 7/19/2006; US Department of the Army, 3/19/2007 ]
Although an Army investigation conducted within a few days of Pat Tillman’s death (see May 23-June 1, 2002 and April 23, 2004) concludes that Tillman died due to his own unit’s “gross negligence,” shot three times in the head, this information is not given to the Tillman family for several weeks. Not until after a televised memorial service is held do Tillman relatives and the American public learn that Tillman died under “friendly,” not enemy fire. It will be another year before the Washington Post breaks the story that Tillman’s fellow Rangers had reported details of a friendly fire incident immediately and that US Army local command and top officials knew the truth well in advance of the family, but deliberately chose not to share it. A report consisting of 2,000 pages of investigative material, made by Brigadier General Gary M. Jones at the request of Tillman’s family and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), will reveal that Army commanders know the results of an initial, in-house investigation days before the memorial at which they award Tillman the Silver Star. [Washington Post, 5/4/2005]
Specialist Pat Tillman marching in
graduation ceremony at Fort Benning, GA. [Source: National Ledger]The Pentagon reports that Army Ranger Pat Tillman has died in combat with enemy fighters in Afghanistan. Tillman gave up a multi-million dollar NFL contract to fight against al-Qaeda ( seeMay 23-June 1, 2002, and was was perhaps the most well-known US soldier in the Middle East. [Rich, 2006]
White House Calls Tillman Death "Ultimate Sacrifice" - In a statement made a day after Tillman’s death, Taylor Goss, a White House spokesman, says: “Pat Tillman was an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. His family is in the thoughts and prayers of President and Mrs. Bush.” [MSNBC, 4/26/2004]
Military Spokesman Tells NBC Tillman Died at Hands of Enemy - According to Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Beevers, Tillman died at the hand of enemy fighters in an ambush near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Pentagon will release more details of Tillman’s death a week later. [Rich, 2006]
The Silver Star. [Source: Pat Dollard (.com)]The Pentagon awards Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who it claims died at the hand of the Taliban a week before (see April 23, 2004), a posthumous Silver Star for conspicuous bravery under enemy fire. It also releases more details of Tillman’s death. According to an Army press release, Tillman had stormed an enemy-occupied hill trying to save fellow soldiers pinned down by enemy fire: “Through the fire, Tillman’s voice was heard issuing commands to take the fight to enemy forces emplaced on the dominating high ground [even as he] personally provided suppressive fire with an M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon machine gun.” Weeks later, the Pentagon’s story will prove to be completely false. Tillman actually died from friendly fire. [Rich, 2006, pp. 124]
An image from the ABC broadcast ‘The Fallen.’ [Source: ABC / Poynter (.org)]ABC News reporter Ted Koppel, the anchor of the network’s late-night news show Nightline, marks the first anniversary of the end of what President Bush called “major combat operations” (see May 1, 2003) by reading alound the names of the US troops who have died in Iraq, and showing their pictures as he goes through the list. After the 35-minute segment, which Koppel titles “The Fallen,” he explains the rationale behind it. “Our goal tonight was to elevate the fallen above the politics and the daily journalism,” he says. “The reading tonight of those 721 names was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war nor was it meant as an endorsement. Some of you doubt that. You are convinced that I am opposed to the war. I am not, but that’s beside the point. I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of the few without burdening the rest of us in any way.” [CNN, 5/1/2004]
Heavy Conservative Criticism - Author and media critic Frank Rich will call it “an unbelievably poignant roll call.” Others, mostly conservative pundits and lawmakers, disagree. Neoconservative pundit and editor William Kristol calls Koppel’s tribute a “stupid statement.” Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly says the show might undermine morale if it tries to “exploit casualties in a time of war,” but fails to mention his own tribute to slain soldier Pat Tillman (see April 23, 2004 and April 29, 2004) the night before. [Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, criticizes what he calls the program’s “partisan nature,” and says its only goal is “to turn public opinion against the war.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Station Owners Order Broadcast Censored - The Sinclair Broadcast Group, a large regional consortium of local television stations whose executives are heavy donors to Republican campaigns, orders its eight ABC affiliates not to air Koppel’s broadcast. In its statement, Sinclair writes: “The action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.