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Truthdig Radio: Keep McChrystal Retired
Posted on Apr 13, 2011
Narda Zacchino: He was killed in Afghanistan on April 22nd, 2004, by his own troops. And his family was told initially, and had been told for five weeks—the military and the Bush administration held the truth hostage while they circulated this story and basically exploited Pat’s death to stoke patriotism, at a time when Abu Ghraib was about to break, a week later; Fallujah had been a disaster; April had been the worst month for soldiers killed in Iraq. And in fact, ironically, on April 22nd, the day he died, they had … it had become the worst month for soldiers being killed. And so … it was a terrible time in terms of PR for the administration. And when Pat was killed, can you imagine that being piled on top of everything else, if the truth had come out that it was, he was killed by his own troops?
Peter Scheer: And McChrystal is implicated in this cover-up.
Narda Zacchino: McChrystal had a big role in this. First of all, at the time of Pat’s death he was head of the Special Joint Operations Command, which is. …
Peter Scheer: Was a black ops, a black ops unit.
Narda Zacchino: Exactly. Exactly, it’s been called the black ops unit of the military. And they do a lot of secret things, and we can only imagine what they’ve done. But in this case, McChrystal, immediately upon Pat’s death—and people knew it was friendly fire; McChrystal himself knew, within two days he knew. He probably knew even sooner. They immediately started—and he was in charge of this process, of giving Pat Tillman a Silver Star. Normally, soldiers don’t get a Silver Star if they’ve been killed in friendly fire. There has to be some valorous activity on their part, action on their part, to get a Silver Star. And people in the military take these medals very seriously, as you must know. So, in the case of Pat, McChrystal basically supervised this falsification and construction of Pat’s actions, and created this fantasy story; other officers created it and he kind of supervised it.
Peter Scheer: He also—he also sent a letter to President Bush warning him that if the—I’m quoting now from the “Runaway General” article, which quotes the letter: “If the circumstances of Corporal Tillman’s death become public,” he wrote, it could cause public embarrassment for the president.
Narda Zacchino: And the reason he wrote that memo—and I think we should stress the word if: he didn’t say when the true facts become known of Pat’s death; he said “if” they become known …
Peter Scheer: OK.
Narda Zacchino: … which really meant that they were going to try to milk this as long as they could. Unfortunately, five weeks after Pat died, the—his troops came back and they started talking about it, and they [officials] couldn’t keep a lid on it anymore. But in terms of the Silver Star, they wanted very much for Pat to, at his memorial service, to be memorialized as a big hero. And so they created this fabrication, and I’ll tell you—I’ll tell you how extensive it was. And this all came out, all the details came out in the inspector general’s report on this incident. And what happened was, there’s a policy in the Army that in order for someone to get a Silver Star, there have to be two witness statements, eyewitness statements, to the heroic action. In Pat’s case, they had come under an ambush; part of their unit had come under ambush, but it was nowhere near where Pat was. And he had gone up on the hill to—with some other troops to see if they could see where the firing was coming from. At the time that he was killed, there was absolutely no firing going on; the ambush had stopped. But according to the Silver Star commendation, it had statements from two of Pat’s fellow platoon members. One was a staff sergeant, and one was a private. These two people supposedly wrote these statements attesting to Pat’s heroism. One of them said that he sat down, they sat him down at a computer, and they had him write down what happened, and then they said to him all of a sudden, now you can leave the room. And he didn’t sign off; he didn’t get a copy of what he wrote; and he left the room. The other person doesn’t recall, the staff sergeant doesn’t recall, ever being asked for a statement. And so when they were shown these statements that they supposedly wrote, and they supposedly signed—when they were shown these statements by the inspector general—they said no, they didn’t do this, that they were falsified. So the inspector general concluded that these were falsified statements, they weren’t written or signed by the two people who supposedly did witness this, and so we can only—and that …
Peter Scheer: Well, what does this have to do with Stanley McChrystal?
