Playing the Atheism Card Against Pat Tillman's Family
Editor?s note: The author of this essay, Stan Goff, is a retired veteran of the U.S. Army Special Forces. During an active-duty career that spanned 1970 to 1996, he served with the elite Delta Force and Rangers, and in Vietnam, Guatemala, Grenada, El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, Somalia and Haiti.
He is a veteran of the Jungle Operations Training Center in Panama and also taught military science at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Goff is the author of the books ?Hideous Dream — A Soldier?s Memoir of the U.S. Invasion of Haiti,? ?Full Spectrum Disorder — The Military in the New American Century? and ?Sex & War.?
In this article Goff writes on the events surrounding the fratricidal death of Army Ranger and former NFL player Pat Tillman, and the possible military coverup that ensued.
Goff argues that Tillman?s commanding officer, in a recent ESPN magazine interview, made a series of shockingly callous statements about the Tillman family?s search for the truth because the officer was trying to divert attention from the role he may have played in the alleged coverup.
Goff’s previously published articles on this subject can be found at the online publication From the Wilderness.
His research for those articles included a detailed review of more than 2,500 pages of official briefings and documents from three investigations, in addition to extensive interviews with Tillman family members and some of the soldiers in Tillman?s unit.Editor’s note #2
Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, was originally described as the Cross-Commander at Forward Operating Base Salerno on Khowst, Afghanistan. That was incorrect. The Cross Functional Team Commander (“Cross-Commander”) under which Pat Tillman’s unit was working at the time of his death was a Major Hodney. Kauzlarich was one step above Major Hodney, as his Regimental Executive Officer. The Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan was under the operational control (OPCON) to a highly secretive joint command, which accounts for much of the difficulty in clarifying both the circumstances of Pat Tillman’s death and the subsequent actions taken at several levels of command to conceal and spin the circumstances surrounding his death.
Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich has taken Christ into his heart, or so he says. Like my old colleague, Lt. Gen. William G. (?Jerry?) Boykin, he has also carried the organically entrapped messiah onto the heathen-infested battlegrounds of Southwest Asia. Kauzlarich is the subject of my exposition today, but Boykin is his context.
You all remember Jerry Boykin — the general who, as part of the Bush 2003 civil relations effort in Iraq, called Muslims idol worshippers.
Back in the Reagan days, Boykin and I were simultaneously assigned to the allegedly super-secret Delta Force. He was a major then, and he would organize prayer breakfasts for the unit, driving many of us out of the building to purchase sausage-biscuits. His evangelical lunacy was already under siege then. Special Operations is a motley fraternity, in which operators are as likely to worship Odin or an oak tree as they are to attend Sunday services.
Boykin?s recent rise is symptomatic of War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld?s fascination with Special Operations — in spite of its generally dismal record. Kauzlarich was on the same career fast track when he was the 75th Ranger Regiment?s executive officer* (see editor’s note #2 above) at Forward Operating Base Salerno, Khoust, Afghanistan, in 2004.
Bishop Boykin, shooting from the lip, asserted in 2003 that the U.S. military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq involved ?an Army of God? squaring off against Satan.
Beelzebub himself! Can?t say Jerry lacks ambition. Of course, the Satanists in this case were the very Muslims that the administration was trying to recruit as political puppets in the oil patch.
For this subtle bit of international relations, Boykin was punished by promotion to the position of deputy undersecretary of defense for? intelligence. Yes, the pun is nearly unbearable.
And so Boykin ascended. As the Haitian proverb says: The higher the monkey climbs, the more you see his ass.
Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, on the other hand, is not exactly being placed center-stage at the Pentagon. More than any other single person below the rank of general, he is probably most responsible for the Pentagon?s embarrassment when NFL-player-turned-Army-Ranger Pat Tillman was killed on April 22, 2004, by his own comrades.
Kauzlarich has been energetically avoiding responsibility for the fratricidal incident ever since.
It appears from reading the documents in the incident that he and others in the military may have violated multiple laws — including obstruction of justice, evidence tampering and conspiracy.
