Transcript - November 17, 2006
BRANCACCIO: Welcome to NOW...
The Democrats who will soon control Congress say they want to get at the truth about the war. For example, Congress had decided to do away with the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction? Incoming Democrats say not so fast, and are vowing to keep the office open...that's been tracking how your tax dollars get spent in Iraq.
But there's another angle on tracking down the truth that we've been investigating: complaints from families who say the military has misled them about how their loved ones died.
The most famous of these is the story of army ranger pat Tillman, the former football star who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan two years ago.
The army is now finishing its fourth investigation into his death, and this time it's looking at whether the facts were intentionally covered up.
It turns out the Tillman's are not the only family being handed something less than the truth. Karla Murthy produced our report.
BURYJ: When your son's a soldier you know they could get killed. You know, you pray. But you know it—it's a reality. But what happened after Jesse died, and the journey to find out what happened to him has just—broken my heart worse.
HINOJOSA: Peggy Buryj wants the truth. Her son, private Jesse Buryj was killed in Iraq on may 5, 2004. Peggy was first told her son died when a truck hit his hum-vee, but she later found out—it wasn't true.
BURYJ: Some—maybe some mothers could- say well it didn't matter —oh, how he died. Well, it does. It's—it's important. It's a part of history. It's a part of my son's life, how he died. And they're not—going take that away from him.
HINOJOSA: Peggy has been in battle with the military to find out how her son really died. But her story is not unique. She's one of several families that we know about that were given conflicting accounts of their loved ones deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's now been over two years since Peggy's son died, and there are still more questions than answers.
We first met Peggy at her home last spring.
BURYJ: This is where he grew up, this was his hood
HINOJOSA: Jesse Buryj grew up with his parents Peggy and Steve in Canton, Ohio. He joined the army straight out of high school:
BURYJ: These were all taken when he was overseas. I don't know if they're in Kuwait or Iraq. This is my Jess...always laughing...he's the funniest person I ever met.
BURYJ: He knew he was going to go to war. He believed in what he was doing. I used to tell him, "Go have your great adventure, Jesse. You know, go have your adventure and come home,"
HINOJOSA: Private Buryj had only been in Iraq a little more than a month when, on may 4, 2004, he was assigned to guard a traffic circle in Karbala alongside coalition troops from Poland. According to the military's initial account—shortly after midnight, a dump truck ran the checkpoint. The soldiers opened fire and, as the truck slammed into his hum-vee, Jesse was killed. Peggy found out the next day from Jesse's wife amber.
BURYJ: I hear this knock at the door. I look out and I see a soldier standing there and I see Jesse's wife standing there and I just looked and I wouldn't open the door. I just figured I'm not gonna open this door. Amber looked at me and she was crying and she goes, "Peggy, he's gone."
HINOJOSA: After a funeral procession through his hometown streets, Peggy Buryj had her son Jesse buried with military honors. At the time, she had no reason to doubt the army's story.
BURYJ: You know, we were basically told that a truck ran a checkpoint, hit Jesse's Hum-V and Jesse was thrown from the Hum-V and sustained internal injuries and died. That's what we were told. That's what we thought when we buried him.
HINOJOSA: But almost 2 months after Jesse's funeral, his young widow sent Peggy documents she'd been given by the army.
BURYJ: And on the death certificate, it said, "Cause of death, penetrating gunshot wound to the back." I said, "He was shot?" I just couldn't believe that they would leave out that detail that Jesse was shot. , I start making phone calls. I'm calling everybody I could possibly call that I could think of. I even called, like, the Red Cross. Could you help me here? Anybody, help me.
HINOJOSA: Peggy says she spent hours on the phone and on the internet trying to get more information. But she didn't get very far.
Then during a campaign stop by President Bush in July 2004, Peggy had a chance to take her questions right to the commander in chief.
BURYJ: To me this was a sign from God. I'm getting to meet the President of the United States. I took an index card and wrote down all my information and all Jessie's information. And I said, "Please help me find out what happened to my son."
HINOJOSA: Peggy says that after the meeting, her case did seem to get more attention. But still, there were very few answers.
BURYJ: If Jesse was killed here at home, I could go to the police station and say, "Could you please give me a copy of this?" The police report. I could go to the coroner and get a copy of the autopsy.
HINOJOSA: Peggy—along with her daughter Angela—found out that getting information from the military is a different story. Peggy was shocked to learn that to get the army reports relating to her son's death—she needed to file a freedom of information act request.
