It was a propaganda gem that comes along once every war or so. The story of Pat Tillman, an NFL star who left his multi-million dollar career with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army, played perfectly into the Bush administration’s spin machine. Here was a patriotic young man who, after seeing thousands of his countrymen perish on 9/11, was so overcome by righteous anger and moral duty that he walked away from riches to defend America against Islamo-fascists.
When Corporal Tillman’s death at the hands of Afghan enemy combatants in a dramatic twenty-minute firefight was first reported, the White House wasted no time:
"Pat Tillman was an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror," a presidential spokesman declared.
April 22 marks the third anniversary of Pat Tillman’s death. Three years later, we know it was actually "friendly fire" that killed him.
We know a memo attesting to that fact was circulating among top brass immediately after the tragedy. We know the primary concern of that memo was to save public officials–Bush in particular–the "embarrassment" of misrepresenting the circumstances surrounding Tillman’s death. As if misrepresenting facts is anything new to Bush.
We know it was nearly five weeks before Tillman’s family and the American people were told the truth. At least the current version of the truth. There are those who believe, including Tillman’s family, that the truth may be much more sinister than a tragic case of mistaken identity.
Enter Stan Goff, a retired 26-year veteran of the elite Delta Force and Army Rangers and former military science teacher at West Point. Goff has researched virtually every detail of the Tillman case, including more than 2,500 pages of official briefings and documents from three investigations. He has conducted extensive interviews with family members and some of the soldiers in Tillman's unit.
Talking with the soldiers was difficult. According to one member of the Battalion, the Rangers were forced to sign secrecy statements that forbade them to discuss any details of Tillman’s killing for 80 years. While Goff has concluded that Tillman was not assassinated, evidence shows he was the victim of fratricide, a botched investigation and an elaborate cover-up.
In his writings, Goff also addresses the calloused statements of Tillman’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, based on his disdain for the Tillman family’s agnosticism.
After all, it was a Crusade Tillman was supposed to be fighting.
However, Tillman didn’t see it that way. He called the Iraq war "so – illegal" (expletive deleted), having been deployed there in 2003 before being sent to Afghanistan. He kept a diary which may have expressed further sentiments of that nature. Or not. We will never know.
Tillman’s personal effects, including his diary, were burned, a blatant violation of Army policy which dictates that personal effects must be returned to families. The aluminum oxide ceramic hard-plate in Tillman’s body armor also vanished.
Four Rangers admitted to shooting Tillman. One had recently undergone laser eye surgery and another claimed to have "tunnel vision." The third confessed he was "excited" by the sight of muzzle fire and the fourth said he just aimed where everyone else was shooting.
Yet an investigation concluded there was no criminal negligence in Tillman’s death or the aftermath thereof. And silence from the yellow ribbon gallery, for whom the phrase "Support Our Troops" is nothing more than a mindless mantra.
Furthermore, treatment of Tillman’s body was outrageously unprofessional. An Army report documents that CPR was performed on Tillman after his body arrived at the field hospital. This despite the fact he had suffered three machine gun shots to the back of the head, leaving little of his brain intact. When Tillman’s mother, Mary, questioned the medical examiners and field hospital personnel about this ludicrous attempt to resuscitate her son, she was told, "we are not usually criticized for trying to save lives."
It is not the only time Mary Tillman was ridiculed for asking reasonable questions. Lt. Col. Kauzlarich stated in an interview with ESPN:
"There have been numerous unfortunate cases of fratricide and the parents have basically said, ‘OK, it was an unfortunate accident.’ I don’t know, these people have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs."
Kauzlarich is one of the militant Christians so prevalent in our armed forces today; a man of the same ilk as General My-God-Is-Bigger-Than-Your-god Boykin. People who cannot fathom separation of church and state. But Kauzlarich didn’t stop there.
"When you die, I mean there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt."
Something tells me the yellow ribbon people should be up in arms about this. Pat Tillman was one of our troops, not "worm dirt."
But yellow ribbon people aren’t really about supporting our troops. They are blindly following a cult of death based on a misguided religious superiority complex and hypnotized by nationalistic fervor.
What happened to Pat Tillman was illegal. When Pat Tillman saw something illegal, he had the courage and integrity to call it "illegal," no matter what the consequences.
The least we can do to honor Pat Tillman’s memory is to demand that those responsible for his death and ensuing criminal cover-up be brought to justice, from squad leaders in the field to generals at the Pentagon. And, unlike Stan Goff, I’m not ruling out the Commander-In-Chief.