Kauzlarich may have conspired with others to award an inappropriate Silver Star, complete with a phony account of the events surrounding Tillman?s death. Members of Tillman?s chain of command attended Tillman?s memorial service without breathing a word to the family about what really happened, and it appears, again from the documents, that Kauzlarich deep-sixed the original investigation, which he then had redone under his personal supervision.
The Army?s criminal investigation division and the Pentagon?s Inspector General are currently investigating Tillman?s death and the events that ensued.
Kauzlarich now looks to Nov. 7, 2006, with a gnawing disquiet. Only a thin congressional majority that stand between a nemesis like Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Committee. Subpoena authority might transform a mere gavel into a mighty political weapon.
But in the meantime, a recent ESPN.com exposé by Mike Fish aired an interview with Kauzlarich, who was the ?cross commander? of the Rangers in Khoust, Afghanistan, in April 2004. Kauzlarich, in a stunning display of Christian empathy, blamed the family for continuing to ask questions about the circumstances of Pat?s death, and suggested that the reason they?d found no closure was that infidels such as themselves (the Tillmans did not belong to a church), when they die, are only ?worm dirt.?
A choice of words worthy of Bishop Boykin, who is surely beaming with pride at this officer?s devout diction.
?His parents continue to ask for it to be looked at,? Kauzlarich told Fish petulantly. ?And that is really their prerogative. And if they have the right backing, the right powerful people in our government to continue to let it happen, then that is the case.?
Playing the victim. A broadly effective tactic in the case of international military aggression, domestic battery (she made me do it) and politically motivated coverups.
In fact, powerful people in government have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the case by the dogged persistence of Pat?s family. So far the government?s efforts have been to assign aides to do enough to get the family off its back, and submit queries to the military that are answered with the same contradictions and equivocations that provoked the family?s suspicion in the first place.
?But there [have] been numerous unfortunate cases of fratricide,? Kauzlarich told ESPN, ?and the parents have basically said, ?OK, it was an unfortunate accident.? And they let it go. So this is — I don?t know, these people have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs.?
Nothing to do with the fact that the Department of Defense lied to them until the impending redeployment of in-the-know Ranger batallion back to the U.S. made the revelation of fratricide inevitable ? oh no.
The office of Defense Department public relations official Lawrence Di Rita should have purchased high-quality shredders for all commanders. The documents pertaining to the first three of six investigations contain generous and often gratuitous redactions. They were given to the Tillman family, and through them to CNN, to ESPN — oh yes, and to me. They show that it was the impending redeployment of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, Pat Tillman?s unit, in which the real story of his death was general knowledge, that compelled the Department of Defense to come clean, sort of.
?When you die,? the Reverend Kauzlarich explained to ESPN?s Fish, ?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.?
A theological term perhaps.
Next page: “Kauzlarich, like Boykin and all their ilk, has the spiritual depth of his own skin, which is what he is trying to save ? whether in an exchange of faith for immortality or in deflecting the sorry truth onto a bereaved and angered family with cheap revival-tent accusations of ‘atheism.’ “I don?t doubt for a minute that Kauzlarich?s version of spirituality is a kind of quid pro quo — a simple exchange of belief for immortality would strike the hardest of bargainers as a pretty good deal. It even trumps the dissonance of the Warrior Jesus, the Prince of Peace mounted on a Humvee, perhaps manning the .50-cal, in Mazar-i-Sharif or Fallujah.
If you can sustain that contradiction, it is not particularly remarkable to believe you are a Lamb of God at the same time you deploy religious belief as a disingenuous dodge in defense of your career.
?So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more,? continued Kauzlarich, ?that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don?t know how an atheist thinks?. You know what? I don?t think anything will make them happy, quite honestly. I don?t know. Maybe they want to see somebody?s head on a platter. But will that really make them happy? No, because they can?t bring their son back.?
So we get to it at last. Kauzlarich imagines himself as John the Baptist, and Mary Tillman as Salome. Poor, poor man. Wretched, wretched woman.
I imagine a fish decal on Kauzlarich?s car, one that has a double significance: Jesus, of course, cloning fish for the starving masses, but also a red herring.
Kauzlarich is in a state of dread — not the existential variety, since he has already cut the deal to survive death. His dread is more immediate and secular.