BURYJ: Everything went through the military. I have a son that's dead. That was shot. I don't know who shot him, how he was shot. I know nothing other than the fact that my son's dead.
HINOJOSA: Eight months after Jesse's death, her freedom of information request was answered. Peggy was in for an even bigger shock.
BURYJ: I finally get a copy of the autopsy. And the autopsy said: "Specialist Jesse Buryj died as a result of friendly fire."
HINOJOSA: What's going on for you when you see "friendly fire"?
BURYJ: It's like I'm blind sided. It's like I'm blind —I felt like —I literally felt blind sided. You know it too me all this time to even have them tell me that my son was shot.
BURYJ: This was the first formal, any time the military sat us down and tried to explain to us what happened to Jesse.
HINOJOSA: In April of 2005, almost a full year since Jesse was killed, Peggy received a death briefing and what was supposed to be the final report explaining the friendly fire incident.
BURYJ: First thing, Under Facts, it says 12 of May 2004—1400, notify next to kin on change of findings from hostile incident, to friendly fire incident. Who they told on May 12th that Jesse was killed by friendly fire. Sure wasn't his family.
HINOJOSA: Army investigators called Jesse's death a "tragic accident" and was "most likely" a result of friendly fire from "polish forces". But it pointed out "most likely does not mean proved." Even so the report concluded that the "investigation of the incident is complete." But Peggy says... the report was far from complete...
BURYJ: I just, the more I read it, the more holes were in it. The more inconsistencies, the more this isn't right. In my gut, I knew this isn't right.
HINOJOSA: Peggy is not the only one looking for the truth. First lt. Ken Ballard died in Iraq May 30, 2004. His mother, Karen Meredith, had initially been told her son was killed by enemy fire. But after a more than a year, the story changed. It wasn't enemy fire, but an accidental discharge by an unmanned machine gun.
MEREDITH: The machine gun had been triggered by a tree branch.
HINOJOSA: Why hadn't they told you the truth? Why do you think they weren't telling you the truth?
MEREDITH: I think that it was really incompetence, that people didn't do their job. But my problem became, you don't treat Army families like this. If you know the truth, then we deserve the right to know.
HINOJOSA: The most famous case was in 2004, when army ranger Pat Tillman—the former football star was killed in Afghanistan.
The Tillman family had initially been told that he had died in combat by enemy fire. But later, they found out, it had been by friendly fire from his own unit.
As in Jesse Buryj's case, questions surfaced. There were inconsistencies in the sworn statements given by army officers. And, Tillman's fellow soldiers burned and destroyed his uniform and body army—critical evidence that could have helped explain how Tillman was shot.
The defense department is now completing a fourth investigation into pat tillman's death—a criminal inquiry looking into the possibility of a cover up.
Back in canton Ohio, Peggy Buryj is still far from the truth. She had new reasons to question the army's account of Jesse's death by friendly fire from polish troops. A soldier from her son's unit turned up at her doorstep with a new version of events.
BURYJ: He came here and told me that the Polish had absolutely nothing to do with Jessie's death. He was there when the confession was made. As to who shot Jessie. He was there when statements were coerced, and the reports were falsified. And he said the Polish were a complete scapegoat. They had nothing to do with Jessie's death.
HINOJOSA: And you're getting this from another soldier?
BURYJ: Yeah. Sitting here in my living room. Telling me "If this was my parents, I would want them to know."
HINOJOSA: Peggy says the soldier told her Jesse had been accidentally shot by a member of his own unit. This new revelation sparked a second investigation into Jesse Buryj's death.
The army would not comment on the specifics of Jesse's case. After two years, Peggy is angry that it's taking the army so long to figure out how her son died.
BURYJ: I like to think they think it hurts too bad to tell families that their son was killed by friendly fire. But that's not the truth. What hurts is not knowing.
HINOJOSA: In an effort to address some of the problems families like Peggy Buryj are experiencing, the army has recently changed its notification procedures for families of soldiers who have been killed.
They started requiring commanders in the field to "review and certify the content of the casualty report" and have expanded casualty assistance for parents.
This past summer, the army also began a review of 810 casualty reports—that's about 40% of all army deaths. Their conclusion: only seven families had been misinformed about their loved ones deaths.
But Peggy believes there are many more.
BURYJ: I find it hard to believe that there was only seven—problems. I know seven people here in Ohio that had problems with their notifications—were told one thing, and—found out—you know, maybe a day later, or maybe even that same day. But there were problems. I don't believe it.
