Critical errors but no criminal wrongdoing in Tillman death, military says

Nine high-ranking Army officers, including four generals, made critical errors in reporting the friendly fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, but there was no criminal wrongdoing in the shooting of the former NFL player, the military concluded Monday.

In releasing a pair of reports on the 2004 killing, however, defense officials did not rule out that criminal violations may have been committed by officers who provided misleading information as the military investigated the killing. While saying they believed there was no orchestrated cover-up, they left the decision on whether crimes occurred to the Army.

Tillman’s family said it was not satisfied by what it called an “attempt to impose closure by slapping the wrists of a few officers and enlisted men.” The family called for congressional hearings on his death.

“Once again, we are being used as props in a Pentagon public relations exercise,” Tillman’s mother, Mary, said in a prepared statement Monday evening.

Army and Defense Department investigators said officers looking into Tillman’s death passed along misleading and inaccurate information and delayed reporting their belief that Tillman was killed by fellow Rangers.

The investigators recommended that the Army take action against the officers, but suggested no specific punishments and left it to the Army to decide what to do. Possible steps could include demotions, dishonorable discharges, jail or letters of reprimand.

Acting Army Secretary Peter Geren has asked Gen. William Wallace, who oversees training for the Army, to review the actions of the officers and to provide a progress report in 30 days. The Army will take corrective action and hold people accountable, said Geren, who also issued an apology.

“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,” Geren told reporters at the Pentagon. “Our failure in fulfilling this duty brought discredit to the Army and compounded the grief suffered by the Tillman family. For that, on behalf of the Army, I apologize to the Tillman family.”

Using photographs, charts and a video reenactment of the day’s events, investigators at the Pentagon walked reporters through a minute-by-minute accounting of Tillman’s death in the rocky Afghanistan hills on April 22, 2004.

The sometimes gruesome briefing described Tillman’s frantic efforts to signal the shooters to stop the firing. Brig. Gen. Rodney L. Johnson of the Army Criminal Investigation Command said the investigation found no basis to believe the shooting was criminal.

“We determined that neither a negligent homicide or aggravated assault occurred in the shooting deaths and woundings of Corporal Tillman and the others,” Johnson said. “The manner of death was accidental.” An Afghan fighter with Tillman was killed and two other U.S. soldiers were wounded.

Though dozens of soldiers knew quickly that Tillman had been killed by his fellow troops, the Army said initially that he was killed by enemy gunfire when he led his team to help another group of ambushed soldiers. It was five weeks before his family was told the truth, a delay the Army has blamed on procedural mistakes.

“We thought there was never an attempt to cover up that we saw,” Defense Department Acting Inspector General Thomas F. Gimble said during a Pentagon briefing as the military released two reports, one by the Army Criminal Investigation Command and the other by the inspector general.

Tillman’s death received worldwide attention because he had walked away from a huge contract with the National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Coming under the heaviest criticism was Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, the now-retired three-star general who was in charge of Army special operations.

“We found compelling evidence that (Lt. Gen.) Kensinger learned of suspected fratricide well before the memorial service and provided misleading testimony” on that issue, the report said. That misrepresentation, the report said, could be a violation of the Military Code of Justice.

The Army was still saying Tillman had been killed in a conventional ambush at a nationally televised memorial service for him 11 days after his death.

The report also noted that Kensinger later misled investigators when asked when he first learned Tillman’s death was from friendly fire.

The highest current ranking officer blamed in the incident is Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. Investigators said he was “accountable for the inaccurate and misleading assertions” contained in papers recommending that Tillman get a Silver Star award.

The inspector general’s report also faulted Brig. Gen. Gary Jones and now-Brig. Gen. James C. Nixon.

Jones, now retired from the Army, led one of the previous Army investigations of the matter. The report faulted him for failing to address several issues in his probe.

“Those deficiencies contributed to lingering speculation that Army officials were concealing relevant information concerning Cpl. Tillman’s deaths,” the report said.

It criticized Nixon, who was Tillman’s regimental commander, for failing to ensure that Tillman’s family was told that friendly fire was suspected, as Army regulations at the time required. Nixon is now director of operations at the Center for Special Operations at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.

Of the nine officers the military said would be “held accountable,” only the four generals – McChrystal, Kensinger, Nixon and Jones – are identified in the report.

The names of the five others were blacked out because of the military’s privacy policy, said Gimble. According to a comparison of the report with documents the AP has examined previously, two of them are then-Capt. Richard Scott, appointed to conduct the first investigation, and then-Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich, who conducted the second.

The report blames both men for failing to visit the scene of the shooting, secure evidence, take photos, obtain measurements and interview all witnesses.

Also, then-Lt. Col. Jeff Bailey, the battalion commander who oversaw Tillman’s platoon, is held accountable for the “inaccurate award recommendation” that led to Tillman’s Silver Star. Bailey recommended Tillman for the award, officials told the AP.

The inspector general investigation recommended that the Army review its award of the Silver Star to Tillman, but Geren said the award would stand.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said President Bush, like Defense Secretary Robert Gates, has “very serious concerns” about the events surrounding Tillman’s death, his family’s notification and the performance of military personnel.

Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Pauline Jelinek in Washington and Scott Lindlaw in San Jose, Calif., contributed to this story.