The Chronicle has since discovered that since the original report was issued, soldiers and commanders were allowed to go back and change their testimony. The subsequent report is more reluctant to place blame, and calls for less severe punishment. More disturbing, the commanding officer who gave an ill-considered order to break up Tillman?s platoon ? which the original report determined to be a key mistake leading to his death ? was not only given an opportunity to revise his testimony to the first investigator, he was given immunity, and was allowed to disburse punishment to those below him.
One of those punished, Tillman?s platoon leader, had correctly protested the commanding officer?s order. Tillman?s platoon leader, who took shrapnel to the face during the incident, was subsequently dismissed from the Rangers.
So what?s going on here? Why would the Pentagon and Army brass cover up Tillman?s friendly fire death? The answer may be that the Pentagon had too much invested in Tillman to concede that its own mistakes led to his death. Tillman?s decision to eschew the life of a professional athlete for a tour in the Army was a public relations dream for the military, and they treated it as such. This despite the fact that Tillman specifically asked that the military not make a spectacle of him (Tillman shunned requests for fawning interviews and fluffy media profiles).
It would have been tough for the military to concede its own ineptitude caused the death of the war on terror?s poster soldier in any setting. But just days after Tillman?s death, the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. The military was in desperate need of some good news. Recycling Tillman?s selfless bravery put torture stories on the backburner for at least a news cycle or two.
What?s tragic is that the military?s duplicity in all of this has buried the better story ? what a remarkable man Tillman was. Tillman, we?ve since learned from media interviews with friends, family, and fellow soldiers, was a thinker. He defied easy classification. He was a poet, kept a journal (which vanished after his death), and subscribed to the Economist. He admired Winston Churchill, but was also interested in anti-war academic Noam Chomsky. He read Emerson and Thoreau. He wasn?t religious, but had read the Bible, the Koran, and the book of Mormon. He brought along a portable library of classic novels for his platoon pals to read.
Perhaps most interestingly, Tillman opposed the war in Iraq. He?d told platoon mates he thought the war was ?illegal,? and a distraction from the war on Al Qaeda, but fought in Iraq anyway, owing to a sense of duty.
We lost a complicated, interesting, fascinating guy 18 months ago, a guy who exhibited the kind of critical thinking that seems to be in short supply among the men who commanded him. They, and we, owe Tillman a lot. Truth and accountability would be a good start.