Soldier: Army ordered me not to tell truth about Tillman
Story Highlights• NEW: Soldier says his account of incident was altered after he wrote it
• NEW: Inspector general says investigators did not inspect computer
• Last soldier to see NFL hero alive says he was ordered not to divulge truth
• “The truth is always more heroic than the hype,” Jessica Lynch tells panel
WASHINGTON (CNN) — The last soldier to see Army Ranger Pat Tillman alive, Spc. Bryan O’Neal, told lawmakers that he was warned by superiors not to divulge — especially to the Tillman family — that a fellow soldier killed Tillman.
O’Neal particularly wanted to tell fellow soldier Kevin Tillman, who was in the convoy traveling behind his brother at the time of the 2004 incident in Afghanistan.
“I wanted right off the bat to let the family know what had happened, especially Kevin, because I worked with him in a platoon and I knew that he and the family all needed to know what had happened,” O’Neal testified. “I was quite appalled that when I was actually able to speak with Kevin, I was ordered not to tell him.”
Asked who gave him the order, O’Neal replied that it came from his battalion commander, then-Lt. Col. Jeff Bailey.
“He basically just said … ‘Do not let Kevin know, that he’s probably in a bad place knowing his brother’s dead,’ ” O’Neal told House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman. “And he made it known I would get in trouble, sir, if I spoke with Kevin on it being fratricide.”
The military instead released a “manufactured narrative” detailing how Pat Tillman died leading a courageous counterattack in an Afghan mountain pass, Kevin Tillman told the committee. (Watch Kevin Tillman accuse the military of lying)
Also Tuesday, former Pfc. Jessica Lynch told the House panel that the military lied about her capture.
Lynch testified that after her vehicle was attacked in Iraq in March 2003, she suffered a mangled spinal column, broken arm, crushed foot, shattered femur and even a sexual assault.
But it only added insult to injury, literally, when she returned to her parents’ home in West Virginia, which “was under siege by media all repeating the story of the little girl ‘Rambo’ from the hills of West Virginia who went down fighting,” Lynch said. (Watch Lynch set the record straight)
“It was not true,” she said before gently chiding the military. “The truth is always more heroic than the hype.”
Waxman, D-California, said the military “invented” tales about Tillman and Lynch. (Watch Lynch describe her bond with the Tillman family)
“The bare minimum we owe our soldiers and their families is the truth,” Waxman said. “That didn’t happen for two of the most famous soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.”
Brother calls tale ‘calculated lies’
As the tide was turning in the U.S. battle against Afghan insurgents — and as media outlets prepared to release reports on detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib in Iraq — the military saw Pat Tillman’s death as an “opportunity,” Kevin Tillman told the panel.
Even after it became clear the report was bogus, the military clung to the “utter fiction” that Pat Tillman was killed by a member of his platoon who was following the rules of engagement, the brother said.
“Revealing that Pat’s death was a fratricide would have been yet another political disaster during a month already swollen with disasters,” Kevin Tillman said. “The facts needed to be suppressed. An alternative narrative had to be constructed, crucial evidence destroyed.”
Tillman bristled at the military claim that the initial report was merely misleading.
Clearly resentful, he told the panel that writing a field report stating that his brother had been “transferred to an intensive care unit for continued CPR after most of his head had been taken off by multiple .556 rounds is not misleading.”
“These are deliberate and calculated lies,” he said.
Pat Tillman, who became a national hero after he gave up a lucrative contract with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals to join the Army’s elite Rangers force, was awarded the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest combat decoration, after the Army said he was killed leading a counterattack.
O’Neal testified that his superiors had him write a statement about the incident for Tillman’s Silver Star commendation. He said the final version contained false statements about enemy fire that had been inserted by someone else.
Thomas F. Gimble, the Defense Department’s acting inspector general, said that investigators could not determine who altered O’Neal’s statement and that no attempt was made to examine the document’s electronic history.
The Army later acknowledged that not only that Tillman was killed by his fellow soldiers, but that officers in Tillman’s chain of command knew the counterattack story was bogus.
Still, Senior Chief Petty Officer Stephen White told the official heroism-under-fire story at a May 3, 2004, memorial service for Tillman.
“It’s a horrible thing that happened with Pat,” White, a Navy SEAL who was Tillman’s friend, told the committee. “I’m the guy that told America how he died, basically, at that memorial. It was incorrect. That does not sit well with me.”
Though the military blamed the erroneous report on an inadequate initial investigation, Mary Tillman told ESPN Radio last month that everyone involved in the shooting knew immediately that her son had been shot three times in the head by a member of his platoon.
“The Tillman family was kept in the dark for more than a month,” Waxman said. “Evidence was destroyed. Witness statements were doctored. The Tillman family wants to know how all of this could’ve happened.”
Lynch: Truth ‘not always easy’
Lynch’s testimony began with a recollection of the March 23, 2003, attack and her purported rescue nine days later.
As she and her fellow 11 soldiers drove through Nassiriya, Iraq, they noticed armed men standing in the streets and on rooftops. Three soldiers were quickly killed when a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into their vehicle, Lynch said.
The other eight died in the ensuing fighting or from injuries suffered during the fighting, she said. Lynch later woke up at Saddam Hussein General Hospital.
“When I awoke, I did not know where I was. I could not move. I could not call for help. I could not fight,” she said, explaining she had a six-inch gash in her head and numerous broken bones. “The nurses at the hospital tried to soothe me, and they even tried unsuccessfully at one point to return me to Americans.”
On April 1, U.S. troops came for her.
“A soldier came into the room. He tore the American flag from his uniform, and he handed it to me in my hand and he told me, ‘We’re American soldiers, and we’re here to take you home.’ And I looked at him and I said, ‘Yes, I’m an American soldier, too,’ ” she recalled.
She was distraught to come home and find herself billed as a hero when two of her fellow soldiers had fought bravely until the firefight’s end and another had died after picking up soldiers and removing them from harm’s way.
“The American people are capable of determining their own ideals for heroes, and they don’t need to be told elaborate lies,” she said. “I had the good fortune to come home and to tell the truth. Many soldiers, like Pat Tillman, did not have that opportunity.
“The truth of war is not always easy. The truth is always more heroic than the hype,” she said.
Lynch became a celebrity after U.S. troops filmed what they said was a daring raid on the hospital. Hospital staffers, however, said there were no Iraqi troops at the hospital when the purported rescue took place.
In the March 23, 2003, attack, Lynch, the Army claimed, was shot and stabbed during a fierce gun battle with Iraqi troops that left 11 of her comrades dead. It was later learned that Lynch never fired a shot during the firefight because her gun was jammed with sand.
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