… Mr. Koppel and Nightline are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq.” The statement goes on to ask why ABC does not read the names of the thousands of Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks. Sinclair spokesman Mark Hyman says the broadcast is irrelevant: “Someone who died 13 months ago—why is that news? Those people did not die last week. It’s not an anniversary of the war, it’s not Memorial Day—so why this day? If this is Memorial Day, then go ahead and do it.” Hyman goes on to say of Koppel, “I think clearly here’s a guy who is opposed to the war and is trying to stir up public opposition to it,” and says that ABC is obviously trying to boost its ratings. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the Sinclair decision “deeply offensive,” writing in a letter to Sinclair Broadcast Group president and CEO David Smith: “Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war’s terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.” Smith replies: “Our decision was based on a desire to stop the misuse of their sacrifice to support an anti-war position with which most, if not all, of these soldiers would not have agreed. While I don’t disagree that Americans need to understand the costs of war and sacrifices of our military volunteers, I firmly believe that responsible journalism requires that a discussion of these costs must necessarily be accompanied by a description of the benefits of military action and the events that precipitated that action.” [Greensboro News and Record, 4/30/2004; CNN, 5/1/2004; Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004; Associated Press, 5/1/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Jane Bright, who lost her son Sergeant Evan Ashcraft, writes in response: “The Sinclair Broadcast group is trying to undermine the lives of our soldiers killed in Iraq. By censoring Nightline they want to hide the toll the war on Iraq is having on thousands of soldiers and their families, like mine.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004] Koppel says that any suggestion by Sinclair that he is “unpatriotic” or trying to “undermine the war effort” is “beneath contempt.” [CNN, 5/1/2004]
Media Watchdog Group Alleges Underlying Agenda - Robert McChesney of the media reform group Free Press says that Sinclair has an underlying motive in censoring the Nightline broadcast: “No one thinks for a second this decision has anything to do with journalism. It’s a politics-slash-business decision that Sinclair made because they don’t want to [anger] the White House.” Sinclair, a political supporter of the Bush administration, is trying to curry favor with the White House to bolster chances of gaining changes in station ownership rules, McChesney says. “The stench of corruption here is extraordinary.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Political Statement? - Koppel says he has no intention of making any sort of “political statement” by airing the segment. “I don’t want it to make a political statement. Quite the contrary,” he says. “My position on this is I truly believe that people will take away from this program the reflection of what they bring to it.… Why, in heaven’s name, should one not be able to look at the faces and hear the names and see the ages of those young people who are not coming back alive and feel somehow ennobled by the fact that they were willing to give up their lives for something that is in the national interest of all of us?” New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen disagrees. “Despite what he said about it,” Rosen writes, “Ted Koppel and Nightline were making a political statement last night by reading the names of ‘the fallen’ in Iraq. And there is nothing wrong with that—although it is risky because many will object.… By refusing to air the show… Sinclair Broadcasting, the country’s largest owner of television stations, was making a political statement right back.… Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, either, although it is risky and many will object.” ABC makes a political statement by choosing to air the segment, not only on the airwaves, but on the Jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square. And ABC affiliates who decide to ignore Sinclair’s order and air the broadcast are making their own political statement. [Al Tompkins, 4/30/2004; Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004]
Undermining Public Support of War? - Many pundits who argue against the Nightline memorium say that to air such a segment would undermine public support for the war, an argument which Rich later answers: “If the country was as firmly in support of this war as Bush loyalists claimed, by what logic would photographs of its selfless soldiers, either of their faces or their flag-draped coffins (see April 18, 2004 and After), undermine public opinion?” [Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Sue Niederer, who lost her son, Second Lieutenant Seth Dvorin, to a roadside bomb, says: “I feel it’s extremely important that the American people put a face and a name to the dead. When you just listen to a number, you don’t think about what may be behind that—that there’s a family, that there’s actually a person who has lost their life.” [CNN, 5/1/2004] Tim Holmes, who lost his son, Specialist Ernest Sutphin, says of Koppel’s broadcast: “That’s something I’d like to see. I feel like people have a right to see something like that—what’s going on over there.” Marine reservist Chief Warrant Officer David Dennis adds: “Let the American people know the Marines who have died, and everyone who has died. The people need to know who it is that is going out there and making the ultimate sacrifice for them.” [Greensboro News and Record, 4/30/2004] “We should be honoring all the men and women who have served,” says Ivan Medina, who lost his twin brother, Irving Medina. “My hat goes off to Nightline.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Fox News Responds - Fox News reporter and anchor Chris Wallace says his network will “answer” Koppel’s broadcast by airing its own segment: “[W]e here at Fox News Sunday are going to put together our own list, a list of what we’ve accomplished [in Iraq], with the blood, sweat, and yes, lives of our military.” [Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004]
