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Ear to the Ground

Remembering Pat Tillman—and the Questions Left Unanswered

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Posted on Apr 21, 2014

AP/Ed Betz

Ten years ago Pat Tillman was killed in Afghanistan, and the circumstances of his death continue to raise questions a decade later.

Tillman was an NFL player who turned down millions of dollars after 9/11 so he could enlist, believing that not only the desperate should fight for their country. He was sent, along with his brother Kevin, to Iraq and Afghanistan.

(If you haven’t read Kevin’s extraordinary public letter, “After Pat’s Birthday,” do so now.)

Although Pat was killed by friendly fire, the Bush administration pushed the story that he had been involved in a heroic firefight. While Tillman’s heroism is not in doubt, the Bush administration’s cover-up, allegedly approved by then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, brought additional pain and suffering to Tillman’s family.

All these years later, there are still many unanswered questions. Narda Zacchino, who collaborated on a book with Mary Tillman, Pat and Kevin’s mother, wrote about those questions in 2010.

Here is a sampling:

Who ordered that his uniform—containing evidence of fratricide—be burned along with his equipment?

Who gave the order for the field hospital doctor to write in his report that Tillman, shot in the head and killed instantly, “was administered CPR and transferred to ICU for further CPR,” with another notation that seems to indicate he died days later after surgery?

Who gave the order to not recall that doctor as a witness in the Army’s criminal investigation after he asked for an attorney to be present and was excused to obtain one?

Who gave the order to write the initial incident report saying that Tillman was shot by the enemy in a hostile battle when it was immediately known that he was killed by his fellow soldiers?

Who gave the order to tell soldiers not to disclose to anyone that Tillman was killed by fratricide?

Who gave the order to tell witnesses they could go to prison if they talked about the Tillman matter to the family or others?

Who gave the order to tell the nation’s chief medical examiner and the coroner who would do the autopsy that Tillman was killed in a hostile gun battle with the enemy, when they knew from seeing the body that could not be true?

Who gave the order to deny the chief medical examiner’s call for a criminal investigation?

Who gave the order to deny an earlier call for a criminal investigation by the first investigating officer in Afghanistan?

One of our favorite sports writers, Dave Zirin, has picked up on these questions with a new piece in The Nation.

We are well aware that America murders innocents abroad, and we generally think of those poor souls who appear as bug splats to a drone operator. Ten years after Pat Tillman was killed by a comrade, let us also remember that America sometimes exploits her young for useless wars and propaganda to justify them, that in the home of the brave, cowards in government sometimes abuse the families that raise the brave, and continue to get away with it.

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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