Narda Zacchino: Because McChrystal was the one who oversaw the entire language, how it was written, and in fact the first version that he approved said that Pat was killed in hostile enemy fire, which he knew not to be true. And then when, as the internal investigation into Pat’s death went on, and it became clear that they couldn’t keep the lid on the friendly fire, they kind of massaged the language so it still left the impression that he was killed by the enemy, but it—but they took out that he was killed by the enemy.
Peter Scheer: So what—let’s just bring this around a little bit. What you’re objecting to is Stanley McChrystal being appointed to head a commission, the job of which is to provide comfort and aid to military families. And what you’re outlining is that he may have improperly helped Pat Tillman posthumously receive the Silver Star. Can you explain why a commendation like that brought discomfort to the Tillman family?
Narda Zacchino: The commendation itself did not bring discomfort, although they believe, and I’ve come to believe, that Pat would have been appalled to have been given the Silver Star when he didn’t essentially earn it. He did save the life of one of, of the young private next to him; he did save his life by making sure he was behind a boulder, that he didn’t put his head up, and Pat actually stood up at one point and he was shot. And … but the family was upset—and the reason I don’t think McChrystal deserves to be, you know, resurrected from the dustbin of military history is because he lied—he condoned falsification of a Silver Star commendation; he may have even had a hand in having somebody falsify it with these false statements. But he knew when he read it. He said the other day that if he had it to do all over again, he would do it differently, but he felt that his actions were acceptable. But he lied; he allowed the documents that were falsified to be submitted; he knew when Pat’s memorial service was being held that the Silver Star commendation was going to be read; in fact, they hurried it through to get it ready to read at his memorial. Pat’s memorial was broadcast on nationwide television. And they wanted that. And I just think he’s a man of disreputable character; you don’t want your top military leaders—especially people who’ve graduated from West Point, where honesty and integrity are supposed to be the hallmarks of military service—you don’t want somebody like that representing the military. And I don’t think that it was right—there are so many people who might have been a better candidate for this job. I think what I’m objecting to, and what the family objects to, is Obama’s judgment in—yeah, he [McChrystal] got fired from his job, for good reason, and he should’ve been left in retirement. And I think what we’re all questioning is Obama’s good judgment. …
Peter Scheer: Well, perhaps it’s a political calculation.
Narda Zacchino: Well, I think it is, because—I don’t know if you know, but the organization that is sponsoring this initiative is called the Center for a New American Security. And they get a tremendous amount of funding from the military-industrial complex—Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, BAE, Boeing Co., those sorts of things. And I think that, you know—I can’t say for sure, but it’s possible that they, you know, helped pressure Obama to resurrect and to try to help …
Peter Scheer: Well, he loves to give an olive branch, Obama. He loves to compromise; he loves to reach across to old enemies—Hillary Clinton being an example, someone he had a bitter feud with. …
Narda Zacchino: Yes, but that was also politically wise on his part, to try to get the female vote, and that made sense. To me, the McChrystal thing doesn’t make sense. I think there are plenty of people in the military who were very ashamed of his actions, and especially—you know, this is the other thing, I think it’s worth mentioning, is Joe Biden’s wife is one of the—you know, she and Mrs. Obama are the two people who are chairs of this, who are—this is their initiative. And if you recall in that interview in Rolling Stone, what he said about Joe Biden, McChrystal? ...
Peter Scheer: Yes, very disparaging. Well, that’s all the time we have, but thank you so much for joining us, Narda Zacchino, who is a former associate [editor] and vice president of the Los Angeles Times and collaborator with Mary Tillman on “Boots on the Ground by Dusk,” available at Blurb.com.
Narda Zacchino: Thank you, Peter.
Peter Scheer: Thank you.
That’s it for this week. Check us out next Wednesday at 2, or anytime online at Truthdig.com. Thanks to all our guests, and thanks also to our board-op and engineer Stan Mizrahi. For Robert Scheer and the Truthdig team, thanks for listening.
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