WASHINGTON—The Army's criminal investigation into former NFL star Pat Tillman's death, announced on Saturday, will focus on whether his death may have been the result of criminal negligence and whether his superiors tried to cover up the facts.
Tillman, 27, was serving with the Army's 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment when he was shot and killed during a patrol in southeastern Afghanistan in April 2004. The military initially reported that enemy fighters had killed Tillman during an ambush. An investigation later revealed that he was accidentally killed by fellow Rangers.
The issues that Army investigators will probe will likely include:
_Why did Tillman's company commander, who wasn't on the scene, order his 34-man platoon to split in half just before the Rangers were ambushed, a decision that led directly to the friendly fire incident? Basic military doctrine says that commanders shouldn't split their forces when they're in hostile territory and may be facing a superior enemy force.
_Did other Rangers know what they were firing at before they shot Tillman and an Afghan militiaman with him? Rangers, who are among Army's most elite troops, are taught never to fire unless they can positively identify their targets.
_Why did Tillman's superiors initially cover up the circumstances of his death? When Tillman was awarded a posthumous Silver Star on April 30, 2004, eight days after his death, the Army's account was full of stirring but phony details about how he'd been killed, even though officers in his chain of command already knew that he'd been killed by American troops.
_When did senior military officials learn that Tillman had been killed by fellow soldiers?
_Why did Army leaders wait for more than a month, until after a nationally televised memorial service three weeks after Tillman's death, to tell his family the truth?
The Army has conducted three investigations into Tillman's death and concluded that there was no apparent wrongdoing. According to the Pentagon, seven soldiers in Tillman's unit have been punished in the case. Three received reprimands for failing to "provide adequate command and control" during the incident, and four received non-judicial punishments for "failure to exercise sound judgment and fire discipline."
Tillman's parents have repeatedly expressed anger that the military lied to them about the circumstances of their son's death. The Pentagon directed the Army to conduct a criminal investigation of the incident after Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, who conducted an investigation last year, asked the Pentagon to review his findings.
Jones reported that the initial inquiry by an officer in the 2nd Ranger Battalion had found that Tillman had been killed as a result of "gross negligence" by his fellow soldiers, who said they'd fired on his position without knowing what they were firing at. Jones also found that top Army officials, including Gen. John P. Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command, had been told several days before Tillman's memorial service that he'd been killed by friendly fire.
Jones, however, found that there was no official intent by the Army to conceal the truth.
Although the scope of the new criminal investigation hasn't been determined, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," said the investigation would focus on whether there was criminal activity involved in Tillman's death.
"Although there is no evidence that there was criminal activity, the investigators did not specifically look at whether or not there was criminal activity," Pace said. "Criminal activity being when Corporal Tillman was killed by friendly fire, was that fire by the friendly forces fire that should have been going on or was someone potentially firing a weapon when they should not have been?"
Pace said the Tillman family "has gone through enormous anguish, and the fact that that has happened to them is really regrettable."
(Knight Ridder Pentagon correspondent Drew Brown served in the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment from 1989-1993, and he's a combat veteran of Operation Just Cause, the 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama. He's covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for Knight Ridder.)
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Pat Tillman
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