Entity Tags: William Kristol, Fox News, Tim Holmes, Ted Koppel, ABC News, Bill O’Reilly, Brent Bozell, David Smith, Sue Niederer, Evan Ashcraft, Chris Wallace, David Dennis, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Ernest Sutphin, Robert McChesney, Ivan Medina, Irving Medina, George W. Bush, Seth Dvorin, Frank Rich, Jane Bright, Jay Rosen, Free Press, Mark Hyman, John McCain, Media Research Center, Pat Tillman
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Jessica Lynch testifies before the House Oversight Committee. [Source: Shawn Thew / epa / Corbis]The House Oversight Committee holds a hearing focusing on misleading and false information provided to the press following the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, and the capture and rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch in Iraq (see March 23, 2003, April 1, 2003, and June 17, 2003).The committee focuses on how and why misinformation on the two incidents was disseminated, by whom, and if anyone in the Bush administration has been, or will be, held accountable. Lynch testifies that she is there to address “misinformation from the battlefield,” and notes, “Quite frankly, it is something that I have been doing since I returned from Iraq.” Lynch says that while she was being transported out of Iraq to a hospital in Germany: “tales of great heroism were being told. My parent’s home in Wirt County was under siege of the media all repeating the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting. It was not true. I have repeatedly said, when asked, that if the stories about me helped inspire our troops and rally a nation, then perhaps there was some good. However, I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary. People like Lori Piestewa and First Sergeant Dowdy who picked up fellow soldiers in harms way. Or people like Patrick Miller and Sergeant Donald Walters who actually fought until the very end. The bottom line is the American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes and they don’t need to be told elaborate tales.” She concludes: “I had the good fortune and opportunity to come home and I told the truth. Many other soldiers, like Pat Tillman, do not have the opportunity. The truth of war is not always easy to hear but it is always more heroic than the hype.” [House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 4/27/2007; House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, 4/27/2007 ]
Philip Kensinger. [Source: AP]According to Army officials, retired Lieutenant General Phillip Kensinger could face demotion for misleading testimony and false reporting in the case of Pat Tillman’s death in Afghanistan (see April 23, 2004). [Associated Press, 7/31/2007] In a memorandum condemning Kensinger’s administration of the Army’s investigation into Tillman’s death, Army Secretary Pete Geren states that Kensinger “compromised his duty to the acting secretary of the Army by providing a report including information he knew to be false.” He further accuses Kensinger of adding to the Tillman family’s grief in not carrying out the procedural policies of the Army and the Department of Defense regarding investigations into suspected friendly fire deaths. [Associated Press, 7/31/2007]
Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal. [Source: DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel/Released, via Reuters]Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen announce the nomination of controversial former special/black operations commander Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal to replace the top US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan. At the Pentagon, Gates explains that “new leadership and fresh eyes” are needed to reverse the course of the seven-year-old war. “We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed,” he says. The White House confirms that President Obama has signed off on the nomination. McChrystal is the former commander of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which during his tenure was tied to prisoner abuse and covert assassinations in Iraq, as well as controversy in the military’s handling of the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. McKiernan will remain in place until the Senate confirms the appointments of McChrystal and his designated deputy, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, also a veteran of elite US forces. Both officers have experience in Afghanistan and have more familiarity with counterinsurgency operations than McKiernan. Gates says that McChrystal and Rodriguez will “bring a unique skill set in counterinsurgency to these issues, and I think that they will provide the kind of new leadership and fresh thinking that [Admiral Mike Mullen] and I have been talking about.” [CNN, 5/11/2009; Army Times, 5/11/2009]
