A Cover-Up At The Highest Levels

“The administration clearly was using this case for its own political reasons. This cover-up started within minutes of Pat’s death, and it started at high levels. This is not something that (lower-ranking) people in the field do.”
--Pat Tillman Sr.

Of all the symbols the right used to cultivate domestic support for the Bush administration's military escapades in Iraq and Afghanistan, that of Pat Tillman was one its most effective. If your memory is fuzzy, Tillman was a handsome, muscle-bound NFL star who passed up a multi-million dollar contract to become an Army Ranger battling Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The official Army account of Tillman's death held that he was killed while charging up a rocky incline in pursuit of a band of Qaeda fighters. When word of Tillman's killing hit stateside, the conservative propaganda factory sought to make him theirs. Ann Coulter described Tillman as “an American original -- virtuous, pure and masculine like only an American male can be.” (Can we have that in the original German, bitte?) Though the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan were growing increasingly catastrophic, Tillman's reinvigorated public support for the administration's mission, at least momentarily.

Now, almost a year and a half later, the right's version of Tillman's killing has been shattered. The San Francisco Chronicle got its hands on 2000 pages of testimony on Tillman's death and interviewed his family and soldiers who served with him. The Chronicle's report not only strengthens the evidence that the Pentagon deliberately covered up Tillman's death from friendly-fire to better exploit him as a PR tool, it reveals that:

--Tillman joined the Army specifically to fight Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, but was sent to participate in the invasion of Iraq against his wishes. He called the invasion, "so fucking illegal."

--He was an avid reader and fan of Noam Chomsky. Tillman was scheduled to meet Chomsky upon his return from Afghanistan.

--Tillman was an independent-minded, outspoken Bush critic who planned to vote for John Kerry.

--On April 23, 2004, a day after he was killed, Tillman's bullet-riddled body armor was burned by a soldier. That same day, all Army Ranger top commanders were informed of the suspected fratricide.

--Two days later, Tillman's uniform was burned.

--On April 30, Tillman was awarded the Silver Star for bravery. "Through the firing Tillman’s voice was heard issuing fire commands to take the fight to the enemy on the dominating high ground,” the Army stated.

--Three days later, acting Army Secretary Lee Brownlee was told of Tillman's death by fratricide.

--On May 29, once Tillman's PR value had been exhausted, the Army admitted to his family that his death was a fratricide.

--ON November 14, an officer who interrogated Rangers involved in Tillman's killing stated he thought some could have been charged with "criminal intent" and other with "gross negligence."

--Portions of the Pentagon's report on Tillman's death were deleted.

The question now is, what did Donald Rumsfeld know about Tillman's death and when did he know it? If Army Ranger commanders and the Army Secretary knew Tillman was killed in a fratricide, Rumsfeld must have known too. The fact that when Tillman first joined the Army, Rumsfeld personally commended him with a signed letter seems especially relevant now. If Rumsfeld knew the nature of Tillman's killing in April, 2004, he undoubtedly directed the cover-up. And if Rumsfeld directed the cover-up, Karl Rove was aware of it, if not actively involved in exploiting it.

Supposedly John McCain has taken up the Tillman family's case in the Senate. If he's serious, he will convene hearings on the cover-up and compel Rumsfeld to testify. Until then, the Pentagon is conducting its own probe of Tillman's death, thus ensuring a newer, more sophisticated cover-up than ever before.