A Ranger captain was assigned to investigate the death of Pat Tillman — Richard Scott, then commander of Headquarters Company, 2/75 Rangers. Scott carried out his task with integrity, and the Article 15-6 investigation was completed in two weeks. That investigation determined two things: (1) The fellow Rangers who shot Tillman (and an Afghan that the military has never credited with a human being?s name) violated their own rules of engagement and were possibly criminally negligent and (2) that the order that led to splitting the platoon — one vigorously and rightly opposed by the platoon leader on the ground — was responsible for setting up the communications breakdown that resulted in the incident.
It is not legal in the military to dispose of investigations or to compel or allow witnesses to change statements, and then make the original statements disappear, but that is precisely what happened in the case of Pat Tillman. When Kauzlarich took over the investigation from Scott, Kauzlarich?s role in the alleged coverup disappeared and criminal charge recommendations were transformed into wrist-slapping nonjudicial punishments.
Even before the first investigation was complete — nay, even before Tillman?s unit returned from the field to conduct an ?after-action review? to determine what happened — everyone in Tillman?s chain of command, including Kauzlarich [http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/062306_tillman_files4.shtml], appears to have conspired to draft a recommendation for a Silver Star award as part of the intentional development of a fictional account to cover up the fratricide.
This was in April-May 2004. And for those who don?t remember, these months were a catastrophic cascade of setbacks, bad news and rank scandal, including the dual rebellion in Iraq and the first public release of the Abu Ghraib photos. The death by fratricide of a famous young man (who was resisting the Department of Defense efforts to turn him into a jingo icon) ran headlong into the DoD public affairs narrative of precision and professionalism (in an elite unit). That was very bad news.
But with every stick, there is a carrot.
If this story could be covered up, for just a while, it had spin capacity. Pat could be turned into a martyr-jingo icon. An account could be constructed that would map directly onto the television-stunned social imagination of the American public. A tale worthy of the arrested development of a nation that believes in the fantasies of masculine adolescence.
And that is precisely what they did, Kauzlarich included. They drafted a Silver Star and a docudrama lie about an intense encounter with a determined enemy in which the obedient patriot sets an example worthy of a recruiting poster. A Tom Clancy joint. The real Pat Tillman was not only of no use, he was a net negative. Real people get in the way.
They never counted on his brother Kevin discovering that there was an initial investigation that vanished. They never counted on a mother and father who were strong enough to demand the truth about what had happened, and determined enough to rescue the real person that was Pat Tillman from the spin machine into which the Pentagon tried to feed his body.
Pat himself, after seeing the Iraq war firsthand and declaring it to be ?so fucking illegal,? quipped to his fellow soldiers that the military seemed to be so inept that it couldn?t even construct a credible lie. How prescient was that?
Kauzlarich, like Boykin and all their ilk, has the spiritual depth of his own skin, which is what he is trying to save ? whether in an exchange of faith for immortality or in deflecting the sorry truth onto a bereaved and angered family with cheap revival-tent accusations of ?atheism.?
Mary Tillman, Pat?s mother, showed me a page from Pat?s journal when he was 16 years old. It was Pat?s reflection on why he had decided, once and for all, that he didn?t need organized religion. The entry was motivated by Pat?s grief at the death of an old family cat. Pat wasn?t comfortable with the idea that one could love another creature that was being excluded from the bargain in the afterlife. He and his brothers grew up between a river and the mountains, where they roamed countless miles and delighted in the ceaseless interplay of geography, climate, flora and fauna. In his journal entry, Pat speculated about this singular universality, and made up his mind that one didn?t need some anti-material monarchy buzzing with angels to accommodate himself to mortality.
Pat never felt separate enough from the world to despise the worms. And so Kauzlarich?s expression of fear and loathing for the world would have amused Pat.
Pat?s ashes are adrift from where they were scattered along the Pacific Ocean, mixing back into the elements with which he was so at home; while Ralph Kauzlarich and the Pentagon fret about a five-foot-two-inch mother who refuses to make them an offering of her fear. Surely Pat Tillman is laughing.