A "striking lack of recollection" by White House and military officials prevented congressional investigators from determining who was responsible for misinformation spread after the friendly fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, a House committee said Monday.
Although military investigators determined within days that the onetime NFL player was killed by his own troops in Afghanistan following an enemy ambush, five weeks passed before the circumstances of his death were made public. During that time, the Army claimed Tillman was killed by enemy fire.
The committee says that in their quest to find out when officials first knew about the possibility that Tillman's death was not due to enemy fire, they were "frustrated by a near universal lack of recall," according to the report.
The committee interviewed several senior White House officials including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, communications director Dan Bartlett, former Press Secretary Scott McClellan, and chief speech writer Michael Gerson.
"Not a single one could recall when he learned about the fratricide or what he did in response," says the report.
Perhaps a large public outcry could result in their firings. Oh, right.
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers told the committee that he learned by the end of April that Tillman's death was possibly due to friendly fire, but that he could not remember whether or not he passed that information to Rumsfeld.
Members of Tillman's platoon, however, knew "almost immediately" that Tillman had been killed accidentally by fellow Rangers, according to the report. Within days of his death, Colonel Craig Nixon, a top officer in Tillman's battalion, passed on that information to the commander of the joint task force in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChyrstal, who in turn sent a message to top generals, including General John Abizaid, commander of CENTCOM. ...
"I felt that it was essential that you received this information as soon as we detected it in order to preclude any unknowing statements by our country's leaders which might cause public embarrassment if the circumstances of Corporal Tillman's death become public," McChrystal wrote on April 29th, 2004.
A deputy commander of SOCOM told the committee that as soon as McChrystal's message was received, Tillman's family should have been notified.
Yet on the same day that McChrystal sent his memo warning that officials may be making erroneous statements, Tillman was posthumously awarded the Silver Star medal for "gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States".
Damned erroneous statements. Not just Tillman, either:
The committee also examined the circumstances surrounding the misinformation that was released following the capture and rescue of Private Jessica Lynch in Iraq in 2003. Sensational media reports attributed to military officials erroneously said that Private Lynch had engaged insurgents before her capture, firing until she ran out of ammunition. But as in the Tillman investigation, the committee said that it was hampered due to a "pervasive lack of recollection" about how that misleading information got released.
This is that "fog of war" thing, isn't it?