WASHINGTON—A powerful House committee chairman said Tuesday that he'll pursue a deep investigation into "deliberately" false Pentagon accounts of the 2004 death of Cpl. Pat Tillman in Afghanistan and the 2003 rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch from Iraq.
Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and President Bush may be targets of the inquiry, Waxman said.
"We don't know what the (former) secretary of defense knew. We don't know what the White House knew," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, at a hearing Tuesday. "These are questions that the committee seeks answers to."
Tillman, an Arizona pro football player turned Army Ranger, initially was hailed by the military as a hero who died fighting the enemy. Only weeks later was his family told that he was killed by friendly fire.
Lynch, who was captured by enemy forces and rescued by U.S. soldiers, said Tuesday that the Pentagon initially described her inaccurately as a "girl Rambo." In fact, military and Bush administration officials falsified a dramatic version of her battlefield capture and subsequent rescue when the facts were much more mundane, according to her memoir published late in 2003. While officials had portrayed her as fighting hard until her capture, she said she never fired a shot.
Jim Wilkinson, a top White House communications official, was present when U.S. news media at the battlefront were summoned from their beds in the pre-dawn hours of April 2, 2003, to a press conference where the fictional version of Lynch's capture and rescue was presented.
Waxman's provocative remarks punctuated testimony as Congress opened hearings on "Misleading Information from the Battlefield."
Tillman's mother, Mary, and brother Kevin charged that the administration misused Tillman's death for political purposes. They asked Congress to help them prove it.
Kevin Tillman, sniffling, told the panel that he believes the military knowingly spread a false story of heroism to counter the political heat the administration faced over the Abu Ghraib scandal at roughly the same time.
"Revealing that Pat's death was a fratricide would have been yet another political disaster," Kevin Tillman said. "This freshly manufactured narrative . . . shifted the focus."
The Tillmans said they had specific questions:
Who ordered Tillman's clothing and his notebook burned after his death and why?
When Bush spoke of Tillman in careful terms at a White House correspondents dinner days after his death, did he already know what wasn't revealed for weeks—that friendly fire was likely to blame?
Why was there an apparent attempt to resuscitate Tillman mechanically perhaps 90 minutes after most of his head was shot off?
Other revelations from the day's testimony:
_U.S. Army specialist Bryan O'Neal said that although he knew from the start that friendly fire killed Tillman and told several superiors so, he was ordered not to talk to Kevin Tillman, who was also an Army Ranger. If he violated that instruction, O'Neal said, a supervisor "made it known I would get in trouble."
_Thomas F. Gimble, the acting inspector general for the Department of Defense, said that his office, which conducted one investigation, was "unable to determine" who in the chain of command had altered an account that O'Neal wrote of Tillman's final actions. The altered account shaped Tillman's posthumous award of the Silver Star and a misleading eulogy.
_While Gimble's office questioned many military officials under oath, Rumsfeld wasn't among them. Gimble said that the former defense secretary had provided his responses to questions in writing rather than in person.
_Gimble acknowledged that he didn't bring in a computer specialist to try to narrow who might have had access to the document. He said he examined a printout of the statement, not individual computers or an electronic copy.
"The Army did not handle this well," Gimble said. But he added, "I don't see that it was a cover-up."
While most of the panel's Democrats attended the hearing, Republican attendance was sparse and intermittent. Republicans who did attend told Lynch and the Tillmans that they were sorry about what happened and wanted answers. But none went as far as Waxman in suggesting a high-level plan to mislead the public.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said that in pointing fingers, "we have to establish who the theys are," and he asked Kevin Tillman, "Are you saying they include three-star generals and the entire chain of command?"
"Yes sir," Kevin Tillman said.
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Need to map