HINOJOSA: And of those seven families, five had already been reported in the media. Including the families of Pat Tillman, Ken Ballard and Jesse Buryj. Peggy says, it's no coincidence that they ended up in the army's report,
BURYJ: The people that have come forward—and made the stink, and—and—made the stink, and—and questioned it, are the people that are getting the attention.
HINOJOSA: Two months ago, an army investigator working on the second investigation into Jesse's death gave Peggy new information on Jesse's case. The weapons were now being examined, but- as in pat Tillman's' case—Jesse's clothes had been destroyed.
BURYJ: That wasn't a red flag to me until the Pat Tillman case when they said his clothes had been destroyed. Now I find out 2 months ago that Jesse's clothes had been destroyed and they weren't there for any comparisons or for criminal investigation to look at angle it came from , how close of range it could have been Just another one of those why wasn't it done that way, why wasn't it done? It should have been done.
HINOJOSA: But today—Peggy may get the answers she's been waiting for. After two years and two investigations into Jesse's death, army officials are coming to Peggy's home to present their final report.
BURYJ: They have two options, to tell me who killed my son, or to have a very good reason—why they can't figure it out. Those are their only two options. And one will not be acceptable.
BURYJ: I hope the military's accountable. I hope—for the truth. For the truth. That's all I ever wanted was the truth.
BRANCACCIO: You can check out the very latest on the investigation into Jessie Buryj's death by consulting the "NOW" page at pbs.org. Now the voter's have made clear that it's high time for some new and original thinking about Iraq. To get practical, what about the us intelligence guiding policy decisions there and more generally guiding the global struggle against terrorism. We're about to meet a man who spent 25 years in the central intelligence agency- including a stint as the head of clandestine operations in Europe during the months before and after 9-11. He has some thoughts about what we need now to keep us safe.
Tyler Drumheller, welcome...
BRANCACCIO: Tyler Drumheller, welcome.
DRUMHELLER: Thank you.
BRANCACCIO: What in America's vast intelligence apparatus has to change now?
DRUMHELLER: What we need to do is have an equivalent of a modern Manhattan Project, because this is equally as important to the US security as the Manhattan Project was to World War II. We need to draw on all the best minds on the—all the different aspects of terrorism, people who speak Arabic, people who are Koranic scholars, and get a very tight, select group of people to work on that issue, and then direct the case officers who were in the field to do what they have to do.
BRANCACCIO: But after 9/11, don't we have that now? They would have recruited people. They should have gotten serious then.
DRUMHELLER: After 9/11 they created this—the Director of National Intelligence struc—structure you ended up with the Director of National Intelligence to be the coordinator more than a chief. So you have—someone has to be in charge. Someone has to be responsible for this. And—you need to have—and you also brought together all the elements of all the different agencies, CIA, defense intelligence agency, the Pentagon, the FBI, and put 'em into the counterterrorism center, so you have this huge center, and inside of a huge Director of National Intelligence bureaucracy.
BRANCACCIO: And you're saying too huge now.
DRUMHELLER: Too large. They need a smaller elite group, the very best minds, who can come up with very specific requirements for the officers, and then intelligence for the policymakers.
BRANCACCIO: Well, now you're on to quite a topic, which is the idea of politicians influencing the intelligence they're getting, which of course is the story of American intelligence in the past few years.
DRUMHELLER: It is, and I think that it's a process. It's not just the Bush administration. This is—I mean, a lot of people think this is against the Bush administ—my book is against the Bush administration. In fact, it's against the process of politicization that's gone on for the last 30 years, since I've been involved in intelligence -
BRANCACCIO: Well, is it inevitable, or is there a way around it?
DRUMHELLER: There is a way around it, if you make the structure strong enough to—to resist the natural impulse of politicians to hear things that they want—that confirm their beliefs. And that—that's why the director has to be a strong leader in this, and has to be a strong position. And I believe the director act—I didn't used to believe this, but I believe now the director should be appointed, like the FBI director, for ten—maybe a ten year term, or a—
BRANCACCIO: You mean a specific term for head of the CIA—
BRANCACCIO: Do you think that would help?
DRUMHELLER: intelligence needs to be—the people that can come in and tell people the things they don't want to hear. And that's—that's a tough—that's a tough road to hoe in Washington.
BRANCACCIO: Well, like there used to be quite a wall, I mean I remember seeing reporting about the run-up to the Iraq—
BRANCACCIO: war, and there are suggestions that the Vice-President of the United States should go over to Langley, CIA headquarters, once in a while, and Dick Cheney walks in. You're gonna start wanting to pleasing him.
