WASHINGTON -- An Army Ranger who was with Pat Tillman when
the former football star was cut down by friendly fire in
Afghanistan said Tuesday a commanding officer had ordered him to
keep quiet about what happened.
The military at first portrayed Tillman's death as the result of
heroic combat with the enemy. Army Spc. Bryan O'Neal told a
congressional hearing that when he got the chance to talk to
Tillman's brother, who had been in a nearby convoy on the fateful
day, "I was ordered not to tell him what happened."
"You were ordered not to tell him?" repeated Rep. Henry
Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and
"Roger that, sir," replied O'Neal, dressed in his Army
The revelation came as committee members questioned whether, and
when, top Defense officials and the White House knew that Tillman's
death in eastern Afghanistan three years ago was actually a result
of gunfire from fellow U.S. soldiers.
The committee also heard from Jessica Lynch, the former Army
private who was badly injured when her convoy was ambushed in Iraq
in 2003. She was later rescued by American troops from an Iraqi
hospital, but the tale of her ambush was changed into a story of
heroism on her part.
Still hampered by her injuries, Lynch walked slowly to the
witness table, took a seat alongside Tillman's family members and
said the heroism belonged to others who fought in Iraq, such as her
roommate Lori Piestewa, who died in the same ambush in which Lynch
"The bottom line is the American people are capable of
determining their own ideals of heroes and they don't need to be
told elaborate lies," Lynch said.
Tillman's death received worldwide attention because he had
walked away from a huge contract with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals
to enlist in the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
His family was initially misled by the Pentagon and did not
learn the truth for more than a month. Tillman was awarded a Silver
Star based on fabricated accounts -- who fabricated them still isn't
clear after several investigations.
"We don't know what the secretary of defense knew, we don't
know what the White House knew," Waxman said. "What we do know is
these were not a series of accidents, these stories. They were
calculatedly put out for a public relations purpose. ... Even now
there seems to be a cover-up."
Kevin Tillman was in a convoy behind his older brother, a former
NFL star, on April 22, 2004, when Pat Tillman was mistakenly shot
by other Army Rangers who had just emerged from a canyon where
they'd been fired upon. Kevin Tillman didn't see what happened.
O'Neal said he was ordered not to tell him by then-Lt. Col. Jeff
Bailey, the battalion commander who oversaw Tillman's platoon.
"He basically just said, sir, that uh, 'Do not let Kevin know,
he's probably in a bad place knowing that his brother's dead,"'
O'Neal testified. "He made it known that I would get in trouble,
sir, if I spoke with Kevin."
O'Neal said he was "quite appalled" by the order.
Bailey's superior officer, then-Col. James C. Nixon, has
testified to the Defense Department's inspector general that he
ordered that information on the facts of Tillman's death be shared
with as few people as possible so that the Tillman family would not
learn those facts through news media leaks. That, in turn, shaped
Bailey's guidance to his troops.
The Army said initially that Tillman was killed by enemy gunfire
while trying to help another group of ambushed soldiers. The family
was not told what really happened until May 29, 2004, a delay the
Army blamed on procedural mistakes.
Kevin Tillman and Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, also testified
Tuesday but were not in the room when O'Neal spoke.
After the hearing, Mary Tillman approached O'Neal, introduced
herself, embraced him and sobbed.
Kevin Tillman, in his testimony, accused the military of
"intentional falsehoods" and "deliberate and careful
misrepresentations" in the portrayal of his brother's death.
"Revealing that Pat's death was a fratricide would have been
yet another political disaster in a month of political disasters
... so the truth needed to be suppressed," the brother said.
"Our family will never be satisfied. We'll never have Pat
back," Mary Tillman testified. "Something really awful happened.
It's your job to find out what happened to him. That's really
Last month the military concluded in a pair of reports that nine
high-ranking Army officers, including four generals, made critical
errors in reporting Tillman's death but that there was no criminal
wrongdoing in his shooting -- a conclusion the family has disputed.
The Army is reviewing the actions of the officers.
In questioning what the White House knew about Tillman, Rep.
Elijah Cummings, D-Md., cited a memo written by a top general seven
days after Tillman's death warning it was "highly possible" the
Army Ranger was killed by friendly fire and making clear his
warning should be conveyed to the president. President Bush made no
reference to the way Tillman died in a speech delivered two days
after the memo was written.
A White House spokesman has said there's no indication Bush
received the warning in the memo written April 29, 2004, by
then-Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal to Gen. John Abizaid, head of
Questioned by Waxman, Defense Department Acting Inspector
General Thomas F. Gimble said he did not believe the memo ever went
to the White House.
Gimble said that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sent him a
letter around the time Rumsfeld left office last December saying he
hadn't known Tillman's death was from friendly fire until around
May 20, 2004. Abizaid told Gimble he was traveling in the war
theater and didn't see the memo saying Tillman's death was possibly
friendly fire until after Tillman's memorial service.
Mary Tillman dismissed the suggestion Abizaid hadn't seen the
memo as "ridiculous," and said she believed Rumsfeld must have
known. "The fact that he would have died by friendly fire and no
one told Rumsfeld is ludicrous," she said.
The committee had wanted to hear from retired Lt. Gen. Philip
Kensinger, who was in charge of Army special operations and came
under the heaviest criticism from military investigators for
misleading information about Tillman's death.
Kensinger's attorney sent Waxman a letter last week saying that
if Kensinger were called to testify he would refuse to answer
questions, citing his Fifth Amendment right against