Morning Report 5/4/05U.S. Soldiers’ Deaths: Don’t Look, Don’t Tell


The coverup of Pat Tillman’s death was even worse than we thought

National Security Archive


Faces of war: It took a lot of effort by Ralph Begleiter, the National Security Archive, and others to pry photos like this one out of the U.S. government. Most of them were released only after the Pentagon attached the black bars.


The coverup of NFL star Pat Tillman‘s death by friendly fire in April 2004 in Afghanistan was even worse than previously reported.

And as more and more facts and photos emerge, the lies and bullshit of the Pentagon come into sharper focus.

The Washington Post, whose former managing editor Steve Coll wrote a blistering account in December about Tillman’s unnecessary death, is now reporting that the Pentagon hid the truth from his family until weeks after the Bush regime had milked the tragedy for all the p.r. it could get.

Josh White‘s story this morning says:

The first Army investigator who looked into the death of former NFL player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan last year found within days that he was killed by his fellow Rangers in an act of “gross negligence,” but Army officials decided not to inform Tillman’s family or the public until weeks after a nationally televised memorial service.

A new Army report on the death shows that top Army officials, including the theater commander, Gen. John P. Abizaid, were told that Tillman’s death was fratricide days before the service.

In my previous item about Coll’s story, I quoted his piece:

The records show Tillman fought bravely and honorably until his last breath. They also show that his superiors exaggerated his actions and invented details as they burnished his legend in public, at the same time suppressing details that might tarnish Tillman’s commanders.

In White’s follow-up, he pored through thousands of pages of documents and found that despite what was called “gross negligence” in Tillman’s death, the soldiers responsible got off lightly. Of the coverup, he also wrote:

The documents … show that officers made erroneous initial reports that Tillman was killed by enemy fire, destroyed critical evidence, and initially concealed the truth from Tillman’s brother, also an Army Ranger, who was near the attack on April 22, 2004, but did not witness it.

White doesn’t say so, but what’s so surprising about this? At the time of Tillman’s death, the Abu Ghraib scandal was breaking, and the Bush regime desperately needed the great p.r. generated by the heroic Tillman’s tragic death to counter the ugly torture scandal.

In other words, use Tillman’s square-jawed face to blot out images of Lynndie England‘s moon-faced mug.

“Blot out” is the operative phrase of our current administration. Just look at the photos of soldiers’ coffins, like the picture above, pried out of the government after a long court battle.

Kudos to former CNN journalist Ralph Begleiter and the hard-working truth fanatics of the National Security Archive for obtaining these images. The government only wants you to focus on celebrities’ deaths, when it can spin some p.r. It has steadfastly played down the relentless offloading of coffins at Dover, Delaware, but Begleiter, now a journalism prof at the University of Delaware, fought long and hard to open up those secret operations.

Just a few days ago, the National Security Archive, one of the best NGOs around, posted another batch of photos previously suppressed by the government. You can look at them, download them, pass them around. People can see the human cost of war. I know it’s bad for military recruiting. Tough.

But let’s go back to exactly one year ago.The memorial service for Tillman was on May 3, 2004. The coverup was in full swing. As White’s story notes:

An initial investigation found fratricide just days [after Tillman’s April 22 death]. Top commanders within the U.S. Central Command, including Abizaid, were notified by April 29—four days before Tillman’s memorial service in San Jose, where he was given a posthumous Silver Star Award.…

The family learned about Tillman’s fratricide over Memorial Day weekend, several weeks later. Commanders felt they could not hold on to the old version because the Rangers were returning home and “everybody knows the story,” the documents show.

Meanwhile, the very day after the memorial service, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was interviewed on the government’s Pentagon Channel. The topic was Military Appreciation Month. Here’s a snatch of the TV show’s May 4, 2004, Q&A:

Q: With Military Appreciation Month, what are some of the things that we can do to help them understand or help them get the message back to the United States that progress is being made?

WOLFOWITZ: Well, I think, first of all, just keep making progress. I mean, I do believe eventually the facts get through over the statements—false statements. And it is absolutely critical that we win Iraq and that we win Afghanistan.

The interviewer of course had to bring up families:

That critical job obviously, it’s very difficult for our military, but it’s also difficult for their families. Is there something you’d like to say to the families?

Wolfowitz, a pretend soldier himself, obviously didn’t have anything to say to Tillman’s family. The coverup was going on at that moment. All Wolfie said was the usual platitudinous crap, including this:

It’s an enormous burden on families just to be separated so long and to be separated under combat conditions where every day you’re hoping that the bad news isn’t coming. The anxiety is enormous. And I think our whole country has got to be enormously grateful that there are men and women ready to serve our country in that way and families who support the way these families do.

Well, then, just don’t show them the pictures of death and of coffins, and don’t tell the families the bad news—especially the truth.