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House Investigates Army’s Handling of Tillman, Lynch Incidents

April 24, 2007 at 6:20 PM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: Army Private Jessica Lynch and Army Corporal Pat Tillman were perhaps the most famous casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

American troops rescued Lynch from captivity in an Iraqi hospital in Nasiriyah on April 1, 2003. Reports at the time said the badly injured Lynch heroically had held off insurgents before her capture, but later the Army admitted Lynch never fired her weapon.

In 2004, Corporal Pat Tillman, a professional football star who went into the Army rangers after 9/11, died from what the Army said was fierce fire from Taliban forces in eastern Afghanistan. Tillman posthumously was awarded the Silver Star for bravery in combat. But a month later, Tillman’s family was told he was felled by fire from members of his own platoon.

Today, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, now under the control of California Democrat Henry Waxman, heard testimony about the Army’s misstatements about both events.

Congressional reactions

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), California: For Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman, the government violated its most basic responsibility. Sensational details and stories were invented in both cases.

Many military officials sat in silence during a nationally televised memorial ceremony highlighting Pat Tillman's fight against the terrorists. Evidence was destroyed. Witness statements were doctored. The Tillman family wants to know how all of this could have happened, and they want to know whether these actions were all just accidents or whether they were deliberate.

KWAME HOLMAN: Virginia's Tom Davis is the committee's top Republican.

REP. TOM DAVIS (R), Virginia: The fog of war can be dense. And Ms. Lynch's story offers only a cautionary tale about waiting for the smoke to clear before accepting early battle damage assessments as fact.

The case of Army Ranger Pat Tillman is far more troubling. Rules and procedures put in place precisely for the purpose of providing timely and accurate information about combat deaths were ignored. The truth about Jessica Lynch and Patrick Tillman is heroic enough. There is no need to embellish or spin it.

No need for 'elaborate lies'

KWAME HOLMAN: Tillman's brother, Kevin, was in the same platoon and was riding in a convoy in the Afghan mountains on April 22, 2004, when his brother was attacked. He said, amid bad news coming out of Iraq at the time, the Army did not want to admit Pat Tillman's death was caused by friendly fire rather than by Taliban fighters.

KEVIN TILLMAN, Brother of Pat Tillman: 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 valor.

KWAME HOLMAN: Jessica Lynch told the committee the Army should have corrected press accounts that cast her as a hero fighting off her attackers.

FORMER PVT. JESSICA LYNCH, U.S. Army: 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'm 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 legendary.

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 lies. The truth of war is not always easy; the truth is always more heroic than the hype.

Administration's knowledge

KWAME HOLMAN: Though a Pentagon memo reportedly warned President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld that Tillman may have died from friendly fire, family members said they still don't know how far up the chain of command the truth was known but withheld from the family.

KEVIN TILLMAN: It's a bit disingenuous to think that the administration did not know about what was going on, something so politically sensitive. So that's kind of what we were hoping you guys could get involved with and take a look. I mean, we only can go so far. We don't have access to these people; we don't have access to the un-redacted information. We're kind of landlocked.

KWAME HOLMAN: Pat Tillman's mother, Mary, also was at the hearing.

MARY TILLMAN, Mother of Pat Tillman: It's not about our family. Our family will never be satisfied. We'll never have Pat back. But what is so outrageous is this isn't about Pat. This is about what they did to Pat and that they did to a nation.

And to write these glorious tales is really a disservice to the nation, and the nation needs to realize this is an ugly war. Everyone should be part of it. Everyone should understand what's going on. And we shouldn't be allowed to have smoke screens thrown in our face.

Ordered to maintain silence

KWAME HOLMAN: Later, the committee heard from Army Specialist Bryan O'Neal. He was with Tillman when he was killed by friendly fire. He said he was ordered to keep quiet.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: Within 72 hours, at least nine military officials knew or were informed that Pat Tillman's death was a fratricide, including at least three generals. Given that so many people in the military were informed so quickly that this was fratricide, does it trouble you that the Tillman family was kept in the dark about this for another month?

SPC. BRYAN O'NEAL, U.S. Army: Yes, sir, it does. I wanted right off the bat to let the family know what had happened, especially Kevin, because I've worked with him in the platoon. And I knew that him and the family both needed or all needed to know what had happened.

And I was quite appalled that when I was actually able to speak with Kevin, I was ordered not to tell him what happened, sir.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN: You were ordered not to tell them?

SPC. BRYAN O'NEAL: Roger that, sir.


SPC. BRYAN O'NEAL: At that time, it was by our battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Bailey, sir.

KWAME HOLMAN: In March, the Department of Defense concluded that nine Army officers, including four generals, made critical errors in reporting Corporal Tillman's death. None of those officers was called before the House committee today. The Army still is weighing punishment for them.