Once again, the Administration is pulling the old magician's trick of misdirection, this time in the Pat Tillman case. And once again, the press is falling for it. Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers focused on "what they knew and when" -- to borrow the Watergate phrase -- rather than the core issue at the heart of the Pat Tillman matter, which is this:
Pat Tillman was almost certainly murdered, and fratricide is not "friendly fire."
Yet a Google News search on the terms "Tillman" and "friendly fire" yielded 1,044 hits today, all from the last 24 hours. That's after the facts behind the fratricide are widely known - and after a number of clues that suggest the entire command structure, from the White House on down, concealed a murder from the public and took no steps to investigate it.
There's your story.
Friendly fire is commonly understood to mean the accidental death of a U. S. soldier through weapons fired by U.S. or allied troops. (See this definition.) The facts in the Tillman case make friendly fire highly unlikely. He died from three bullet holes grouped together in his forehead, fired from a M-16 that was no more than ten yards away.
Three bullet holes. In the forehead. From a M-16. That was ten yards away.
That's not "friendly fire." That's murder. (Unless Cpl. Tillman stood up in the path of another soldier's fire, took three hits precisely in the forehead, then fell before being hit again.)
As abhorrent as it was for the Administration to delay telling the family, the handling of the fratricide question was even worse. A killer's trail went cold. Now we may never know the truth.
As for the narrative that Rumsfeld and Myers offered yesterday, let's look at it in detail - together with the known facts:
1. Pat Tillman dies. Medical examiners request a fratricide investigation sometime thereafter. Their request is denied.
2. Gen. McChrystal sends a cable to Gen. Abizaid and another general on April 22 urging them to notify the President of this probable fratricide "in order to preclude any unknowing statements by our country's leaders which might cause embarrassment if the circumstances of Cpl. Tillman's death becomes public."
3. Gen.Abizaid claims he didn't receive it for 10 or 12 days, because he was in Iraq. (They don't have email, or even secure pouches for urgent memos?) Defense Department records later show that Gen. Abizaid was not in Iraq, but was actually in Qatar and Afghanistan - where the killing occurred - during that 10 to 12 days.
4. Gen. Myers learns the true nature of Cpl. Tillman's death in late April, yet - according to his testimony - did not feel the need to inform either the Secretary of Defense or the President.
5. Military records show that dozens of officers knew of the true nature of the Lieutenant's death within days, yet senior officers and Pentagon officials still maintain they didn't know for weeks. (Surprisingly, they did not undertake a massive review of military procedures in order to determine how such a massive series of communications failures could occur - one that eerily affected every single senior officer with responsibility for this case simultaneously.)
6. The military continues to press the story that Tillman was killed while courageously leading a counterattack in an Afghan mountain pass. (Nice poetic touch, that "mountain pass" - good for recruitment.)
7. A national memorial service is held for Cpl Tillman several days later. The President and others talk about Cpl. Tillmans heroism in that mythical mountain pass - yet Gen. Myers, per his own testimony, still felt no need to inform either the SecDef or the President .
8. Rumsfeld says he was not told the truth until "some time after May 20," or approximately a month after Gen. Myers learned of the incident. Yet he seems strangely undisturbed to learn that the truth was known six weeks earlier and he wasn't informed.
9. Neither Rumsfeld nor the President felt the need to correct the record publicly upon learning the truth.
10. It wasn't until reporters filed a Freedom of Information Act that the following information became public on July 27: ""Army medical examiners were suspicious about the close proximity of the three bullet holes in Pat Tillman's forehead and tried without success to get authorities to investigate whether the former NFL player's death amounted to a crime."
Let's say it again, to be very clear: The White House and Pentagon withheld the facts about this killing until they were legally forced to reveal them months later by Freedom of Information laws. And they never ordered a criminal investigation.
As for the testimony by Myers and Rumsfeld: What they have described is a command structure that was brutally indifferent to the situation on the ground and uninterested in pursuing a murder. Gen. Myers, if he is to be believed, allowed the President and Secretary of Defense to pay tribute to a man as if he had died in combat, knowing full well their words were untrue.
Is that plausible, with everything we know about Rumsfeld? Remember, this is the micromanager who hectored generals on little details, arrogantly told them he knew more than they did about the military, and issued regular memos to a wide range of Pentagon personnel on a variety of topics, great and small.
We are also supposed to believe that Rumsfeld was so uninvolved in the human issues his troops faced that he wasn't informed of the facts on this case - and that once he found out, he was unconcerned about the delay in telling him the facts. And that the President wasn't disturbed enough to order an investigation into the killing. Nor did he or Rumsfeld inform the family, or the nation, that they had been misled - at a hero's funeral.
As the conservatives used to say in the 90's: Character matters. And that's if they're telling the truth ... Can you imagine what we could learn about their character if, as is very possible, they're still lying?
And make no mistake, the beat goes on:
"What doesn't make sense,'' (Rep) Waxman said, is that while there were hundreds of e-mails among 97 White House officials in the days after Tillman's death, there were none after the Pentagon announced he had been killed by friendly fire."
Waxman has concluded, reasonably enough, that it's very likely there is still an ongoing and systematic White House attempt to hide the truth about Cpl. Tillman's death. Nevertheless, the main media narrative appears to be "Rummy looked great and did well." And that Pat Tillman died from "friendly fire."
What else can anyone say? Except, of course, to thank Cpl. Tillman for his sacrifice - and promise to find the truth for his memory.
(Contribute here to the Pat Tillman Foundation)