WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Army on Tuesday officially censured a retired three-star general for lying about the 2004 friendly fire death of Army Ranger and former football star Pat Tillman in Afghanistan.
In what officials described as an unprecedented case, the Army also reprimanded to six other officers, including three other generals, for errors up and down the chain of command. But Army officials said there was no evidence of a deliberate cover-up by the military.
Tillman, celebrated as a hero for giving up a National Football League career to join the Army after the September 11 attacks, died on April 22, 2004, from what the Army initially said was enemy fire.
Senior officers quickly suspected he had been killed by U.S. troops but kept to the story of enemy fire for a month. Meanwhile, Tillman was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, one of the U.S. military’s top awards for gallantry, in a nationally televised memorial service.
Army investigators later reported that Tillman was killed by fellow U.S. soldiers who believed they were engaging enemy forces. Army Secretary Pete Geren said the follow-up to the shooting could not have been more poorly handled.
“There was a perfect storm of mistakes, misjudgments and a failure of leadership,” Geren told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.
“But at no time did the Army try to cover up the truth or deceive the American public about how Corporal Tillman died.”
SINGLED OUT FOR BLAME
The Army singled out for blame retired Lt. Gen. Philip Kensinger, who was head of Army Special Operations Command, saying he deceived investigators, made false statements and failed in his duty to inform the Tillman family about the nature of the soldier’s death.
In addition to an official reprimand and censure, Kensinger was referred to a special review board for possible demotion.
“Had Lt. Gen. Kensinger done his job, fulfilled his multiple duties as a senior leader in the administrative chain of command, we would not be here today three years later attempting to correct the record,” Geren said.
But Geren said he chose not to pursue the more severe punishment of a court martial against Kensinger.
The other generals each received a “memorandum of concern” about errors they made, including a mistaken belief that information about the Tillman case should be kept secret.
The Army declined to comment on actions taken against three officers below the rank of general.
Tillman is the best-known American service member to be killed in Afghanistan or Iraq. He left a $3.6 million football contract to join the military with his brother Kevin, a fellow Ranger, after the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.
Tuesday’s action followed an independent Army review of evidence contained in a March report by Pentagon Inspector General Thomas Gimble, who found fault with four generals and five other officers for mistakes following Tillman’s shooting.
The review by Gen. William Wallace found no action was necessary against one of the generals and two other officers. But Wallace reprimanded another general who had not been named by the inspector general.
Army officials have allowed Tillman’s Silver Star to stand but said the accompanying citation would change to reflect the true circumstances of his death.
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