Pat Tillman PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 20 October 2008 15:41

Patrick Daniel Tillman

Born: November 6, 1976 San Jose, California

Died: April 22, 2004, Sperah, Afghanistan

 Age: 27

Cause of death: Shot.

Notable because: A highly paid professional sportsman turned his back on the money, lifestyle and fame to go to war, and was shot by his own side.


Pat  Tillman was an American football player who left his professional sports career and enlisted in the United States Army in May 2002. He was killed in action in Afghanistan by friendly fire. His brother, Kevin Tillman, a baseball player drafted by the Anaheim Angels and Cleveland Indians, also enlisted. The controversy surrounding the full details of his death has sparked many investigations. Currently, the United States Congress is conducting its own investigation into how Tillman died because of alleged inadequacies of past investigations.

Tillman was the first professional football player to be killed in combat since the death of Bob Kalsu of the Buffalo Bills, who died in the Vietnam War in 1970. Tillman was posthumously laterally promoted from Specialist to Corporal. He also received posthumous Silver Star and Purple Heart medals.

His service in Iraq and Afghanistan, and subsequent death, were the subject of much media attention. Initially reported as a result of hostile fire, controversy ensued when a month later. On May 28, 2004, the Pentagon notified the Tillman family that he had died as a result of a friendly fire incident; the family and other critics allege that the Department of Defense delayed the disclosure for weeks after Tillman's memorial service out of a desire to protect the image of the U.S. armed forces.

According to Tillman's father, a San Jose lawyer who has gone through volumes of witness statements and investigative documents provided by the Army, "...all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this. They purposely interfered with the investigation, they covered it up."

In the week preceding a July 27, 2007, report, the Associated Press obtained military records through the Freedom of Information Act, revealing that "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." Based on the characteristics of the entrance wounds, the doctors who performed the autopsy on Tillman said it appeared as though he was shot by a United States Navy Mark 12 Mod X Special Purpose Rifle from approximately 100 yards (90 m) away. The Mark 12 chambers a 5.56 mm round (versus the traditional 7.62 mm or larger sniper round). It is likely that a Ranger sniper fired the three single shots that formed the shot group on Tillman’s forehead.

An Army criminal investigation was later opened and concluded that Tillman had been killed by friendly fire; however, the investigation was hampered by the failure to retain much of the physical evidence, such as bullet fragments, after previous investigations.

Pat Tillman was born in San Jose, California. He started his college career as a linebacker for Arizona State University in 1994, when he secured the last remaining scholarship for the team. He was a teammate of quarterback Jake Plummer who would later be his teammate on the hometown Arizona Cardinals. Tillman excelled as a linebacker at Arizona State, despite being relatively small for the position at five-feet eleven-inches (1.80 m) tall. As a senior, he was voted the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. Academically, Tillman majored in marketing and graduated in three and a half years with a 3.84 GPA.

In the 1998 NFL Draft, Tillman was selected as the 226th pick by the Arizona Cardinals. Tillman moved over to play the safety position in the NFL and started ten of sixteen games in his rookie season.

At one point in his NFL career, Tillman turned down a five-year, $9 million contract offer from the St. Louis Rams out of loyalty to the Cardinals.

Sports Illustrated football writer Paul Zimmerman (Dr. Z) named Tillman to his 2000 NFL All-Pro team after Tillman finished with 155 tackles (120 solo), 1.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, 9 pass deflections and 1 interception for 30 yards.

Tillman finished his career with totals of 331 tackles (242 solo), 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions for 37 yards, 3 forced fumbles, 16 pass deflections, and 2 fumble recoveries in 60 career games. In addition he also had 1 rush attempt for 4 yards and returned 3 kickoffs for 33 yards.

In May 2002, eight months after the September 11, 2001, attacks and after completing the fifteen remaining games of the 2001 season which followed the attacks (at a salary of $512,000 per year), Tillman turned down a contract offer of $3.6 million over three years from the Cardinals to enlist in the U.S. Army.

He enlisted, along with his brother Kevin, who gave up the chance of a career in professional baseball. The two brothers completed the Ranger Indoctrination Program in late 2002 and were assigned to the second battalion of the 75th Ranger Regiment in Fort Lewis, Washington. He resided in University Place with his wife before being deployed to Iraq. After participating in the initial invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Pat Tillman graduated from Ranger School.

According to speakers at his funeral, he was very well-read, having read a number of religious texts including the Bible, Koran and Book of Mormon as well as transcendentalist authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau; his younger brother Rich stated that he "is not with God... He was not religious." Another article quotes him as having told then-general manager of the Seattle Seahawks Bob Ferguson in December 2003 that "you know I'm not religious".