Prisoner Abuse, Geneva Convention Violations - Under McChrystal’s command, the Joint Special Operations Command supplied elite troops to a secret unit known variously as Task Force 626 and Task Force 121, based at Camp Nama (an acronym for “nasty ass military area”) near Baghdad. A Human Rights Watch report found evidence that the task force engaged in prisoner torture and abuse, and that the JSOC command likely violated the Geneva Conventions (see November 2004). According to the report, which was based on soldier testimony, inmates at the camp were subjected to beatings, exposure to extreme cold, threats of death, humiliation, and various forms of psychological abuse or torture. The report’s sources claimed that written authorizations were required for abusive techniques—indicating that the use of these tactics was approved up the chain of command—and that McChrystal denied the Red Cross and other investigators access to Camp Nama, a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [New York Times, 3/19/2006; Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Secret Assassinations - During McChrystal’s tenure as head of JSOC, he led campaigns to track down, capture, or kill enemies. To this end, McChrystal built a sophisticated network of soldiers and intelligence operatives to assassinate Sunni insurgent leaders and decapitate al-Qaeda in Iraq. He is also understood to have led the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, a Human Rights Watch report on the secret units under JSOC command states that although targets included Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the operations also swept up “hundreds of anonymous, and often innocent, detainees.” One senior Pentagon officer, quoted by the Washington Post, warns, “People will ask, what message are we sending when our high-value-target hunter is sent to lead in Afghanistan?” [Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Washington Post, 5/13/2009] Newsweek has noted that JSOC is likely part of what then-Vice President Dick Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006] Furthermore, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has reported that JSOC ran what he called an “executive assassination wing” that reported directly to Cheney’s office, which then cleared lists of people to be targeted for assassination by secret JSOC units (see March 10, 2009 and March 31, 2009).
Pat Tillman Silver Star Controversy - The Pentagon’s inspector general found McChrystal responsible for promulgating false and misleading information in the aftermath of the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman in 2004. In the controversy, McChrystal had approved paperwork recommending Tillman for a silver star, which stated that he died from “devastating enemy fire,” despite knowledge of internal investigations pointing to friendly fire as the cause of death (see April 29, 2004) and April 23-Late June, 2004). McChrystal then backtracked only when he learned that then-President Bush was about to quote from the misleading silver star citation in a speech. The US Army later overruled the Pentagon inspector general’s recommendation that McChrystal be held accountable for his actions. [Washington Post, 8/4/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Task Force 121, Robert M. Gates, Task Force 626, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Rodriguez, Obama administration, Camp Nama, David D. McKiernan, Human Rights Watch, Joint Special Operations Command, Michael Mullen, Pat Tillman, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Mary and Pat Tillman Sr. in 2002 at a halftime ceremony held during an Arizona Cardinals game in honor of their son. [Source: Associated Press]Mary Tillman, mother of Ranger Pat Tillman (see May 23-June 1, 2002), a former NFL star killed under disputed circumstances in Afghanistan in 2002 (see April 23, 2004), sends a one-sentence email to the Associated Press: “It is imperative that General [Stanley] McChrystal be scrutinized carefully during the Senate hearings.” McChrystal, once a ‘black ops’ Special Forces chief, is to head up the war in Afghanistan, replacing fired General David McKiernan.
Due for Confirmation, McChrystal Participated in Tillman Death Cover-Up - On April 29, 2004, McChrystal, then a lieutenant general, urged top generals to warn “our nation’s leaders,” particularly the president, not to refer to “the devastating enemy fire” story cited in paperwork he had already approved to award Tillman the Silver Star (see April 29, 2004) posthumously. He wrote that it was “highly possible” Tillman’s death was due to friendly fire. [USA Today, 5/13/2009]
Pentagon Wanted McCrystal Punished, but Senate Voted to Promote - When these facts regarding McCrystal’s role in the Pentagon’s suppression of the truth about the circumstances of Tillman’s death became known in 2007, the Pentagon wanted him to be sanctioned. However, in 2008, the Senate overwhelmingly voted for his promotion from a two-star to a three-star general.
Father Accuses McChrystal of Being on Board with Deception - In an interview with the Associated Press, Tillman’s father, Pat Sr., says that McChrystal had joined a “falsified” investigation into criminal conduct in an earlier Army probe. McChrystal’s confirmation process is slated to be finalized in late June. [USA Today, 5/13/2009]
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