DRUMHELLER: Well, he came many times
DRUMHELLER: I think it's a problem, because I think when he's there, that it's a bureaucracy, and people always want to please the boss, and you're—young officers, or old officers - in the presence of the Vice-President, and he clearly doesn't agree with what you're saying. You're going to try and find—the temptation is to find things to—to fit what he wants to say.
BRANCACCIO: So a new-ish Director of Central Intelligence, the CIA. You have a former CIA man going over to take Don Rumsfeld's spot at the Pentagon. Of course, the defense department does a lot of spying of its own. A Democratic congress coming in. Is this an opportunity for changing some of this?
DRUMHELLER: It is an opportunity. I think the appointment of—of Bob Gates to be the Secretary of Defense is—he certainly knows the intelligence community probably better than anybody does. He was senior analyst in the agency, he was the deputy director, he was the director for a short period of time. You have good people at the head of the CIA right now having General Hayden (PH) and Steve Cappas (PH) at the CIA ...very professional guys. They can sit down and work out these differences and then get rid of this huge staff that's in there, now that really does nothing but sort of serve the purpose of Washington.
DRUMHELLER: So you need to—you need to eliminate that, and—and—and actually, policy makers, in the end, that's what they want. They just—you know. They have to realize that—what they want, they're not always gonna like it when they get it. We used to say the good news is, you have a good agent, the bad news is you have a good agent, 'cause good agents always tell you stuff you don't want to know. And that's a tough one.
BRANCACCIO: 'Cause you can't think for a moment that the pressure of politicians on intelligence gathering is less.
BRANCACCIO: I mean, you might even have the Democrats trying to look for intelligence that makes a case to set up Iraq quicker.
DRUMHELLER: I'm certain you will. I mean, it's the nature of politics in Washington, where people try to collect information that supports their position, because people take positions and want to hold to it. What we have to have is an institutionalized intelligence service, not just a community but a service, that is sturdy enough in its structure, with a director that's free from political influence, that can tell them what they—what they have to have.
BRANCACCIO: And a lot of challenges in terms of national security out there for us still. The war on terror. Iraq. But also—neighboring Iran.
DRUMHELLER: Iran is—is—is the growing threat. I mean Iran—this whole situation, the war in Iraq, and the recent—problems in Lebanon, Iran is quickly turning into a superpower. They're launching missiles with submarines. They've got a nuclear program.
They—they—they don't care. the leadership there is—unpredictable. But not as unpredictable, I think, as—as—as they would like—they—they would like us to think. They—they—some of us—keep us off balance.
BRANCACCIO: And many Americans would like to think that the CIA has loads of assets, and they're keeping tabs on a country like Iran.
DRUMHELLER: A lot of our resources were taken off Iran put on Iraq in 2000, 'cause the Clinton administration was very focused on Iran, and on terror. And a lot of those resources were taken out of the—out of there and—and out of Iran and put in Iraq.
But they have to have this—and I think this—it—what Baker is probably—Secretary Baker is probably gonna come up with is some sort of—agreement where he cobbles together all the—all the—Iranian, Syrian, Turks, Saudis who have clients inside of Iraq into some sort of agreement that it brings the violence down to the—an acceptable level. But, to do that, they're gonna have to have really good intelligence to support that. because that's a dangerous.
And—they have to resist this call by well meaning people who say, "We should—we should go and liberate the people of Iran." And people of Iran—many people of Iran don't like being ruled by the mullahs. On the other hand, they don't want to be attacked by the United States.
And the quickest way to unite the whole country it—would be for us to attack them. And attacking Iran would be a—a mistake of biblical proportions. The country is 80 million people. They have a professional military class.
They have a—a professional officer class. They have an air force, which the Iraqis didn't have. They have ballistic missiles. They have chemical weapons. And it's a real—it would be a real war. And—and certainly America would prevail 'cause we have the—we have the best military in the world.
But it—would it be worth the price? I mean the I—the purpose of an intelligence service is to stop wars not to start them. and once the wars start we—we failed. and—and then we're just sort of cleaning up afterwards.
And then we always have Russia and China which are always there. You have to do that too. You have to do everything. You have to show up everyday.
BRANCACCIO: Well, Tyler Drumheller, thank you very much.
DRUMHELLER: Thank you for having me.
BRANCACCIO: Tyler Drumheller spent more than a quarter century at the Central Intelligence Agency. He retired early last year. His book is called, On the Brink: An Insider's Account of How the White House Compromised American Intelligence.
And that's it for now. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.