The September 25, 2005, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper reported that Tillman held views which were critical of the Iraq war and did not support President Bush's re-election. According to Tillman's mother, a friend of Tillman had arranged a meeting with Noam Chomsky, to take place after his return from Afghanistan. Chomsky has confirmed this. The article also reported that Tillman urged a soldier in his platoon to vote for John Kerry in the 2004 U.S. Presidential election.

Tillman was subsequently redeployed to Afghanistan. On April 22, 2004, he was killed in a friendly fire incident while on patrol. The specific details of his death and its aftermath are currently being investigated by the US Congress.

The Army initially claimed that Tillman and his unit were attacked in an apparent ambush on a road outside of the village of Sperah about 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Khost, near the Pakistan border. An Afghan militia soldier was killed, and two other Rangers were injured as well.

The Army Special Operations Command initially claimed that there was an exchange with hostile forces. After a lengthy investigation conducted by Brigadier General Jones, the U.S. Department of Defense concluded that both the Afghan militia soldier's and Pat Tillman's deaths were due to friendly fire aggravated by the intensity of the firefight.

A more thorough investigation concluded that no hostile forces were involved in the firefight and that two allied groups fired on each other in confusion after a nearby explosive device was detonated.

On July 26, 2007, AP received official documents stating that the investigating doctors performing the autopsy suspected that Tillman was deliberately murdered. The doctors  — whose names were blacked out  — said it appeared as though he was shot by a United States Navy Mark 12 Mod X Special Purpose Rifle from approximately 10 yards (9 m) away. The Mark 12 chambers a 5.56 mm round (versus the traditional 7.62 mm or larger sniper round). It is likely that a Ranger sniper fired the three single shots that formed the shot group on Tillman’s forehead.

A report described in The Washington Post on May 4, 2005, (prepared upon the request of Tillman's family) by Brig. Gen. Gary M. Jones revealed that in the days immediately following Tillman's death, U.S. Army investigators were aware that Tillman was killed by friendly fire, shot three times to the head. Jones reported that senior Army commanders, including Gen. John Abizaid, knew of this fact within days of the shooting but nevertheless approved the awarding of the Silver Star, Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion. Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal approved the Silver Star citation on April 28, 2004, which gave a detailed account of Tillman's death including the phrase "in the line of devastating enemy fire", however the very next day he sent a P4 memo warning senior government members that Tillman might actually have been killed by friendly fire. Top commanders within the U.S. Central Command, including former Commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) General John Abizaid, should have been notified by the P4 memo, which described Tillman's "highly possible" fratricide, four days before Tillman's nationally televised memorial service during which he was lauded as a war hero for dying while engaging the enemy.

Jones reported that members of Tillman's unit burned his body armor and uniform in an apparent attempt to hide the fact that he was killed by friendly fire. Several soldiers were subsequently punished for their actions by being removed from the United States Army Rangers. Jones believed that Tillman should retain his medals and promotion, since, according to Jones, he intended to engage the enemy and, in Jones's opinion, behaved heroically.

Tillman's family was not informed of the finding that he was killed by friendly fire until weeks after his memorial service, although at least some senior Army officers knew of that fact prior to the service. Tillman's parents have sharply criticized the Army's handling of the incident; Tillman's father charges that the Army "purposely interfered in the investigation" because of the effect it could have on their recruiting efforts while Tillman's mother charges that "this lie was to cover their image".

His mother Mary Tillman told The Washington Post, "The fact that he was the ultimate team player and he watched his own men kill him is absolutely heartbreaking and tragic. The fact that they lied about it afterward is disgusting." Tillman's father, Patrick Tillman, Sr., was incensed by the coverup of the cause of his son's death, which he attributed to a conscious decision by the leadership of the U.S. Army to protect the Army's image.

After it happened, all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this. They purposely interfered with the investigation; they covered it up. I think they thought they could control it, and they realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out. They blew up their poster boy.

He also blamed high-ranking Army officers for presenting "outright lies" to the family and to the public.

Later, Tillman's father suggested in a letter to The Washington Post that the Army hierarchy's purported mistakes were part of a pattern of conscious misconduct:

With respect to the Army's reference to 'mistakes in reporting the circumstances of [my son's] death': those 'mistakes' were deliberate, calculated, ordered (repeatedly), and disgraceful — conduct well beneath the standard to which every soldier in the field is held.

