Today, the army announced their intention to launch a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of former NFL star and army ranger Pat Tillman. This constitutes at least the fifth investigation into the death of Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.
Pat Tillman was in fact a hero. On that there is little dispute. He had millions of dollars and an NFL career on the table in front of him, but after the September 11 attacks, he joined the army because he felt it was of critical importance at this time that he serve his country. And he was serving his country on the day he was killed, regardless of who fired the shots that killed him. Friendly fire is a fact of combat. As I once heard it described, 'Friendly fire-- isn't.' There is nothing dishonorable about being killed by friendly fire (just as Stonewall Jackson deserves to be remembered as a great Confederate general during the Civil War, despite being shot mistakenly by his own men during the battle of Chancellorsville.) Had the army simply reported the death as it was when it happened, it would today be considered an unfortunate and tragic-- but no less heroic-- death, and the case would be closed.
The army did not do that. Whether because of the perceived embarrassment to the army of the death of such a high profile soldier due to friendly fire, or whether because it might open questions about why the US army has had a number of other friendly fire incidents (remember the incident involving the Canadian troops in Afghanistan, or the Sgrena incident) or whether they simply wanted to continue to portray Tillman as larger than life for recruiting purposes (some myth about how martyrs are always killed by the enemy), the army covered up the details of the incident. Further compounding the situation, a false story was put forward instead, which described Tillman taking on the enemy alone in order to provide cover for his troops. Tillman was then awarded a Silver Star, on April 30, 2004, just eight days after he died. The story took on a life of its own, with Tillman honored with a moment of silence at the NFL draft that weekend, and at numerous other events around the nation. Tillman is even bigger here in Arizona than in many places. In fact, the area around the Cardinals new stadium will be named the "Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza," when the stadium opens later this year.
But then things started to unravel. Witnesses who were there could not be silenced, and they began reporting that the army's story had holes. In fact, not just holes but that it was fake. If the army was counting on a family who would not tolerate anyone trying to tear down the story, they were wrong. Led by Tillman's mother, Mary, the Tillman family has been a study in dignified but steadfast pursuit of the truth. They don't want the sugar coated fiction that the army has placed on this, they want to know what happened. And when the army wouldn't tell them what the facts were, they went to the media. this post describes in stark contrast how conservatives (Ann Coulter is the fool portrayed in the link) were desparate to go on believing in the lie, when Mary Tillman felt that the truth was more important. In the link cited, Mary Tillman told the San Francisco Examiner about something that Pat had said about the Iraq war-- that Tillman had believed that the war there was "f***cking illegal." Coming from a soldier who served both in Afghanistan and Iraq, and whose motivation for joining the army was patriotism, pure and simple, this could not have been something that the Bush administration would have wanted publicized as they desparately try to tie Saddam's regime to the war on terror. Of course, while Tillman was in Iraq, he did his duty, as a soldier, but if there is any silver lining to his death, it is that he at least died fighting in the war that he had joined the army to fight in, not the war he didn't believe we should have been in.
According to the linked article,
The very private Tillmans have revealed a picture of Pat profoundly at odds with the GI Joe image created by Pentagon spinmeisters and their media stenographers. As the Chronicle put it, family and friends are now unveiling "a side of Pat Tillman not widely known--a fiercely independent thinker who enlisted, fought and died in service to his country yet was critical of President Bush and opposed the war in Iraq, where he served a tour of duty. He was an avid reader whose interests ranged from history books...to works of leftist Noam Chomsky, a favorite author." Tillman had very unembedded feelings about the Iraq War. His close friend Army Spec. Russell Baer remembered, "I can see it like a movie screen. We were outside of [an Iraqi city] watching as bombs were dropping on the town.... We were talking. And Pat said, 'You know, this war is so f***ing illegal.' And we all said, 'Yeah.' That's who he was. He totally was against Bush." With these revelations, Pat Tillman the PR icon joins WMD and Al Qaeda connections on the heap of lies used to sell the Iraq War....
But when Tillman fell in Afghanistan the wheels once again started to turn. Now the narrative was perfect: "War hero and football star dies fighting terror." The Abu Ghraib scandal was about to hit the press, so the President found it especially useful to praise Tillman as "an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror." His funeral was nationally televised. Bush even went back to the bloody well during the presidential campaign, addressing his team's fans on the Arizona Cardinals' stadium Jumbotron.
We now know, of course, that this was all a brutal charade. Such callous manipulation is fueling the Tillman family's anger. As Mary Tillman said this past May, "They could have told us up front that they were suspicious that [his death] was a fratricide, but they didn't. They wanted to use him for their purposes.... They needed something that looked good, and it was appalling that they would use him like that." A growing number of military families, similarly angered, are criticizing the war in Iraq through organizations like Military Families Speak Out.
As for Chomsky, whom Ann Coulter would undoubtedly label "treasonous," Mary Tillman says a private meeting was planned between him and Pat after Pat's return--a meeting that never took place, of course. Chomsky confirms this scenario. This was the real Pat Tillman: someone who, like the majority of this country, was doubting the rationale for war, distrusting his Commander in Chief and looking for answers. The real Pat Tillman, the one with three dimensions, must stick in the throat of the Bush-Coulter gang, a pit in the cherry atop their bloody sundae.
Couldn't have written that better myself.
And the army, the conservatives, and the Bush White House could have avoided the whole mess easily enough-- by telling the truth when it happened. By now, Tillman would have been old news. But they are pathologically incapable of telling the truth, and so now we arrive today at a criminal investigation. Let's hope that at least that gets to the bottom of it, learns whether negligence played a role in the shooting, and holds accountable whoever made the decision to lie about what happened, whoever they are. There are some who may wonder about that, or whether they will pick out a few low level operatives for prosecution, as at Abu Graib. Only there is a difference this time. The difference is that Mary Tillman will be on top of this one.