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Report Faults Officers in Tillman Case

Josh White
Washington Post
Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Defense Department's inspector general has concluded that as many as nine officers are responsible for mistakes and irregularities during the investigation into the "friendly fire" death of former NFL player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan in 2004, problems that led to major delays and errors in explaining the facts to his family and the public, defense officials said yesterday.

The report is scheduled for public release on Monday, when Tillman's family also expects to receive a briefing in California. Members of Tillman's immediate family have been fighting for nearly three years to learn the truth about the case, amid a series of investigations into why his death was initially reported as occurring during a heroic attack on enemy fighters when instead the soldiers in his unit knew immediately that he died when they mistakenly shot him in a dusty canyon pass.

Officials yesterday declined to discuss specifics of the report but said the inspector general identified a range of problems, including minor errors in procedure up to allegations of officers making deliberately misleading statements about the case. One defense official said the report includes generals among the officers identified as having made errors in judgment. CBS News and the Associated Press reported last night that as many as four generals are blamed.

"The inspector general determined the Army needs to go back and review the actions that were taken by nine individuals," said a defense official who spoke anonymously because the report has not yet been released. "The Army could have done this better, starting from when there first began to be an indication that it was a friendly-fire situation."

Earlier investigations found significant problems with the way the Army handled the aftermath of Tillman's death, such as soldiers destroying his uniform and body armor and officers providing the family a fictitious story about the incident until after Tillman's nationally televised funeral in May 2004.

Tillman, a popular player with the Arizona Cardinals, gave up a major pro contract to join the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks kindled his desire to serve his country. Tillman's family has long maintained that the Army fabricated a heroic story of the former football player being gunned down while storming a hill in order to foster a patriotic response from the country.

The Army requested the independent review in June 2005 amid other probes into Tillman's death. The Tillman episode and other friendly-fire cases handled with similar missteps -- with families learning the truth only after pressing the Army following incorrect initial reports -- prompted the Army to rework its casualty-notification and death-investigation procedures. Army officials vowed to continue trying to improve.

"The Army plans to take appropriate actions after receiving the Inspector General's report," Army officials said in a statement yesterday. "The Army has not yet officially received the report from the Department of Defense Inspector General."

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