Friday, March 23, 2007

Missteps & Oversights

On Monday, the Army will release the results of the 5th investigation into the circumstances of death of Cpl Pat Tillman. Although it took the Army 5 weeks to reveal that they knew Pat's death was caused by "friendly fire"; we now know the Army knew the truth from the beginning.

Until now, the Army has punished seven people for the Tillman killing, but no one was court-martialed. Four soldiers received relatively minor punishments under military law, ranging from written reprimands to expulsion from the Rangers. One had his pay reduced and was effectively forced out of the Army.

A Pentagon investigation will recommend that nine officers, including up to four generals, be held accountable for missteps in the aftermath of the friendly fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, senior defense officials said Friday. Missteps? How about incompetence? How about collusion?

The Defense Department inspector general will cite a range of errors and inappropriate conduct as the military probed the former football star's death on the battlefront in 2004. Pat's dead and they call the conduct "inappropriate"?

It appears the inspector general will not conclude there was an orchestrated cover-up in the investigation. There probably wasn't a Pat Tillman plan in case he was killed; we'll do this. But an orchestrated cover-up? Of course there was. I'm pretty sure there was plenty of "We're screwed" and WTF? and "No one must know" kinds of conversations. Pat's brother. Kevin, was nearby when Pat was killed and he wasn't told the truth either, so we know the cover up started immediately. The soldiers involved burned and destroyed Pat's uniform; they said it was a biohazard. Since when did evidence become a biohazard unless you are hiding something. Might it have been because an analysis of the body armor would reveal who shot Pat Tillman?

The Tillman family was notified last week that the report would be released to the public on March 26, but the family could review it ahead of time IF they promised not to say anything until Monday. With the way the Tillman family has been treated, I would have had the fax machine on speed dial ready to send the report to my favorite media contacts. Respect during these investigations seems to go only one way and the families deserve better. The officials who leaked the story today requested anonymity because the Army has not publicly released the information. That anonymous source didn't give any thoughts to the family.

Having walked in the "Delayed truth" shoes, I can tell you that I was lucky that the Army pretty much showed up on doorstep 15 months after my son, Lt Ken Ballard, was killed in Iraq, and told me the truth about how my son died. They called it an "oversight", I called it incompetence. I had no inkling that what they told me when he was killed was not true; I had accepted the truth. Because the media didn't know ahead of time, there was no feeding frenzy to talk to me until after the news had been released. Once the news of the Army's oversight was released, everything changed. Reporters invited themselves to the next meeting with the Army; I refused them. Reporters called me and stopped by incessantly.

My friend, Nadia McCaffrey, mother of Sgt Patrick McCaffrey, was told the truth 2 years after Patrick was killed that he was not killed in an ambush as the family had been told; he was murdered by Iraqi soldiers that the Americans were training. Nadia knew that the Army was going to give her very bad news when they called to schedule a meeting at her house; she had spoken to some of soldiers in Patrick's unit. Another anonymous source leaked the news 2 days prior to the meeting and her life was hell dealing with the media for those next 2 days before her meeting.

Most people have a voyeuristic curiosity about the details of the inquiry and the death; the who, when, who knew, what time details. Most people are outraged that it took so long for the truth to be revealed. Some people are outraged that the families want to know the truth and those people can just shut their mouths and sit down. None of us could predict how we would react, what we would do if we got that knock on the door; you wake up the next morning and try to figure out what your new life means. As the headlines announce the new findings, people must know and they must remember that we mother's are hearing details of the last minutes of our son's life. Some of us have seen autopsy photographs with every, single bullet wound; I was told my son's last words. We have to find the balance of processing the technical and analytical details, and at the same time, wonder about the fear and terror our son's faced in those last minutes of their precious lives.

So 3 years after Pat's death, the Army will gather the family and tell them the results of their inquiry again. It's taken too many months with too many players involved to believe that the whole truth will ever come out. A family just wants to know the truth at the soonest possible time and 3 years isn't the soonest time.


MQ said...

I'm so very sorry about your son, and all the anguish his death, and so many others' have resulted in. My husband served in Iraq 05-06.

GSMSO said...

thanks for your kind words. I hope you & your husband have been able to regain some semblance of your life before Iraq.