These complaints and allegations led the Pentagon's Inspector General to open a further inquiry into Tillman's death in August 2005.

On March 4, 2006, the U.S. Defense Department Inspector General directed the Army to open a criminal investigation of Tillman's death. The Army's Criminal Investigative Division will determine if Tillman's death was the result of negligent homicide.

On March 26, 2007, the Pentagon released their report on the events surrounding Tillman's death and coverup. The report reads in part:

...we emphasize that all investigators established the basic facts of CPL Tillman's death -- that it was caused by friendly fire, that the occupants of one vehicle in CPL Tillman's platoon were responsible, and that circumstances on the ground caused those occupants to misidentify friendly forces as hostile. None of the investigations suggested that CPL Tillman's death was anything other than accidental. Our review, as well as the investigation recently completed by Army CID, obtained no evidence contrary to those key findings.

On April 24, 2007, his brother Kevin Tillman, testifying at a congressional hearing, stated, "The deception surrounding this case was an insult to the family: but more importantly, its primary purpose was to deceive a whole nation. We say these things with disappointment and sadness for our country. Once again, we have been used as props in a Pentagon public relations exercise."

After Kevin's testimony Pete Geren, acting secretary of the Army stated to reporters, "We as an Army failed in our duty to the Tillman family, the duty we owe to all the families of our fallen soldiers: Give them the truth, the best we know it, as fast as we can."

Tillman's diary was never returned to his family, and its whereabouts are not publicly known.

On July 26, 2007, Chris Matthews reported on Hardball that Tillman's death may have been a case of fragging - specifically that the bullet holes were tight and neat, suggesting a shot at close range. Matthews based his speculation on a report from the doctors who investigated Tillman's body. The following day the Associated Press reported that a doctor who examined Tillman's body after his death wrote, "The medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described," also noting that the wound entrances appeared as though he had been shot with an M16 rifle from less than 10 yards (10 m) away. A possible motive, however, has never been identified. According to one of his fellow soldiers, Tillman "was popular among his fellow soldiers and had no enemies".

In addition

  • There has never been evidence of enemy fire found on the scene, and no members of Tillman's group had been hit by enemy fire.
  • The three-star general who withheld details of Tillman's death from his parents for a number of months, told investigators "he had a bad memory, and could not recall details of his actions" on more than 70 occasions.
  • Army attorneys congratulated each other in emails for impeding criminal investigation as they concluded Tillman's death was the result of friendly fire, and that only administrative, or non-criminal, punishment was indicated.
  • Army doctors told the investigators that these wounds suggested murder and urged them to launch a criminal investigation
  • It has been revealed that there were never-before-mentioned US snipers in the second group that encountered Pat's squad

On April 24, 2007, Spc. Bryan O'Neal, the last soldier to see Pat Tillman alive, testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that he was warned by superiors not to divulge information that a fellow soldier killed Tillman, especially to the Tillman family. Later, Pat Tillman's brother Kevin Tillman, who was also in the convoy traveling behind his brother at the time of the 2004 incident in Afghanistan but did not witness it, testified that the military tried to spin his brother's death to deflect attention from emerging failings in the Afghan war.

Later in the hearing Jessica Lynch testified about misinformation and hype relating to the battlefield and how the military lied about her capture and injuries as they had lied about Tillman's death reality, to create a palatable myth for public consumption. She also met with the Tillman family and compared her incident in Iraq to Pat Tillman's in Afghanistan, saying, "Our stories are similar."

Thereafter the committee sought further information. The Bush administration turned over thousands of documents, described as "mostly press clippings," but refused to release others, citing "executive branch confidentiality interests." The committee's chair, Democrat Henry Waxman, and its ranking member, Republican Thomas M. Davis, wrote a joint letter describing the disclosure as "inadequate," saying, "The document production from the White House sheds virtually no light on these matters."

On August 13, 2007, Sports Illustrated reported that twenty U.S. military veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan asked the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, to help secure the release of all documents relating to the death of Pat Tillman.

On July 14, 2008 the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a proposed report titled "Misleading Information from the Battlefield: The Tillman and Lynch Episodes". The committee stated that its "investigation was frustrated by a near universal lack of recall" among "senior officials at the White House" and the military. It concluded:

The pervasive lack of recollection and absence of specific information makes it impossible for the Committee to assign responsibility for the misinformation in Corporal Tillman’s and Private Lynch’s cases. It is clear, however, that the Defense Department did not meet its most basic obligations in sharing accurate information with the families and with the American public.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 December 2008 15:35

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